Hundreds of angry demonstrators on Friday stopped part of the remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall from being torn down to make way for a planned block of luxury flats.
Around 300 protesters gathered on Friday morning to form a human chain in front of the East Side Gallery, a world-famous 1.3-kilometre stretch of the Berlin Wall, covered on the eastern side with huge works of art by international artists expressing hopes for peace and understanding.
Creators of a Change.org petition which has now received almost 38,000 signatures against the destruction, sent out an email on Thursday evening to people who had signed, calling on them to get down there and demonstrate.
After a couple of hours of increasingly tense stand-off between the crowd and police, tentative cheers greeted a police announcement that demolition work would be suspended until further notice.
Organisers have announced a second demonstration planned for Sunday afternoon.
Online activists were determined to use the time gained to try to persuade politicians to prevent the sections of the Wall being removed. They established the hashtags #mauerkette and #moratorium to send messages to Berlin’s Social Democrat mayor Klaus Wowereit, demanding he intervene to stop the demolition.
Others slammed the Green party’s Franz Schulz, mayor of the city’s eastern district of Friedrichshain, for an attempted cloak-and-dagger operation to avoid such a protest.
Schulz had tried to keep the demolition quiet to avoid the kind of confrontation seen on Friday and had continuously refused to meet with critics before presenting a fait accompli to the public, according to Michael Braun, culture expert in the Conservative CDU party opposition in the Berlin Senate.
“It’s barbarism against Berlin and barbarism against art,” he added.
Activists are hoping to gather 50,000 signatures for their petition before presenting it to Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, Mayor Wowereit and Maik Uwe Hinkel, the investor behind the controversial “Living Levels” project – a 63-metre-high tower block to be built on the narrow stretch of land between the Wall and the river bank.
Several more concrete segments of the Wall – a total of 22 metres – are due to be removed at an unspecified point to provide access for the 36 new private luxury flats, which will be sold for up to €7,000 per square metre.
But Andreas Weeger, a member of the district parliament of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg familiar with the legal situation told The Local only the Berlin Senate has the power to stop the construction work on the Spree. The Senate has always supported the planning applications for the luxury flats, said Weeger, which date back to 1992.
“Only the Senate of Berlin would have been able to stop it, as the district does not have the money to pay compensation to the owners of the premises,” Weeger told The Local. “In our latest attempt to stop the plans, at the end of last year, the Senate refused to help.”