Berlin Wall, Berlin
Potsdamer Platz is one of the places where you can see and touch the historic Berlin Wall that used to divide not only West Berlin from East Germany but also West and East in general. During almost three decades it was an icon of the Iron Curtain. It was constructed in 1961 and dismantled in 1989.
Not knowing the history of the area I wondered why the number 50 tram turned around at Bjornson Strasse on Sundays instead of carrying on across the bridge and why should there be a turn around at this point. When the Berlin Wall was in palce the Bornholmer Strasse Bridge was a crossing point. The Bornholmer Strasse S Bahn station became a ghost station where the trains going to the east or west of the city never stopped. There is a small exhibition on the eastern side of the bridge with photographs from the cold war era and a small memorial. There is a concrete wall along the back of the path. When the wall was first put up people use to climb the fence and work their way down the railway embankment cross the lines and come up on the other side in the west. As usual the way to stop this was with a taller inner security concrete wall which also ran pararell with the railway lines. At least 5 people met with accidents here and 4 more were shot by border guards. But this is where it all ended for the Berlin Wall on 09 November 1989 when thousands of people were able to freely cross from the east into the west and the GDR collapsed shortly afterwards. Going back to the beginning this was as far as trams could in the east and the reason for the turn around.
The 9th of November was a Thursday in 1989, and I was still at Magdeburg, on next day many people managed to get a seat on a flight to Berlin, and I stayed there for the weekend. I didn't get back before Monday noon, and by that time I had missed a test in History - but what History teacher wouldn't accept the excuse I had?
The Wall was built in 1961 to keep skilled workers from leaving the money-depleted East from moving to the West. The city was divided after the war in 1948 and though the Wall was torn down in 1989, the city still exudes a feeling of being two distinct entities. There are still small sections of the Wall remaining as a memory of the past and a tourist attraction.
The second and last Checkpoint Bravo was on the realigned route of the A115, the crossing was also known as Grenzübergangsstelle Drewitz-Dreilinden. This was used by the western allies and it was the busiest crossing point because it was the shortest route between West Berlin and West Germany. The checkpoint was built between 1968 and 1972 and was a more robust construction than the original Checkpoint Bravo. The original buildings are still there but if you drive past on the Autobahn the whole area has an appearance of an abandoned service station, though commercial drivers of lorries and vans seem to use the large parking area as a rest stop. The buildings were designed by Rainer Rümmler and Hans Joachim Schröder and they have a very modern appearance. There are various plans afoot to change the buildings into a hotel with diner and a club. So it is better to visit sooner rather than later before it all changes.
There are different ways to get to the site. The easiest is to catch a #118 bus from Wannsee Bahnhof to Isoldestrasse. I believe you can also catch the #620 bus. Having got off the bus turn right off Potsdamer Chaussee on to Isoldestrasse. This is a quiet road and you can walk along a footpath for the last part of the journey. Do not get confused and walk further along Potsdamer Chaussee and then use the live slip road which joins the Autobahn. I walked from the Checkpoint Bravo Museum through the woods and there is a set of steps at the back of the site.
Not too far from Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate is an area where the Berlin Wall has not been taken down and left as a reminder of the Cold War and the tragic division of Berlin that took place from 1961 to 1989.
A great movie to watch that goes into the history of the wall is The Tunnel .
Here I am with my pink umbrella standing in an area that once was East Berlin.
Following WW2, Germany was divided up into 4 parts, between the Americans, French, British and Russians. Berlin was later divide into sectors along similar lines. Until 13th August 1961, Berliners could move freely between the sectors. However, due to the large numbers leaving the Soviet sector for the bright lights of the west, the East German authorities constructed this wall to keep them in. Much more to come.....
There are parts of the Berlin wall going back up on Bernauer Strasse to attract tourists. You can also see a preserved part of the death strip with a reconstructed guard tower here. There is a viewing platform across the street. Most attempted escapes from East Berlin happened on Bernauer Strasse at this location. When one goes to the other side of the death strip there is a gap in the wall where East Germans would look through to the death strip.
This is part of the orginal wall still standing though you see most of the graffiti has been chipped or taken away at Potsdamer Platz, the area was a surprise for me the first time I saw it. You can see the new skyline and tall buildings, but also the crumbling stories of old buildings needing tearing down before they collapse on somebody. Like all of Berlin its such a contrast of things, new and old, shiny and faded and dull.
Here is a list of watchtowers, sections and remains of the former Berlin wall as well as how to get there and visit them:
1. Bernauer Strasse/Ackerstrasse
S-Bahn: S1, S2 Nordbahnhof
Berlin Wall sections
Berlin Wall memorial
2. Bösebrücke, Bornholmer Strasse
S4, S8, S10, S25
First Wall sections
Lamps and lane markings
3. Checkpoint Charlie
Subway: U6 Kochstrasse
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
First Wall section at Schützenstrasse
4. East Side Gallery
S-Bahn: S3, S5, S7, S9 Ostbahnhof oder Warschauer Str.
Subway: U1, U15 Warschauer Str.
Open Air Gallery on the Backland Wall
S-Bahn: S1, S2, S25 Nordbahnhof
First Wall sections
6. Kieler Strasse
Kieler Straße (District Mitte)
Berlin Wall sections
8. Parliament of Trees
S-Bahn: S1, S2 Unter den Linden
Installation of Berlin Wall sections
original patrols track
9. Potsdamer Platz (This is the one shown in my pics)
S-Bahn: S1, S2, S25
First Wall sections and watchtower
Puschkinallee, Schlesischer Busch
S-Bahn: S6, S8, S9, S10 , Treptower Park
Watchtower, Typ BT 9
First Wall sections
Subway: U6 Schwartzkoppfstraße
First Wall sections
12. St. Hedwig's Cemetery
Subway: U6 Schwartzkopffstraße
Berlin Wall and First Wall sections
If part of your trip to Berlin is to find out more about the Berlin Wall then you must visit the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse. There are a number of sites within walking distance of each other some of which are outside, others are indoors but everything is free to enter but please check opening their opening hours. The starting place for any visit is the Visitor's Centre which is opposite the Nordbahnhof S Bahn Station and conveniently at one end of any tour. Upstairs in the Visitor's Centre is a cinema which shows 2 different films about the construction and history of the wall. Downstairs there are staff available to provide information, leaflets, there are information terminals, toilets and there is also a book shop with specialist books about the Berlin Wall.
At Bernauer Straße a piece of original wall still exists. It was left as a memorial after the wall came down. The place is called "Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer" now.
At Bernauer Straße Berlin-Wedding (West) was divided from Berlin-Mitte (East) by the wall. It's the place where we sprayed grafittis onto the wall every year on school and rowing trips.
It used to be pretty depressing to walk along the west side as the houses on the east side were really close to the wall. From the lookout towers next to the wall you could see people on the streets of the East doing their shopping etc. It must have been even more depressing to be on the East side though - with people from the west staring at you doing your shopping.
When one starts thinking about the concept of a wall in general & what it does to people, how it boarders them & closes everything, one also starts thinking about life iteslf, about bigger & more important things. Just try to imagine what it must have been like back then, even though it was years ago. Berliners have a special connection to the Wall which I understand. I suppose there just has to be something left to remind them of what life was like before. There are still parts of the Wall on the way from Brandenburger Tor to Potsdamer Platz & around Potsdamer Platz itself. Take a closer look & try to put yourself in their shoes...
During our 4 day stay in the Mercure Checkpoint Charlie Hotel we walked past this preserved section of the Berlin Wall each day. There were always people reading the information boards attached to the wall containing photos and history of the Wall which divided Berlin during the Cold War.
Photos showing the district during this period were interesting.
Around the corner to the left was the re enactment of the "Checkpoint Charlie" Guard House where American soldiers contralled movement between East and West Berlin.
Throughout Berlin you can see this metal strip in the pavements. You get goose bumps when you think what happened here just an few decades ago. I think the city of Berlin deserves a compliment for showing its horrible history to people in stead of hiding it.
The Berlin Wall was the most symbollic icon of Communist oppression in the second half of the 20th century. This section of the Berlin Wall is where the artist Ben Wargin installed his "Parliament of Trees against War and Violence" in the form of segments of the Berlin Wall listing how many people were killed at the Wall in what year. A very moving spot with concrete tablets on the ground listing the names of people who died trying to reach the freedom of the West.
By the late Fifties, eight to ten thousand East Germans were fleeing to West Germany daily. On August 13, 1961, the government of East Germany constructed a wall around Berlin and through its center to keep its citizens in. The wall was composed of 155 km of barbed wire barricade and concrete wall with an average height of 3.60 m. The border was guarded by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over 300 watch towers, and thirty bunkers.
During the Wall's existence there were around 5,000 successful escapes into West Berlin; 192 people were killed trying to cross and around 200 were seriously injured.
In May 1989, Hungary opened its borders to Austria. Hungary was promptly flooded with East Germans and 4500 crossed to the West in a matter of hours. Others crammed the West German Embassy property in Prague.
The East German government allowed the East Germans in Prague access to the West. The travel restrictions for East Germans were lifted somewhat by the new government's shift on November 9, 1989. It was mistakenly announced that all restrictions had been abandoned. Tens of thousands of people immediately went to the Wall. It eventually became clear to the border guards that there was little way to hold back these huge numbers of East German citizens. In face of the escalating crowds the guards eventually opened the access points. The ecstatic East Berliners were soon greeted by jubilant West Berliners on the other side in an all-out party atmosphere. November 9 is thus considered the date the Wall fell.