Dr. Axel Klausmeier, director of the Berlin Wall Foundation, speaking about the monument and providing background information about the controversial debate on finding an appropriate form and design for commemoration.
Interview 2012, Berlin Wall Memorial
Back in ‘95 it was an extremely controversial discussion that had really been set in motion as early as 1991. It was about how the division, but also the victims, should be adequately commemorated. Then a competition was held that was not decided until ‘94. From the 259 designs submitted, it was basically narrowed down to three, all of which had been awarded second, not first prize. Kohlhoff & Kohlhoff was chosen basically because it offered the least potential for conflict. The strength of this design was seen first in the fact that it framed “only” 70 meters of the former border strip. The word frame is meant here literally, since the design, and you can see this today, called for the former border grounds to remain inaccessible. It is framed by these large steel walls, which reinforce the idea that this area was not accessible. This preceded a long, intense debate; the other designs had called for much longer pieces of the Wall, 210 meters, 160 meters. All this took place during a time when totally different urban development discussions were taking place here at Bernauer Strasse, from having the grounds enclosed by new buildings to a highway-like expansion of the street – a large-scale, extensive memorial site was unthinkable at this time.
From a design perspective, the architects on the one hand stressed the expansiveness of the former border strip in its entire width, but also beyond this. You can see on the one side that the large steel wall extends quite a ways into the cemetery, and so in a way also marks the rear area behind the actual inner wall up to where the border troops were in charge. If you stand at the back of the monument and look through the concrete panels, you can get an impression of how the border strip functioned since some of the authentic remains have been preserved: You see the patrol road, as well as the raked strip of ground, you see concrete posts that used to support the signal fence, you also see the electricity source and of course, the watchtower.