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Protected by scores of German police officers, workers removed sections of a key remnant of the Berlin Wall before dawn Wednesday despite earlier protests demanding the concrete artifact of the Cold War be preserved.
The removal came as a shock to residents, just as it did on Aug. 13, 1961, when communists first built the barrier that divided Berlin during the Cold War.
Tour guide Rolf Strobel, 52, was among the scores of people who came to gape at the holes in what had been the longest remaining stretch of the wall — about eight-tenths of a mile.
The wall remnant is a gallery of colorful murals created following the 1989 popular uprising in what was then Communist East Germany. One of the murals features Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German chief Erich Honecker, who built the Berlin Wall.
"I'm quite disappointed. This is impertinence," Strobel said of the wall's dismantling. He argued that it belongs to the public and not investors like Maik Uwe Hinkel, who paid the workers to take down four panels from the barrier.
Hinkel is building a luxury apartment complex nearby along the Spree River and wants to create an access road through the wall. But he stopped his work following a number of protests this month, including one led by actor David Hasselhoff, who starred in the TV series Baywatch and Knight Rider.
Hasselhoff is a popular singer in Germany; his anthem "Looking for Freedom" was belted out by the generation who brought down the Berlin Wall.
During a protest he thanked people for joining. "This is a part of history," he said. He also pledged to hold a "huge concert" in Berlin to increase the pressure if talks to preserve the wall fail.
In an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, Hinkel said he was tired of fruitless negotiations with city officials. He also said Wednesday's removal is temporary so trucks can reach the building site.