One in nine Berliners wants the Wall back

July 28th, 2008 - 9:19 am ICT by IANS  

By Clive Freeman
Berlin, July 28 (DPA) The Berlin Wall had a 29-year history when it finally fell in November 1989 to scenes of unprecedented jubilation in the then divided city. Now, close to 19 years later, it seems not all Berliners are happy about the wall being consigned to the dustbin of history. Every ninth Berliner would prefer the barrier, which used to divide and encircle the city, was still in place, according to a survey carried out on behalf of Berlin’s Free University (FU).

Professor Oskar Niedermayer, 56, teaching political science at the FU, says that of the 2,000 citizens in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg who participated in the survey this spring, 11 percent in West Berlin and 12 percent in East Berlin considered it would be better had the wall been still in place.

While the outcome might be surprising, Niedermayer suggests it is hardly a sensation.

Only in East Berlin is there a significant change of attitude to be perceived, with 12 percent of those asked wishing the wall were still there, against seven percent in a 2004 poll.

Nationwide, such sentiment was even more strongly expressed four years ago when surveys by two of Germany’s leading research institutes showed between 19 percent and 21 percent in favour of the wall.

While fewer people today dispute the causes of German unification, some “Wessis,” as West Germans are sometimes called, and “Ossies” (East Germans) still harbour prejudices against people living in the other half of the country, though apparently much less so than in the 1990s.

Then, it was not uncommon for people in the east to feel the former German Democratic Republic had been conquered “colonial style” by the then West Germany after the communist collapse in 1989-90.

Nowadays, only in fringe areas of Brandenburg are such sentiments occasionally expressed among small minorities, notes the survey. In the west, on the other hand, a cliche often heard is that people in eastern Germany indulge in too much “self-pity”.

The survey, conducted for the FU by the Forsa Institute, also points to citizens who were fully integrated into the socialist system and who were born in the erstwhile East Germany before 1973 as being among those most likely to want the wall back.

For years after the demise of the Berlin Wall there was discussion in the east and west of Germany about the so-called “winners and losers” of reunification.

In outlying areas of Brandenburg some 19 percent of people surveyed felt they were the losers in the reunification, while 37 percent considered things would be better if the Berlin Wall and the 1,120-km inner-German border, once separating East from West Germany, had remained.

Only three percent of people in these parts regarded themselves as reunification “winners.”

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall first began on the historic night of Nov 9, 1989 - to allow the ebullient masses to pass through to the west.

But it was not until later in 1990 that the task of tearing down the barrier began in earnest. Army units set about demolishing 300 watchtowers, thousands of lampposts and more than 80 km of metal fencing from around the city barrier.

Later a private company called Ava was called in to remove 160,000 tonnes of remaining concrete from around Berlin alone.

At a glittering auction in Monaco in June 1990 segments of the wall were sold, fetching a fortune. Successful buyers included cognac heiress Ljilijiana Hennessy and Jaguba Rizzoli, the widow of an Italian publisher.

Later, several Japanese entrepreneurs also arrived to buy graffiti-decorated slabs of the barrier.

Winston Churchill’s grand-daughter also acquired eight pieces of the wall, which were later displayed in the park of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech some 60 years ago.

A common complaint of Berlin tourists today is that there are few visible traces of the wall to be seen anymore.

Centrally, only the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, with its history of daring escapes still operates, attracting tens of thousands visitors annually.

Aware of foreign criticism on this point the Berlin authorities now plan to extend the 1.3 km long Wall Memorial site on the city’s Bernauer Strasse, where once the barrier cut off people living in houses on one side of the street from those on the other.

A spectacular new Wall Info pavilion will open there in late 2009 when the 20th anniversary of the barrier’s downfall will be celebrated.

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