Berlin Wall Real Estate Project Halted Amid Public Protests

Living Bauhaus, a German real estate investor, halted a residential project involving the removal of parts of the Berlin Wall after a public outcry over the impact of gentrification on the German capital’s Cold War legacy.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit offered to mediate in the dispute after as many as 6,000 people demonstrated yesterday against the destruction of one of the last continuous sections of wall, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. The former bulwark separating communist East Germany from West Berlin is today a major tourist attraction.

The project envisages the removal of a 22-meter (72-foot) piece of the wall beside the River Spree to gain access to the site of a 35 million-euro ($46 million) real estate project, according to the industry newsletter Thomas Daily.

“We are ready to talk,” Maik Uwe Hinkel, the managing director of Living Bauhaus and a director of Berlin-based CIC Group, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper in an interview published today. The company will halt work on removing the wall at least until March 18, when the city district, the developer and civil society groups will meet for talks. Other means to access the site might also be found, he was cited as saying.

“If the district says, ‘stop the removal of the wall,’ we will stop,” Hinkel said, according to the newspaper. “We don’t have any interest in bringing upheaval to the whole city.” Volker Thoms, a spokesman for Living Bauhaus, confirmed the content of the interview by telephone.

Online Petition

More than 63,000 people have signed an online petition asking for the wall, a listed monument, to remain untouched. Members of the city assembly from the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have joined the protesters in opposing the project.

SPD Mayor Wowereit offered to mediate today, saying that “I advocate the preservation of this part of the wall,” DPA reported.

Hollywood actor and singer David Hasselhoff, who claims to have contributed to the fall of the wall in 1989 with his song “Looking for Freedom,” said on his Twitter Inc. account that he wants to sign the petition. “How can you tear down the wall that signifies freedom, perseverance and the sacrifice of human life,” Hasselhoff said.

Squatters Evicted

Gentrification is controversial in Berlin, where rents have jumped 19 percent in the past three years, according to data compiled by Berlin-based broker ImmobilienScout24. Protests have accompanied other development plans, with the last outcry in September when authorities evicted artists squatting in the Tacheles building, a former department store in the city’s fashionable Mitte district. Developers are considering building offices, shops and homes on the site.

The square meter price for the 36 apartments planned on the Berlin Wall site by the Spree is between 2,750 euros and 10,000 euros, Hinkel said, according to the Berliner Zeitung. The project is located in Friedrichshain, where apartment prices rose 17 percent in 2012, according to CBRE Group Inc. It costs about 2,700 euros per square meter to buy an apartment in that neighbourhood. The Berlin average is 2,258 euros per square meter, according to CBRE.

The removal of parts of the wall to gain access to the site was proposed to them by the district’s mayor, said Thoms, the company spokesman. It still has to be decided who will pay for the construction stoppage, he said.

The 1.3 kilometer-long (0.8 mile) section of wall, known as the East Side Gallery, bears works by more than 50 artists from all over the world, according to the gallery’s website.

The Berlin Wall was erected by the communist German Democratic Republic from Aug. 13, 1961, isolating West Berlin as an enclave inside East German territory. Artists painted the section concerned in 1990 after the GDR, which was on the verge of collapse, opened the border to West Berlin on Nov. 9, 1989. The two Germanys were reunited within less than a year.

The wall was frequently repainted, and was renovated for the last time in 2009 for the 20-year anniversary of its demise, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

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