A 196-foot chunk of the Berlin Wall has disappeared almost overnight, sparking outcry among appalled historians. As Christian Honicke reports for German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, developers tore down a section of the historic structure in Pankow, a borough in northeastern Berlin, to make way for luxury condominiums.
The Berlin Wall Foundation, established in 2008 to document the wall’s history and preserve its remains, says it was not informed about the removal.
“The partial demolition of the continuous piece of the hinterland wall … is a clear loss of original wall remains,” Manfred Wichmann, head of the foundation, tells Der Tagesspiegel.
Standing about 11 feet tall, the stretch of concrete had no special historical designations that would protect it from development. Few outside the Pankow neighborhood knew about the section, aside from graffiti artists looking to ply their canisters on its concrete. City Building Councillor Vollrad Kuhn tells Der Tagesspiegel that the demolition occurred on schedule. Due to the absence of a special heritage designation, developers did not have to adhere to any specific procedures.
From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin Wall’s concrete blockade physically and ideologically separated West Berlin from communist East Berlin and, more broadly, East Germany. The wall formed part of the so-called Iron Curtain that divided the communist Soviet Union from Western Europe during the Cold War.
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, after an erroneous East German announcement that travel restrictions to West Germany would be lifted immediately. Over the coming days, more than two million Berliners rushed to the border, some climbing the wall, others savaging it with sledgehammers and pickaxes.
The majority of the barrier was hastily destroyed, but some sections were left intact as memorials. Others were simply overlooked.
The remains of the wall represent “a stone witness of how deeply the border regime of the German Democratic Republic intervened in the everyday life of the people in East Berlin,” Wichmann tells Der Tagesspiegel.
The torn-down section in Pankow was part of the Hinterlandmauer, an inner wall constructed in the 1970s, reports Kate Brown for artnet News. The Hinterlandmauer aimed to stymie refugees who somehow managed to circumvent the main border fortifications. Specifically, this now-demolished chunk ran parallel to a railroad that connected Berlin to the Polish city of Szczecin.
Last November marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Locals hosted commemorative events all over Berlin; amid the excitement, reported Bernd Wähner for Berliner Woche, the Berlin Wall Foundation announced that it was working to preserve the nearly 200-foot-long section in Pankow that is now slated to host luxury condos. The stretch was one of the wall’s largest remaining pieces, according to artnet News.
Around 15 miles of the Berlin Wall are still standing today. Most are enshrined as historical sites. Some have become tourist attractions, while others go relatively undisturbed in the suburbs, sometimes discovered by accident beneath layers of overgrown foliage.
Outside of the memorialized stretches, less than a mile of the wall remains, according to Wichmann.
Now, he adds, these sections “are disappearing more and more.”