The stealth removal of parts of the East Side Gallery at 5am last Wednesday shocked and outraged those in favour of preserving the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall – which is to say, nearly everyone. But that was nothing compared to developer Maik Uwe Hinkel’s latest sneaky move.
None other than dictator Kim Jong-un has expressed interest in the removed segments of the Wall – and, judging by leaked documents and photos of North Korean ambassador Si Hong Ri exiting the Adlon Hotel with city officials and members of Hinkel’s investment group on Easter Sunday, Berlin is more than willing to play ball, especially if a multi-million-euro offer is involved.
This wouldn’t be the first Berlin property scooped up by the infamous republic. U-Bahn wagons have been sighted in the Pyongyang metro system – some with the German graffiti still on them. And former leader Kim Jong-Il, who studied in East Germany, was a noted collector of GDR memorabilia.
According to sources close to Hong Ri, Jong-un hopes to make the East Side Gallery segments the cornerstone of a newly planned public park and sculpture garden in Pyongyang. The mural – “Himlen over Berlin”, a Wim Wenders tribute by Danish artists Karina Bjerregaard and Lotte Haubart – will remain. However, the side of the Wall that originally faced the Spree will be painted over with portraits of Jong-un and his father in a symbolic ode to the newly re-established economic relations between Germany and North Korea.
Somewhat disturbingly, Kani Alavi, spokesperson for the East Side Gallery Artist Initiative, has actually spoken in favour of the move. “Take a look around – Berlin is unified, capitalism won. We wanted to preserve the Wall as a reminder of the dangers of a divided nation, but if anyone needs this message now, it’s North Korea.” He points out that pieces of the Wall have already been exported around the world – including South Korea, which received three segments in 2005.
However, other Berliners are predictably infuriated. “Yes, better that they go to a park than to some billionaire’s backyard,” says Club Commission spokesperson Lutz Leichsenring, who co-organised March 17’s massive protest featuring David Hasselhoff. “But the only thing worse than an investor is a dictator. Berlin of all places should know better.”
Will there be yet another demonstration? “Maybe once the weather gets warmer,” says Leichsenring, who notes that city residents might be experiencing “protest fatigue” at the moment. Instead, his group is taking a different tactic: inspired by the recent Facebook campaign for marriage equality, they’re calling for the public to change their profile picture to an image of Hasselhoff in solidarity with the former Baywatch star, who recently tweeted about plans for a “concert to save the Wall”. “If enough people do it, maybe we can make Herr Wowereit take notice once and for all.”