This Soviet Memorial, built in the years following WW11, is one of the largest Soviet soldier cemeteries in Germany. Expansive rows memorials and commemorative plaques lead to the 11 meter-high bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, depicted over a destroyed the swastika and holding a child in his arms. The graves of thousands of Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for Berlin lie alongside the memorial area. This is an interesting place for those interested in the large, social-realism design popular in this era of history.
The memorial is located in Treptow Park on the southem bank of the river Spree in eastern Berlin. This urban oasis consists of recreational space, grassy meadows, sports fields and playground areas. There is also a beergarten and historic cafe' that sometimes has jazz bands playing. During warm, summer days the park is especially popular, a place for people to mingle, take in the sun, play soccer in the meadows, eat ice cream, walk along the River Spree, etc.
Between 1951 and 1989 the East German Stasi used the Hohenschönhausen Prison as a detention centre for prisoners that had not been convicted. These consisted of persons opposed to the regime but also later on persons trying to flee to the west. During the early days various method of physical torture were used on the prisoners but as time went on the methods became much more sophisticated and psychological techniques were used. The prison was located in a restricted military zone and did not appear on any maps, the prisoners were transported there in vans with blacked out windows, so they had no idea where they were being held. They were held in insolation and this was part of the techniques used by the Stasi. Due to the length of time prisoners could be held in the prison, in the end most were forced to confess.
At present you have to go round the prison as part of a group. You need to pick a tour carefully, most are in German though there is one in English at 2pm on Saturdays. I went on a Monday which is a free day and was put on a tour where the guide also spoke English.
I decided to go for a stroll around the ellipse-shaped street of Majakowskiring with its upmarket houses. During the 1950’s this was the road that senior members of the GDR government lived in with its 1920’s houses, which were converted to suit their needs. During that period the street was well guarded and shielded from the outside world. For members of the Politburo this was not enough and after the Hungarian Uprising they became more nervous for their safety and a decision was made to build the secure Forest Community out at Wandlitz north of Berlin.
The Stasi Museum is housed in one of buildings, that was once part of the Ministry of the Interior Complex. The Stasi were established in the early 1950’s and was presided over by Erich Mielke. The Stasi was the secret police of the GDR and its purpose was repression of the people and it did its work well. When the wall came down one of the buildings was turned into a museum in 1990. In theory you can have a look at your file and discover what information was held and who may have provided it, but few people have achieved this. The museum has various rooms with exhibits and includes Mielke’s Office. The problem with this museum is language. Everything is in German and as you wander about the different floors your are not quite sure if you are allowed to enter some of the corridors. I did ask about a guide book in English at the cash office but was met with blank stares. I know that guided tours in English are available for groups, if sufficient notice is given but its more of a problem for the independent traveller.
Across the street from the Reichstag, at the northeast corner of Tiergarten, is a memorial to those who were killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall to flee from the east. The memorial is simple: a series of crosses with some photos of the deceased and their stories. It is a sombering experience to contemplate the tragic loss of life and opportunity that took place over the years near here.
The headquarters of the former East German secret police is now open for you to explore. Visitors can look around the offices and conference rooms of secret police chief Erich Mielke, have coffee in the cafeteria they used, and examine a series of exhibits displaying bugging devices, spy cameras etc.
It is quite fascinating to walk calmly and curiously through what once was the center of an imposing police state. The low quality furniture and surroundings may say different things to people about the reality of the times of the former Soviet satelite state.
I'd recommend also seeing the 2006 German film "The Lives of Others," which won the US Academy award for best foreign picture. You will recognize the building exterior of the Stasi headquarters, which is the museum, as well as one of the delivery trucks that is in the main lobby - the type used to pick up and deliver those who were arrested. Rather frightening.
A few hundred meters after the brandenburg Gate you will find the monument dedicated to the Red Army that conquered Berlin in 1945, marking the downfall of the Third Reich. The monument is a column built in typical monumental Soviet-style with a victorious Red Army soldier on top and tanks and artillery for decoration. It is one of the few remnants of Soviet occupation which ultimately lead to the establishment of an East German communist state.
€5 to get in, which seemed reasonable and then found that it was only one room. I immediately thought 'rip-off', but I was in there a good hour and thought it was money well spent.
It's put together well and really gives an insight into the polyester-wearing, concrete building, ultra-organised, intrusive and controlling, "we're the best country in the world and the west is rubbish" culture that was the DDR.
The mock up of an apparentment sitting room and kitchen is frighteningly real and there's a chance to listen to some East-German rock hits.
Easy to find opposite the Dom on the other side of the river.
...to the victims of the wall you can find these white crosses behind the Reichstag. They carry the names and the dates of the deaths on them...the first dead was Guenther Litfin in 1961, the last one was shot dead in 1989, nine month before the fall of the wall...His name was Chris Gueffroy.
On one of the pics here you can see some whiter stones. These are showing the line where the wall once stood....
The Wall, whose total length was 155 km, was erected over one night - on August 13th, 1961. The division tore apart the city and the nation. It may sound impersonal so it's worth remembering that in fact it tore apart many families and friends. Not everyone was able to accept this division passively. Some desperate 'daredevils' tried to cross the Wall. About 150 of them paid for it with their lives.
3 200 were caught and imprisoned. Finally, after 28 years, the Wall fell and the moment came when Berliners from the opposite sides of the Wall could fall into each other's arms. But they can't forget the times of inhuman regime and don't want to forget about the victims.
Pay you respects at the crosses of the departed. To remember their sacrifice for freedom.
This picture was taken in 1998 and the crosses have now been replaced by 1065 8-foot wooden crosses errected by Alexandra Hildebrandt, an art historian and the director of a private Checkpoint Charlie museum.
See my other tip for recent photo
Chris Gueffroy was the last victim of Berlin wall. He died in February 1989, only nine months before the wall came down and everybody was free to go. The 20 year old was shot when trying to swim through a canal between Treptow (east) and Neukölln (west).
Gueffroy got a grave in East Berlin but the GDR officials chose the stone for it. His mother wasn't allowed to. Whenever there were flowers at his grave they were removed.
After the reunification the border patrol who had fired the shot killing Gueffroy, was sentenced to three and a half years. In 1993 the penalty was changed to two years of probation.
This was a surprising memorial I found out about while walking to the Reichstag.
It is between the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag, and it consists of a fence with white crosses with the names and dates of death of people who died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall.
It is a simple monument, but it's meaning and emotional effects are tremendous.
These crosses at a fence opposite the Reichstag commemorate some of the hundreds of victims of Berlin wall.
There is no official number how many people had died trying to escape from the GDR but I've read numbers between 800 and 1200.
There is another - a more original place than Checkpoint Charlie - to smell cold war history on the road to Berlin:
If you go to Berlin by car on the 'A2' and you are interested in the German/East German history - you have to go to 'Gedenkstätte der Deutschen Teilung' at Helmstedt (at the Motorway A2 between Hannover and Magdeburg at the ex-borderline).
It's the ex checkpoint between the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic. You can have a look into the buildings and you can feel a bit what it was like to go through there when Germany was still devided into two parts (which I did a few times so this still makes shivers run down my spine). A really depressing place but a must I think.