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CanwegetridoftheWall?

1990: Free Spaces Emerge

Lots of space and little money: Berlin in the 1990s was a city of opportunity, but it offered few prospects for making money. There were vast amounts of vacant lots throughout the city, especially in the eastern part. Berliners used these open spaces until investors bought the land to build on, sell or lease. The public remained largely unaware that this was happening on Mühlenstraße in Berlin-Friedrichshain. The former border area was not integrated into the neighborhoods of Friedrichshain.

"The idea was: The past is the past. We don’t want anything to do with that. We are going to do everything new now. […] Today, we’d probably handle it differently, but it is also a testimony to the times."

Heskel Nathaniel, CEO of Trockland, discussing urban planning in the 1990s, 2021

In April 1991, the area behind the East Side Gallery was still largely vacant and unused.
In April 1991, the area behind the East Side Gallery was still largely vacant and unused.
By 1991, no new structures had yet been built on the properties next to the East Side Gallery around Stralauer Platz.
By 1991, no new structures had yet been built on the properties next to the East Side Gallery around Stralauer Platz.

Plans to Sell and Protests

"The West German idea has completely overshadowed the romanticism of these lost places."

Carsten Joost commenting on the development of the area along the Spree, 2021

Only after many of the open spaces had disappeared from the city center did the residents of Berlin begin to focus more intensely on the question of urban development. The establishment of the "Media Spree" set off the first protests against the privatization of the land along the river. "Media Spree" was an association of large investors interested in establishing in public-private partnership media companies on the Spree between Elsen Bridge and Jannowitz Bridge. This plan, however, was opposed by a vocal citizens’ group, who organized initiatives such as "Sink the Mediaspree." They demonstrated in creative ways, drawing public attention to their demand for preserving the public space.

Demonstration on the Spree against developing the river embankment, 2008
Demonstration on the Spree against developing the river embankment, 2008
Graffiti in Berlin-Friedrichshain in 2015
Graffiti in Berlin-Friedrichshain in 2015

"This is not a place tourists like. There are no Berliners here. There are no flats. It is basically a dead, sleepy town, or what do you call it? A dead office town."

Sebastian Eberhard discussing the development of the Spree riverbank, 2021

The American investor Anschutz was able to move forward with his plans without arousing much public attention. The Anschutz Entertainment Group bought the area on Mühlenstraße between Ostbahnhof and Warschauer Straße and built an event arena. In 2006, Anschutz removed the artwork "Masks" from the East Side Gallery to build a boating dock for the arena. The painting was moved next to the dock. In 2013, another investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, did something similar during construction of the "Living Levels" apartment building. He removed the artwork "Himlen over Berlin" to provide driveway access. This time thousands of people demonstrated against the construction plans and the destruction of the Gallery. More than 30,000 people signed the petition "Save East Side Gallery."

Demonstration demanding the preservation of the entire East Side Gallery, 2013
Demonstration demanding the preservation of the entire East Side Gallery, 2013
Banners, placards and even umbrellas advertise the East Side Gallery's monument status, 2013
Banners, placards and even umbrellas advertise the East Side Gallery's monument status, 2013
Despite protests, a high-rise was erected directly behind the former Berlin Wall, 2018
Despite protests, a high-rise was erected directly behind the former Berlin Wall, 2018

Civil Protests Achieve Partial Success

The protests were successful in part: Fewer sections of the Wall were moved than had originally been planned and investors promised to create a public path along the bank of the Spree. The Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district was able to stop the construction of ten townhouses along the Spree. After rezoning building land into green space, it established a public park that was financed through compensation paid by Anschutz. This guaranteed that at least some of the Spree grounds would remain publicly accessible.

Demonstration against the opening of the event arena built by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, 2008
Demonstration against the opening of the event arena built by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, 2008

Looking Back: Urban Planning Since 1992

In 2013 it was too late to stop other construction projects that had been approved much earlier. In late 1992, the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing announced an urban planning competition that included the properties on Mühlenstraße. The goal was to gather ideas about how best to develop the area around the train station (Ostbahnhof) and along Mühlenstraße and to restore the urban infrastructure destroyed by the Berlin Wall. The resulting "General Plan for the Train Station/Spree Embankment" laid the foundations for the development of the Spree riverbank that exists today. Until the 2000s, the public remained unaware of the building permits that had been granted and their consequences.

Kikue Miyatake's painting "Paradise out of the Darkness" was the first artwork to be moved from the Gallery to the former border strip in 1998. The opening made it possible for an access road to be built to the former granary, which housed a discotheque in the mid-1990s.
Kikue Miyatake's painting "Paradise out of the Darkness" was the first artwork to be moved from the Gallery to the former border strip in 1998. The opening made it possible for an access road to be built to the former granary, which housed a discotheque in the mid-1990s.

"I found it a bit intrusive and also perhaps a bit brazen, because the East Side Gallery is also a place of international interest."

Karsten Wenzel on the partial demolition of the East Side Gallery, 2021

The 2013 debate over the removal of Wall sections drew the public’s attention to the East Side Gallery’s precarious future. This served as the impetus for a five-year political debate that ended with the state of Berlin’s decision to preserve the Gallery for posterity. No more artworks were removed from the monument after this. Responsibility for the East Side Gallery was transferred to the Berlin Wall Foundation in November 2018. The foundation was entrusted with the task of preserving the monument and strengthening the identity of the East Side Gallery through historical and political educational work.

The relocation of Wjatscheslaw Schljachow’s painting "The Masks," the largest removed section of Wall, drew little public protest. The Anschutz Entertainment Group moved the 40-piece section of the Wall to the park to make way for its boating dock in 2006.
The relocation of Wjatscheslaw Schljachow’s painting "The Masks," the largest removed section of Wall, drew little public protest. The Anschutz Entertainment Group moved the 40-piece section of the Wall to the park to make way for its boating dock in 2006.
The painting "Himlen over Berlin" by Karina Bjerregaard and Lotte Haubart was moved to create an access road to the residential high-rise "Living Levels." There were loud protests, demonstrations and citizens' initiatives against the mural’s removal, 2013.
The painting "Himlen over Berlin" by Karina Bjerregaard and Lotte Haubart was moved to create an access road to the residential high-rise "Living Levels." There were loud protests, demonstrations and citizens' initiatives against the mural’s removal, 2013.

Wjatscheslaw Schljachow: “Die Masken“ Karina Bjerregaard: “Himlen over Berlin“

Mirta Domacinovic’s artwork "Signs in the Row" was lost in the mid-1990s when it was moved during the eviction of the trailer camp in 1996. The Trockland company moved other Wall segments to the park to create access to its hotel and residential complex "Pier 61 I 64." The artwork was reassembled in 2022.

Mirta Domacinovic: “Zeichen in der Reihe“

Contemporary witnesses remember

Could the construction projects have been reversed?
Manfred Kühne

2000s: Building land along the River Spree
Heike Püschel and Moritz Hillebrandt

Pier 61I64
Heskel Nathaniel

Berlin in the 1990s and today
Jeanett Kipka

Taking over and being ejected from free spaces
Gerold Kohl

"Taking the past into the future"
Heskel Nathaniel

Whose city is it?
Ralf Marsault

Berlin: from a divided city to a global metropolis
Heskel Nathaniel

Spreeufer potential after 1989
Manfred Kühne

Entertainment quarter at Spreeufer: a bizarre experiment
Manfred Kühne

1990s: The Wall must go
Manfred Kühne

Demolition over the artists' heads
Karsten Wenzel

Whose city is it?
Gerold Kohl

Building at the East Side Gallery
Heike Püschel and Moritz Hillebrandt

Smart solutions for urban development
Manfred Kühne

Free spaces for the youth
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Round tables on the trailer camps
Gerold Kohl

From a "lost place" to a developed site
Carsten Joost

A "second Potsdamer Platz" at Spreeufer
Manfred Kühne

Fall of the Wall and ejection from the city centre
Gerold Kohl

The Trockland company philosophy
Heskel Nathaniel

What do you think about the new buildings around the East Side Gallery?
Mirta Domacinovic

Whose city is it?
Heskel Nathaniel

Land around a monument: Building at the East Side Gallery
Heskel Nathaniel

Public and private investment in the wasteland
Manfred Kühne

A city for offices or a city for living in
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

How has Berlin changed in the last thirty years?
Sanem Kleff

A small town on Mercedes Platz
Heike Püschel and Moritz Hillebrandt

Future of the area
Manfred Kühne

2000s: The Wall should be preserved
Manfred Kühne

Civil initiative "Spreeufer für alle"
Carsten Joost

30 years after reunification: How has Berlin changed?
Dirk Moldt

Synergy between the entertainment quarter and the East Side Gallery
Manfred Kühne

1990s zeitgeist: The Wall must go
Heskel Nathaniel

How has Berlin evolved since the end of the GDR?
Christine Cyrus

Entertainment and a monument
Heike Püschel and Moritz Hillebrandt

Development despite monument protection
Manfred Kühne

"Selling out the city"
Ines Bayer and Raik Hönemann

Additional information:

The video shows the East Side Gallery as it appeared in 1990, before pieces of the Wall were removed from the Gallery. The first works of art are already finished.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOqyt1Y5tH8

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