- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

BERLIN — A privately built memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall is to be bulldozed on July 4, when a lease on the property near the former Checkpoint Charlie runs out, angering backers of the project and conservative politicians.

But the Socialist-led city government in Berlin has said that it is content to see the memorial taken down and there has been no move to prevent it from the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is in Washington today seeking support for a permanent German seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Alexandra Hildebrandt, director of the private Checkpoint Charlie Museum, said a demolition crew has been scheduled to arrive at the site of Checkpoint Charlie at 4 a.m. next Monday to remove the memorial, made up of 1,067 crosses representing people killed trying to escape from East Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie was the main crossing point between East Berlin and the American sector of the divided city during the Cold War. The museum, built on the site, has exhibits on the varied means used by East Germans to escape across the wall.

The monument, privately financed by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum on an adjacent site, has proven extremely popular with visitors to the city, attracting thousands of people per week. But it has never been popular with the city’s political establishment, which is dominated by a coalition of the former Communist Party (PDS) and the Social Democratic Party.

“Nowhere else in the once-divided German capital can tourists and visitors experience better the brutality of the former communist regime,” said Frank Henkel, secretary-general of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in Berlin.

“The spot around Checkpoint Charlie is important for the remembrance of the history of Berlin, as well as of Germany as a whole. We must remain able to show history in a way that it can be experienced. This memorial does exactly that,” Mr. Henkel said.

But PDS member Thomas Flierl, senator for culture in the Berlin government, has called the project the “wrong memorial at the wrong site.”

Mrs. Hildebrandt said the Bank Aktiengesellschaft (BAG), a conglomerate that has gained ownership of the property, has told the museum that it must either vacate the site when the current one-year lease expires or purchase the 80,000-square-foot property at a price of nearly $45 million. Bank Chairman Udo Wittler refused to be interviewed for this article.

Michael Donnermeyer, a spokesman for Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, said, “The city of Berlin has its own concept of how to remember the victims of the wall. Our concept is scientifically correct, whereas Mrs. Hildebrandt’s memorial is just a private initiative and historically incorrect.”

Describing the memorial as “charlatanry,” Mr. Donnermeyer said the display “suggests in the way it is arranged that people were shot at Checkpoint Charlie, which was never the case.”

Mr. Henkel said members of the CDU are trying to mediate between the bank and the museum.

“Our goal is to gain time and to start a fundraising campaign in order to be able to purchase the site and, by this, keep the memorial intact,” he said.

“However, we, as the opposition, are too small to do this alone. It actually is the responsibility of Mayor Wowereit to step in and help to maintain the memorial. He can be a decisive power to negotiate successfully with the bank if he only wants to.”

Mr. Donnermeyer responded that the mayor “has to obey the law and juridical decisions” and stay out of private matters.

The spokesman expressed surprise, however, when told that the demolition was scheduled for America’s Independence Day.

“If it is true that the demolition will happen on Fourth of July, this would be mediawise imprudent. One should at least postpone the day,” he said.

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