Berlin: Work crews backed by about 250 police personnel removed parts of the Berlin Wall known as the East Side Gallery before dawn today to make way for an upscale building project, despite demands 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 1.2m 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 Berlin Wall. Construction workers removed a first piece earlier this month as part of a plan to make a road to a new luxury apartment complex. 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 1.2M wide parts of the wall, according to Toennies.
"The constructor had the right to do this... Last night we were told that he wanted to remove the wall pieces early this morning," Toennies said.
Plans to remove part of the 1.3km stretch of wall sparked protests accusing the developers of sacrificing history for profit.
At least 136 people died trying to scale the wall that divided communist-run East Berlin from West Berlin till November 9, 1989. Over the years, the stretch has become a tourist attraction with colourful murals decorating the old concrete tiles.
"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."
The East Side Gallery was recently restored at a cost of more than USD 3 million to the city. The wall section stood on the eastern side of the border strip built by communist East Germany after it sealed off West Berlin in 1961.