‘We Don’t Want to See a Wall Anymore’: Berlin Shuts Down an Artist’s Bold Plan to Rebuild the Barrier

The planned reconstruction sparked a powerful backlash even though it was due to be torn down on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

People watch a preserved segment of the Berlin wall. Photo: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images.

Berlin has decided that it does not want the Wall back or to revisit the old East Berlin, even temporarily. An ambitious art project to recreate the barrier that long divided the city has been canceled for this year at least, two weeks before it was due to be launched in the German capital.

The immersive art project DAU was due to start on October 12 when a stretch of replica Berlin Wall would be erected. Visitors would have to apply for a visa as well as pass through border controls. After the checkpoint, they would enter into the Russian filmmaker and artist Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s re-imagined East Berlin via films and performances, which he has conceived together with Berliner Festspiele.

Once news broke about the mysterious installation at the end of August, the project quickly captured media attention worldwide. Several artistic partners were on board, with contributions by Brian Eno, Marina Abramovic, and Massive Attack expected. Inside the sealed off area, which was due to be placed in Berlin’s central tourist district on the historic Unter den Linden, some 13 feature films would be on view (compiling over 700 hours of footage), as visitors traded their cellphones for a mobile device that would guide them through the installation. The concrete barrier was due to be torn down after four weeks, on November 9, marking the same date back in 1989 when the real Berlin Wall finally fell.

The founders described it as “a special experiential space” inspired by the divided city, which was reunited 29 years ago. But for some, that past is all too recent and it doesn’t need to be resurrected in any interpretative form. “Whoever was surrounded by [the Berlin Wall] was trapped and they didn’t come out. It was not a gimmick,” wrote several public figures from Berlin, in an open letter shared with Berlin newspaper Tagespiegel. “People in a city who have suffered two dictatorships in a few decades need no instruction on what a dictatorship means,” they declared.

Despite the push back, technical concerns and safety issues were, in fact, decisive factors in calling off Khrzhanovsky’s work, according to Monopol. Local and state authorities were not convinced that they could carry out the needed precautions in the short time available. It is still possible, however, that the project could happen in the future but, for now at least, the Berlin Wall remains a memory, with surviving fragments museum pieces or memorials.

In a statement, the Berlin Festspiele rejected reports that the project had been officially cancelled. It insisted that it was not too late to rescue the project: “The organizer will… continue to work towards redressing any gaps in the application documents in close exchange with the relevant authorities.” Those authorities include the Berlin traffic guidance agency.

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