Berlin Wall, Berlin
The Berlin that I knew was the splitted city, a few months after the falling of the wall and before the unification. My kids enthusiastically joined the crowds hitting the remaining panels of the wall, without any idea about the meaning of that gesture.
Now they do know.
It was important to be there then, to see the differences separating both worlds, and to witness history happening.
Now I need to visit Berlin - there's a whole city to visit, and to compare with those small but still vivid memories.
There is so much information about the wall here and elsewhere that there's no point in me repeating the factual stuff and so I'll just share my personal impression.
When I came across the section pictured, abutting the former SS and Gestapo headquarters on Niederkirchner Strasse, just off Wilhelmstrasse, I was surprised at how flimsy and insubstantial it was. But then it wasn't just the wall itself that was the barrier to prevent East Germans defecting to the west. Before reaching it there was a no-man's land of minefields, dog patrols and tank traps to be negotiated all of which were patrolled regularly and under surveillance from the watchtowers of the East German border guards. In places this no-man's land was up to 100 metres wide and the wall itself the least of the obstacles.
Not only that but the wall was designed to be collapsible into West Germany in the event of the Cold War becoming hot - East German tanks could simply plough straight through it.
All scary stuff but remember when reading about the history of the wall that there was paranoia and propoganda on both sides.
For a good general, and unbiased, page about the wall remnants (and with links elsewhere) have a look at Berlin Wall Guide
It is hard to imagine the existence of the Wall today, and all the trouble and deaths that it caused. There are still a few sections remaining and stories kept alive by means of photos or even parts of Wall being sold.
Parts of the wall have been preserved near the Reichstag and the Hauptbahnhof (central station). The longest part of Wall can be found at the "East Side Gallery". It stretches from Ostbahnhof station to the Oberbaumbrücke. Here, the wall has been painted in bright colours.
The Wall markings (Mauermarkierung) in Zimmerstraße near Checkpoint Charlie are close to being fun. You put one foot on the east side of the marking and one foot to the west, and somehow you cannot imagine what happened there.
If you want to get depressed go to Bernauer Straße (U-Bahn station of U 8; Bernauer Straße 111, 13355 Berlin-Mitte) which separtes the suburbs of Mitte (east) and Wedding (west). The former death stripe is still a bare space between apartment buildings. It shows the former border in its brutality with the death-stripe, consisting of the so-called Vorderlandmauer (front-wall), gravel stripe, road, light stripe and Hinterlandmauer (back-wall).
On August 1961 they started to shut off the houses in the Russian sector. The people jumped from their windows onto the footpath in the French sector. Soon the houses were demolished, just the walls remained as border wall. To clean up the death-stripe the graves of Sophien cemetery were relocated, and in 1985 they blew up the Church of Reconciliation (Versöhnungskirche) – at its former site a chapel was erected in 1999.
Since 1998 there is a memorial site at the corner with Ackerstraße, and a Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer.
Another incredibly distasteful site of the Wall is Invalidenfriedhof, north of Hauptbahnhof. They flattened parts of the cemetery and used the cemetery wall as the part of the border fortification. But not a lot has remained of this part of the death-stripe.
Near Brandenburger Tor you will find an installation of trees, memorial stones and border segments as the reminder of the Wall and the people who died here.
Favorite thing: There are many areas in the city where you can see traces of the Berlin Wall. Though once a symbol of division in the city, nowadays the wall is chiefly of interest to historians and tourists. I remember reading about the wall when very young, and seeing the pictures on TV when it finally toppled. It was great to get the chance to see it for real.
We had been crossing Potzdammerplatz already a few times and only the last time we saw these marks on the ground.
It was a very weird sensation that they way we walked around and the cars coming by wouldnt have been possible till 1989. And after they cleared the wall away.
A simple, austere religious building, remarkable well-suited for its site.
There had been a neo-gothic pile here, much loved in its community - but it was located on Bernauer Strasse, one of the street most affected (and most traumatized) by the division of Berlin into East and West. The church was on the Eastern side (just barely), but it was in the "no-go" zone too close to the West for comfort. The church was closed by the DDR authorities; and in the 1985 it was ruthlessly demolished. (Another five years, and it surely would have been spared.)
The Reconcilation Chapel was built to the designs of a local architect/designer who wanted something that would resonate far beyond Berlin. Undeniably contemporary in its concept and execution, the Chapel is inspired by a post-theocratic, post-Barthian concept of religion that emphasizes the need to re-create the foundations of faith after the traumas of the 20th century. The building succeeds marvellously in creating a space set apart from historicism and commercialism, a pure void which allows one to contemplate all the varieties of human injustice.
This is spiritually as far from the Berliner Dom as you can get.
Favorite thing: The former barrier which surrounded West Berlin and became the symbol of the Cold War. It was built on August 13, 1961 with 96 miles (155 km) of barbed wire barricade and concrete wall which had an average height of 11.8 ft (3.60 m). On November 9, 1989 East Berlin open the border and the wall was torn down by end of 1990 as Communism collapsed and Cold War came to an end.
Favorite thing: Up until 1989 the city of Berlin and actually the whole of Germany was divided into East and West. Right through the city there was a big wall. It stretches from Ostbahnhof station to the Oberbaumbrücke. Nowadays big pieces of the wall are stil there. Many artists spray the wall with beautiful art. Unfortunately I don't have a good example to show this art to you.
Standing on the wall in 1989 was a very special moment... (Apart from that I wonder how I got up there!!! Can't remember!!)
One week after the wall came down in that special night 9/10 November 1989 when 50% of all German citizens cried we went to Berlin to take our own pieces of the wall and to once in our lives stand on top of it. There was a hole in the wall at Brandenburg Gate with a improvised passport control, a lot people were walking around - from east or west, we walked around East Germany etc....an exciting day with a spooky atmosphere really!! I will never forget those days!
Just imagine one day you woke up from your sleep in the morning, and finds that your friends, neighbours, loved ones are across a thick wall - and that you cannot see them anymore. this is what happened when the Berlin wall was built.
The wall is not circular but it is sort of zig zag around the city. Some parts are no longer around - but there is a marking on the pavement with red brick.
Some places had the wall which is 30-foot-tall concrete thing, with barbed wire and a killing zone of tank traps. But in others, especially up in the French Sector, it was just the backs of those buildings.
Fondest memory: There are lots of vendors selling souveniers claiming it is a piece of the broken down wall...just do not be gullible...it is very unlikely you get to see even crumbs!!!
The Wall was built overnight...
Iagine waking up one day and you realise your family lives next block up, now lives across from wall and you have no contact with them anymore. The wall was not a circular wall it was rather a zig-zag one along ward lines and alley. It just appears out of no where.
Some parts have a 30-foot-tall concrete thing, with barbed wire - looks just like a killing zone of tank traps. But in others, especially up in the French Sector, it ran through what had been blue-collar apartment blocks, and in some were just the backs of those buildings.
A good place to see would be near the Potsdam Sq.
Fondest memory: The Berlin Wall, this is the real wall, not the one they built in memorium. I really like the scratchy graffiti on this part. The walking tour guide was impressed that I could hurdle the thing so quickly. It really wasn't that hard. After wondering why it was so hard for the easterners to get across, he told me about the giant space in between this and another wall containing armed guards, attack dogs, electric fences and barbed wire among other things. That could be it.
One of the main icons of Berlin hardly exists anymore. You can buy a piece in a souvenir shop or go see the little remains near the Hauptbahnof and the Reichstag. The East Side Gallery is the largest open-air gallery in the world where the longest remaining section has been painted in bright, optimistic colours. To identify the west part of the wall, look for the colours. The east part is always grey :-((
You must see the Berlin Wall, of course! I was there about nine years ago, only a couple years after the Wall came down, but they still had about a mile of it left standing. The murals that have been painted there are absolutely breathtaking and heart-wrenching.
Fondest memory: Seeing the first Western telephone booth in East Berlin. It was bright yellow.