Berlin Wall Turns 50 -- and Some Want to Rebuild It, Barbed Wire and All

VIDEO: Pres. Reagan challenges Soviet leader Gorbachev to eliminate the Berlin Wall.
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Fifty years after the Berlin Wall was literally built overnight on Aug. 13, 1961, very little of it is left to look at. So little in fact, that some -- even those who nearly lost their life because of it -- want to see portions of the much-hated structure rebuilt.

Two years after former President Ronald Reagan declared, "Tear down this wall!" the 1989 revolution not only led to Berlin's reunification but brought legions of souvenir-hunters to the city, chipping away at the "anti-fascist protection rampart" with chisels and hammers.

Industrial-size machinery joined the effort and by 1991 the wall, which East German leader Erich Honecker had promised would last a century, had all but disappeared. Ever since, historians have complained, and tourists have been disappointed.

"It was wrong to take all those pieces of Berlin Wall, paint them and send them off into the world as souvenirs of a peaceful revolution," says Berlin's former Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, who governed West Berlin from 1984-89 and a reunited Berlin for a decade beginning in 1991.

A few weeks ago Diepgen proposed to put parts of the wall back up, "as accurately as possible, with barbed wire, watch towers, and spring guns, so the brutality of the system is evident." His article in a Berlin daily caused strong public reactions; readers called the idea "bizarre," "ahistorical," "the wrong signal for the city."

The Wall, Reproduced

For the moment, the only place to find the wall as it once stood is away from the city center, on Bernauer Strasse, home of the Berlin Wall Documentation Center.

Bernauer Strasse wasn't just divided down the middle like many other streets in Berlin. The border actually ran through houses – looking out of a window would mean your head was in the West while your body was still in the East.

In the first weeks after the wall was built, people rappelled from windows to escape, and a couple to be married in the West got its bridal bouquet thrown from a window by relatives stuck in the East. And the famous photograph of an East German border guard deserting and jumping the barbed wire was taken here.

Now the Berlin Wall Documentation Center gives an impression of what the border really looked like, including a 70-meter (230-foot) section of double wall, complete with death zone and watchtower.

"There were quite a few people who said, let's keep a bit of the wall," says Pastor Manfred Fischer of the Reconciliation Chapel, which is situated next to the documentation center. "The problem was, no one wanted to keep that very bit right in front of their door. So we said, let's do it here, in Bernauer Strasse."

Pastor Fischer fought hard to keep a part the wall intact. "It is the place where world history and people's personal lives touched, were compressed into one," he says, adding that divisions remain to be overcome even if the wall that cemented them is gone. "And even if most of it is gone, culturally, socially, politically Berlin has yet to reunite completely."

A 'Disney' Version of the Wall

A few miles southeast on the northern banks of the Spree river, there is another part of the wall that was kept – a part that critics like Mr. Diepgen dismiss as a "Disney version" of history.

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