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Graffiti on Madrid's Berlin Wall pieces 'nearly cleaned off by mistake', says retired mayor
By thinkSPAIN Team Mon, Nov 11, 2019
THREE chunks of the Berlin Wall have been on display in a Madrid park for exactly 29 years – but the day before they were unveiled, council workers started cleaning the original graffiti off them by mistake.
Saturday was the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the start of the reunification of the 'two Germanies', on November 9, 1989 – a moment for great celebration across Europe, including in Spain, according to José María Álvarez de Manzano.
Now 82, he was mayor of Madrid between 1991 and 2003 and, the year before he gained power, helped out his predecessor, Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún, in setting up the pieces of the wall in what is now known as Berlin Park.
“From the start, it had a tremendous impact,” admits Álvarez de Manzano.
“So many people went to see them out of curiosity.
“It was really intriguing, knowing we had a piece of the Berlin Wall right here in Madrid, and the people of Madrid were fully in support of the idea of what the wall's coming down really meant.”
The three pieces, now made into a fountain (pictured above), cost nine million pesetas to acquire and ship over - €54,000 – and the city hall was due to cut the red tape on them in a public ceremony on November 9, 1990, the day of the first anniversary.
But on November 8, 1990, Álvarez del Manzano – who was deputy mayor to Sahagún – got a panicked call from the head of city cleaning services.
Council technicians were, reportedly, scrubbing off the graffiti, believing it to have been the recent work of local vandals rather than the historic spray-painted messages left by the separated citizens of East and West Germany.
“There was no order in place to wash off this graffiti,” Álvarez del Manzano reveals.
“We'd issued orders to scrub all Madrid's walls clean of spray-paint, but not these; they got confused.
“But I rushed down there and stopped them in time.”
The Berlin Wall pieces were, and are, 'a reflection of Madrid as an open-minded city' which was 'against all that the communism and dictatorship involved in the wall signified'.
Álvarez del Manzano was one of thousands who saw the wall shortly before it came down.
“It was tremendous, seeing families bidding each other farewell from either side of the wall. It was a tragic situation,” he says.
Until 30 years ago, a law was in force in East Germany banning any money in cash from being brought in from West Germany.
“I'd gone there by car, but I wanted to return by metro, and I had some cash in my pocket,” says the former mayor.
“They searched us all on the metro, turned out our pockets. But in the end, it was okay.”
He describes the fall of the wall as 'one of the greatest moments of delight' in the western world in living memory.
“I think it was knowing that it meant freedom for the Germans and the end of communism that did it,” Álvarez del Manzano says.
Photograph from the Repsol Guide
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