Rebuilding the wall - with giant dominoes

The Berlin Wall will be back to briefly divide the German capital again next month -- but with giant brightly coloured dominoes rather than cement slabs.


REUTERS - The Berlin Wall will be back to briefly divide the German capital again next month -- but with giant brightly coloured dominoes rather than cement slabs.

As the highlight of a 5-million euro celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, a 1.5-km (one-mile) long segment of the Wall will stand for two days along its original route in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

The row of 1,000 20-kg dominoes standing 1.5 metres apart -- painted in bright colours by school children and rising 2.5 metres high -- will be toppled at the end of a gala ceremony as a symbolic tribute to the collapse of the Wall 20 years earlier.

"It's only a temporary attraction," said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, outlining plans for a two-day festival commemorating the fall of what the communist East had portrayed as an "Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier" to ward off Western aggression.

"I don't think anyone will come up with the idea that we're building a Wall between East and West Berlin again. But there were many who ridiculed this idea at first. Now it's being seen as a wonderful way to symbolise the falling of the Wall."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the festivities, he said.

The Berlin Wall burst open on Nov. 9, 1989 after months of rising tension in East Germany. Many rushed immediately to border crossings after a Communist East German government leader told a news conference they were free to travel to the West.

The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War that had split the city and Germany, was peacefully swept away in the months that followed. The two Germanys reunited 11 months later in 1990.

"Death strip"

Wowereit said the far grander scale of the festival for the 20th anniversary compared to smaller previous events reflected both a growing interest in exploring the history of Berlin's Cold War divisions and a greater need to keep the past alive.

"I think 20 years marks a good moment to take stock, to take a deeper and more critical look than 10 years ago, and to take a look at what unites us," Wowereit said, referring to some of the lingering divisions between east and west two decades on.

The Wall began as a cordon of barbed wire thrown up by communist guards early on August 13, 1961, to stem a loss of skilled workers and professionals drawn by West Germany's post-war 'economic miracle'. 

Families were split, houses demolished and roads truncated for what mutated over years into two parallel walls separated by a raked sandy "death strip" where at least 136 people were killed trying to cross to the West.

Wowereit admitted that perhaps too much of the 160-km long Berlin Wall was too hastily torn down in the heady days of 1989 and 1990 -- depriving both tourists and Berliners of more than a few token remnants of the original Wall.

"Maybe it would have been wiser to leave more of the Wall in place to show what it was. But at the time the mood was to get rid of it all as fast as possible. I don't think anyone in Berlin would have tolerated keeping more of it standing."

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