July 5, 2005

Berlin memorial crosses cleared, protesters jeer

By Valdis Wish

BERLIN (Reuters) - To jeers from protesters, demolitioncrews on Tuesday began uprooting hundreds of crosses from thesite of former Checkpoint Charlie set up to commemorate victimskilled trying to escape from communist East Germany.

In an effort to stop the unofficial memorial being cleared,several protesters chained themselves to the wooden crossesfrom the place where the legendary Cold War checkpoint oncestood on the line separating East and West Berlin. Police stoodby.

A German court ruled in April the crosses had to go to makeway for a building planned by a bank.

An order to remove the crosses and a 200-meter (yard)stretch of replica wall expired some time ago but a courtofficial finally ordered the clearance to take place onTuesday.

German politicians and media have criticized the privateexhibit, which has drawn throngs of communist-era memorabiliamerchants, as tacky, saying it has turned the area into atourist "Disneyland."

Supporters of the exhibit point out there is no other majormemorial to one of the Cold War's most famous landmarks.

The German capital has an uncomfortable history of dissentand delay over commemorative sites, including the recentlyopened Holocaust memorial. Critics have decried Berlin'sfailure to create a more prominent public monument to the Wall.

Maria Nooke, who runs the official Berlin WallDocumentation Center, said the crosses were politicallymotivated and amateur.

"Berlin needs a more authentic and professional treatmentof the Wall's history," she told Reuters.

Berlin's culture minister Thomas Flierl hoped to establishNooke's museum as the site of a future, official commemorationto the 28-year long division of the city.

But Alexandra Hildebrandt, head of the nearby Museum atCheckpoint Charlie, who set up the private exhibition, saidFlierl simply wanted to get rid of the crosses because he oncebelonged to the East German government.

"Of course he doesn't like what's here," she said.

She was supported by Hubertus Knabe, director of a Berlinmuseum about East Germany's infamous secret police, the Stasi.He told Monday's edition of Die Welt newspaper that the BerlinWall needed a memorial.

"As long as there is nothing better, this memorial shouldstay," he said.

The Berlin Wall was built by communist East Germany in 1961to stop a growing exodus to the West. But thousands stillescaped past the cement and barbed wire barrier.

Checkpoint Charlie was the set up by the Americans also in1961 and was the place where tourists and diplomats crossed toand from the Soviet sector of the divided city.