History - Cold War, Berlin
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....
Right beside the Brandenburg Gate beyond the former boundary between East and West Berlin, stands the Soviet Memorial flanked by two T34 tanks. It's a Memorial of 20 000 Red Army soldiers who fell in the battle of Berlin.
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
All over east Berlin there are statues or murals left from the former communist days. In the park opposite Alexanderplatz you will find the statue of Marx and Engles. A popular photo subject for many tourists. Note the building in the background. This was the pride of east Berlin and was former parliament buildings of the GDR. Which sadly to say is in a state of collapse as the whole building is sealed of as it has asbestos poisoning!
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.
There was no way to walk away from the Palace of Tears without at least one photo... our guide during the walking tour had us standing here for the longest time!
This was the border customs clearance spot until 1989, where East Germans had to part from their families and friends when leaving West Berlin. The building looks interesting enough, apparently it was built like some sort of maze, so no one would really know where they were once engaged in it.
The Palace of Tears was declared a historic monument in 1989. Concerts and conferences are held here now.
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.
This is the oldest airport in Berlin. It's just a regional one nowadays though because it's in the middle of the city and rather old.
The architecture of the place is terrible (nazi-style) but outside there is a memorial of the 'Luftbruecke' ("air bridge"). During this 11 month blockage of Berlin by the Sovjets in 1948/49 the people of Berlin were provided with food from the air by the allies. You can see two of those planes (which are called 'Rosinenbomber' here - which means raisin bomber) outside the airport building.
All hail the Trabant! Perhaps the world's worst car, the Trabant was East Germany's claim to automotive fame. You can't beat that two-cylinder lawnmower-type engine! And the plastic exterior! Total crap, these cars...