BERLIN — Work crews backed by about 250 police removed parts of the Berlin Wall known as the East Side Gallery before dawn Wednesday to make way for an upscale building project, despite demands by protesters that the site be preserved.
Residents of the area expressed shock at the move, which followed several protests including one attended by American celebrity David Hasselhoff.
Police spokesman Alexander Toennies said there were no incidents as work began about 5 a.m. to remove four sections of the wall, each about 1 1/2 yards wide. That will make way for an access route to the planned high-rise luxury apartments along the nearby Spree River.
The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. Construction workers removed a first piece of the 3/4-mile stretch of wall earlier this month. The public outcry brought a halt while local politicians and the investor said they were looking for a solution to keep the rest of the wall untouched.
The investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, decided to remove four more parts of the wall, according to Toennies.
Protesters complained developers were sacrificing history for profit. At least 136 people died trying to scale the wall that divided Communist-run East Berlin from West Berlin from 1961 until it was opened on Nov. 9, 1989. The remaining stretch of wall has become a tourist attraction with colorful murals painted by about 120 artists decorating the old concrete tiles. The East Side Gallery was recently restored at a cost of more than $3 million to the city.
"I can't believe they came here in the dark in such a sneaky manner," said Kani Alavi, the head of the East Side Gallery's artists' group. "All they see is their money, they have no understanding for the historic relevance and art of this place."
By midmorning the 6-yard gap was covered by a wooden fence and protected by scores of police as passers-by and a handful of protesters stared in disbelief.