Darth Vader vs. Death Strip: Berlin Wall Sinks into Cold War Disneyland

By Frank Hornig

Part 3: Should Wall Remnants Be UNESCO World Heritage?

Technically, it wouldn't be much of a problem to rebuild the Wall. Some of its old elements are still in use today, as walls in a city recycling facility, while others can be found in a Berlin cement factory and in former East German agricultural cooperatives. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before entrepreneurs take a stab at reconstruction.

This would probably not be much of a surprise to conservative CDU member Monika Grütters, who chairs the culture affairs committee in the German parliament, the Bundestag. She also heads the Brandenburg Gate Foundation, which is supported by the state-owned bank Landesbank Berlin and has its offices in a building on the right side of the gate, where the artist Max Liebermann once lived.

Grütters is horrified whenever she steps outside and sees loud young people and bellowing men riding by on so-called beer bikes. On some days there are pickle-eating contests, and on others there are events like the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. The city issues permits for about 80 events a year on Pariser Platz, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

"Pariser Platz is deteriorating into the nation's fairground," says Grütters, noting that everyone is now allowed to hang a logo on the Brandenburg Gate. "The Berlin Senate has turned it into carnival grounds."

UNESCO Conditions Met, Study Says

There is one place, however, where commemoration and commerce are still kept largely separate. Only two kilometers from the Brandenburg Gate, Axel Klausmeier manages the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse. It is the best-preserved section of the old border facilities. The Wall itself, a signal fence, a secondary wall and a watchtower are still preserved in relatively good condition.

The program there is the antithesis of Disneyfication. It shows the wall with all of the wounds of time, including those inflicted by so-called Mauerspechte (wall peckers). "It is precisely in this compromised condition that it becomes a historic monument," says Klausmeier, the director of the memorial.

Sometimes, when a Trabi Safari stops at Bernauer Strasse, Klausmeier explains to the baffled participants that they are driving on the wrong side of the Wall. "You are in the French sector here," he informs them. When youths wearing East German uniforms recently entered the former death strip, he threw them out. "This is a memorial for the victims," he told them.

Klausmeier has walked the former inner and outer boundaries of West Berlin several times. In the process, he has catalogued 1,800 relics of the old border, many of them now almost unrecognizable as such.

And now he wants the remains of the Wall to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All the conditions have been met, a study has just confirmed. But Berlin's leaders are reluctant to submit an application. "It's probably too much of a political issue," says Klausmeier.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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