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Germany marks anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall

celebration November 9, 1997
Web posted at: 2:12 p.m. EST (1912 GMT)

BERLIN (CNN) -- German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Sunday marked the eighth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by urging all Germans no to forget the victims of "Communist Party dictatorship." The exhortation came amid efforts by artists and citizens to preserve the last remnants of the wall as a monument to modern German history.

"We should not forget the victims of the Communist Party dictatorship or belittle their suffering," Kohl said Sunday.

He hailed the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989, as an epochal upheaval marking the end of East Germany's Communist regime, the end of the Cold War, and the beginning of a new era for the world.

Kohl praised the process of German re-unification and integration, saying that "thanks to our combined efforts, German unity is a living reality today."

CNNs Mary Pflum reports
icon 2 min. 10 sec. VXtreme video
East Germany's Communist government erected the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The wall fell after weeks of massive anti-government protests on November 9, 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall is often described as the "End of the Cold War." East German border guards shot 77 people who tried to escape to the West over the wall during the course of its existence.

But not everyone agreed with that assessment. Reinhard Hoppner, the Social Democratic head of Germany's north-eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, said there is still a major divide between former East and West German citizens, often nourished by preconceptions and prejudices.

He said the divide no longer followed the line of the Berlin Wall but was defined instead by the division between "the poor and the rich, between those who have a job and those who don't."

Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen -- marking the start of the construction of a monument to commemorate those who died at the Berlin Wall -- also called on Germans not to forget the history of the former two Germanys.

He said that while a debate about inter-German relations may be difficult and unpleasant, it is necessary to discuss that historic period in order to keep alive people's awareness of it.

Church leaders echoed similar concerns Sunday and criticized that western Germany increasingly appeared to lose interest in the difficulties and problems in eastern Germany.

Senior evangelical church leader Manfred Kock warned that an attitude of "we helped them enough, now they have to fight for themselves" was increasingly prevalent in former West Germany.

Berlin Wall gallery

But another call for help in Berlin recently has focused on the very symbol of Cold War division: the Berlin Wall itself.

Artist Kani Alavi is among those who have been fighting a battle to save the two kilometers of the wall that still stand.

Alavi's painting is part of Berlin's East Side Gallery, a series of murals lining the longest stretch of the remaining wall sections.

He holds politicians responsible for ignoring the disappearance of what, in his view, should be a monument saved to preserve history for coming generations.

"It was a very brutal, very cruel thing that happened back then," Alavi says about the historic and tragic events played out along the wall. "But our politicians try to cover it up now. They don't want to talk about it. It's just like Nazis. After the Nazis, they tried not to talk about the problem any more. And now we have the same situation."

While German corporations such as air carrier Lufthansa and car manufacturer Daimler-Benz have made some donations to preserve the wall, Alavi insists it is the government's responsibility to finance its upkeep. And that upkeep is urgently needed as recent studies have suggested the gallery may collapse within two years due to wind, rain and plundering by souvenir hunters.

Berlin riverfront

A key factor for the rapid disappearance of the wall has been real estate development, which boomed after the wall and its surrounding fortifications were cleared away. Berlin's Senate recently voted to tear down another two sections of the wall gallery in order to make room for the construction of a hotel.

"The government cannot do everything in this city -- there is too much to be done in Berlin," said senate spokesman Eduard Heussen.

But Berlin District Mayor Helios Mendiburu disagrees. "People died trying to escape from the wall. If it's only to remember those people who lost their lives and who died at the wall, I think that is reason enough to preserve the memory of the wall."

Correspondent Mary Pflum contributed to this report.


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