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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berlin Evicts Checkpoint Memorial

BERLIN -- Workers on Tuesday began tearing down a memorial to people killed at the East German border during the Cold War after the private Checkpoint Charlie museum lost a court fight over the real estate where the field of 1,067 crosses stood.

The bank that owns the parcel in a high-rent downtown district wanted out of its lease to the museum at the former crossing point through the Berlin Wall.

The museum had until Tuesday to raise the 36 million euros ($43 million) to buy the land from the bank. When time ran out, court marshals arrived to supervise the memorial's removal.

Workers in yellow raincoats began unscrewing the crosses from their mountings and carrying them away after covering the plaques with the victims' names. Cranes hauled away original sections of the wall, which the museum had brought out of storage and placed around the site.

Police said it would take about two days to clear it completely.

"No, no, you have to listen to me," said museum director Alexandra Hildebrandt, imploring the court marshal without effect as the workers arrived at the site early Tuesday morning.

Several hundred protesters gathered at the former crossing point between East and West Berlin, jeering and whistling derisively in the rain. "Remember, Don't Forget," read one sign. Several people shouted, "Betrayers of the fatherland!" Four men briefly chained themselves to crosses but unchained themselves after police spoke to them.

"We unchained ourselves voluntarily because this is not supposed to escalate, but we feel a lot of anger," said one of them, Juergen Breitbarth.

The museum had been leasing the land from the Hamm-based BAG bank but its agreement expired at the end of 2004, and a court ordered the memorial removed.

The memorial consists of a rebuilt section of the Berlin Wall and heavy wooden crosses representing the museum's tally of the people killed at the East German border from 1961 to 1989. People who fled communist East Germany risked being shot dead by the country's border guards.

The adjacent Checkpoint Charlie museum -- Berlin's second busiest with 700,000 visitors last year -- is not in any jeopardy.

The checkpoint was established by the U.S. Army in 1961 after East Germany closed its border. It was the main crossing where foreign tourists, diplomats and military personnel entered and left the Soviet sector of the divided city, with multi-lingual signs warning in large black letters: "You are leaving the American sector."

Because of the historical significance of the site, museum director Hildebrandt has ruled out erecting the memorial on cheaper land elsewhere.

Hildebrandt said she would put the crosses in storage and continue her efforts to buy the land. "The crosses will have to await their time until they can be put back," she said.