BERLIN -- In November 1989, the Berlin Wall opened, and soon after was being torn to pieces by jubilant crowds from both sides. Almost a quarter of a century later Berliners again took to the streets over the wall -- only this time to protect what is left of it.
Late last week, when construction workers began dismantling a roughly 70-foot section of the wall's longest remaining expanse -- a nearly mile-long monument to peace that is covered in paintings and known as the East Side Gallery -- protesters turned up in droves. The first hastily organized demonstration on Friday drew several hundred, but over the weekend thousands of people massed to protect the massive concrete slabs from being removed and relocated in an adjacent park.
They were particularly incensed that the project was to make way for an access road for new luxury apartments -- helpful for a city whose budget could use bolstering from development, not so helpful for ordinary Germans.
"History should never be a luxury," read one placard, capturing the protesters' dismay over gentrification.
City officials and the developer, Maik Uwe Hinkel of Living Bauhaus, responded by noting that the space would also serve the construction of a nearby pedestrian bridge over the river, to replace one destroyed in World War II, according to the daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung.
Many residents view the remaining row of tall concrete slabs as an important testimonial to life in Communist East Germany, when the 28-mile barrier encircling West Berlin severely hampered their contact with the other side, and they are intent on keeping the East Side Gallery intact.
"It's about letting future generations know what life was like for parts of this city and at the same time reminding them of the joy that was felt upon reunification," said Robert Muschinski, 50, an activist who helped organize the demonstrations.
A popular tourist attraction, the stretch of wall snakes along Berlin's Spree River and is emblazoned with art from 1990 that was restored in 2008 -- colorful graffiti and famous murals like the "Fraternal Kiss," which shows the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and his East German counterpart, Erich Honecker, locking lips.
The work crews removed only one four-foot-wide slab before the protesters blocked them. On Monday, Mr. Hinkel called off any further removals until a major meeting with the relevant players in the project set for March 18.
"I am dedicated to the preservation of this piece of the wall," the German news agency dpa quoted Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, as saying.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.