In 1987, when President Reagan issued his famous challenge — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — the Berlin Wall was 96 miles long, a hideous concrete-and-barbed-wire barrier sealing off West Berlin from East Germany. Two years later, the wall came down, and Germany was eventually reunited.
Very little remains of what Germans called the “wall of shame.” Only a few sections, less than 2 miles in total, still stand in Berlin. The most notable of these is the East Side Gallery, a 1,400-yard segment running along the Spree River and what used to be the “death strip,” where scores of East Germans were killed as they vaulted the wall in a desperate lunge for freedom. Today the gallery is covered in murals, including the iconic “Fraternal Kiss,” which depicts the Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German Chancellor Erich Honecker kissing on the lips.
As a landmark, the importance of the East Side Gallery is hard to overstate. It is a vivid physical remnant of what was at stake during Berlin’s division. But if developers proceed with plans for a luxury high-rise, 22 meters of that richly decorated remaining segment will be torn down. As word of those plans has spread, protests have too. “The Berlin Wall, once hated by Berliners, is now a huge part of the cultural heritage of the city and of Germany,” begins an online petition that had attracted more than 73,000 signatures as of last week. In response, the developer has wisely — but, so far, only temporarily — halted plans to remove parts of the wall.
The developer and local authorities should find a new approach. The fragments of the wall that still stand are too important a reminder of Cold War history.