Berlin Wall – Tracing History

25 years ago the Berlin Wall fell. Here are the best ways to discover the remains…


2912118873_7c0ba35a29_o_antaldaniel (CC BY 2.0) )When on the night of November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall went down, nobody took any notice of what the spokesperson of the GDR border patrol had to say. He warned against demolishing the Wall – just when about everybody else could not wait for it to go. At long last, normality was what people were looking for. For 28 years the Wall had divided East and West Berlin. Its 160 kilometers of concrete separated lovers, friends, families.

Today the once divided halves of the city have since become one – with Heike, born on August 16, 1961, three days after the Wall was built. She has travelled to Berlin from Wismar on the Baltic Sea, expressing what many visitors to the German capital feel: “It’s a pity there is so little left of the Wall. That makes it hard for us, and especially our children, to recapture that terrifying, oppressive feeling the Wall gave us all for so many years.”

Look twice

True, searching for traces of the Wall you have to look twice – but they are there to be found.

1582330_4a7565f936_o_John Patrick RobichaudStart by looking to the ground. Double rows of cobblestones mark the course of the Wall over 5.6 kilometers right in the heart of the city. Why not begin following the traces at Brandenburg Gate or Potsdamer Platz. Metal plaques in the ground bear the inscription “Berlin Wall 1961–1989.” Close by, in Erna-Berger-Straße, you can see a former watchtower – almost looking a little forlorn these days…

Another historic spot is the border crossing Bösebrücke (named after resistance fighter against Nazism, Wilhelm Böse) – widely known as Bornholmer Bridge. It was the first border crossing to be opened during the night of November 9, 1989. “Moment by moment” visitors can follow the chronology of the dramatic events here: metal strips in the ground are inscribed with the exact times the large crowd of people approached the border step by step – appropriate quotations capture the spirit of those historic hours.

Wall trail

The Berlin Wall Trail (“Berliner Mauerweg”) marks the course of the former East German border fortifications around West Berlin. For 160 kilometers, on foot or by bicycle, you get a feel of what German separation was like. Forty points supply information in several languages about dramatic events, the Berlin,_Gedenkstaette_Berliner_Mauer,_2012-06_CN-01_Steffen Schmitzoverall political situation and everyday life in the divided city. The Wall Trail consists of 14 sections; at special landmarks en route like Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, Bernauer Straße, you can rent out the multimedia “Mauerguide,” available in English and German for 8 €/4 hours or 10 € all day.

Window of Remembrance

Following the Wall Trail you will sooner or later hit upon the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße. The open air exhibition contains the last remaining authentic stretch of the Death Strip, a mere 212 metres, the old path of the guards, remnants of the Wall, a part of “Grenzmauer 75,” 3.5 metres high, barbed wire, a guards’ tower.

The Window of Remembrance, the central piece of the exhibition, commemorates 128 victims of the Wall. Their photographs are adorned with a plastic rose each, a little further along stands a small vase with flowers: “This is extremely important for the families of the deceased. Many of them do not know where the victims, their nearest and dearest, were buried. For years, their deaths were hushed up and their families wondered why they never got any letters…,” says Dr. Gerhard Sälter, curator of the open air exhibition (www.berliner-mauer-gedenksstaette.de).

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, Chancellor Merkel opened the new permanent exhibition “1961 / 1989. The Berlin Wall” at Bernauer Strasse memorial: “A day of freedom is always a day of remembering the victims too,” said Merkel.Gedenkstätte_Berliner_Mauer_-_Fenster_des_Gedenkens_wiki_Blunt

Wall panorama

Not far from world famous Checkpoint Charlie, the best know Berlin Wall crossing point, where today actors guard the former border and stamp tourists’ passports, the history of the Wall can be experienced in a novel way. Artist Yadegar Asisi has created a Wall-panorama in a steel rotunda. On 900 square meters we immerse ourselves in a fictitious autumn day in divided Berlin in the 1980’s.

East Side Gallery

Another popular spot to learn about the Wall is the so-called East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain district. 118 artists from all over the world painted on the 1.3km-long Rear Wall between February and September 1990. Some images have long become icons like Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing, amongst the words: “God! Help me stayBerlin_Wall6270_wiki_Freepenguin alive among this deadly love.” A few metres on, the Flag of the Feeling of Togetherness of Nations and Religions adorns the concrete. (www.eastsidegallery.com)

Listen to history

The tour operator StattReisen Berlin in cooperation with the company Tonwelt offer a special city trip: Equipped with headphones and a receiver visitors embark on an acoustic time travel during the tour “Grenzgaenge grenzenlos”. You may listen to a border patrol in GDR radio or hear the Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic Walter Ulbricht’s famous dictum: “Nobody has the intention of building a wall”. (www.stattreisen.de)

A crucial point in the everyday life of Berliners during the years of the Wall was the Traenenpalast, the Palace of Tears. This is the name of the border crossing station at Berlin Friedrichstraße station. The exhibition “Border Experiences. Everyday Life in a Divided Germany” tells of the countless tears and endless misery of parting lovers, friends and relatives this terminal has seen.

And – you will find Berliners everywhere remembering the Wall – and the night it fell. “We shed tears … tears of joy. It was a magic moment – one which we did not think we would share during our lifetime”, recalls Peter…

Berlin Wall

Facts & Figures

  • Divided East Berlin from West Berlin for 28 years
  • Construction of, in GDR lingo, the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” began on 13 August 1961
  • The Wall around West Berlin was 156.4 km long, 43.7 kilometers marked the border between East and West Berlin
  • Dismantling of the inner city Wall took place between November 10 and November 30, 1989. Remains of the Wall in the Brandenburg region around Berlin were gone by November 1991
  • At least 136 people were killed on the Berlin Wall
  • Sections of the Wall can also be found in the CIA building in Langley, Virginia, the Vatican Gardens and the House of History in Bonn
  • Tiny fragments of the Wall are sold to this day in Berlin, chipped off by “Mauerspechte” (Wall woodpeckers)
Photo Credit: antaldaniel (CC BY 2.0), John Patrick Robichaud (CC BY 2.0), Steffen Schmitz (Carschten) / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (DE), Blunt (CC BY-SA 3.0), Freepenguin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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