There is perhaps no greater symbol of division than the Berlin Wall. It was built to keep East Germans from entering West Berlin between 1961 and 1989. The wall encircled the three zones that made up democratic west from the communist east.
As the Soviet Union began to crumble, so too did the wall and in November 1989, the wall came down. Joyous Germans literally broke through the wall to be reunited with their countrymen. It took almost a full year before Germany officially was unified and during that time much of the wall was torn down. Segments were removed and sent all over the world.
Commemorative bricks were placed to give an outline of where the wall once stood. However, there are still a few places throughout the city where you can still see the wall intact. Here are some of the best and most historical locations to view remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer – Berlin Wall Memorial
For anyone interested in the history of the Berlin Wall, this is an absolute must visit. The Berlin Wall memorial is located on one of the most historic sites in Cold War era Berlin. The Bernauer Straße became known as the number one place to try and escape from East to West Berlin. A row of apartments straddled the border. People would jump from the upper story windows from apartments in the east into the west. Those apartment buildings were soon emptied and the window’s bricked up.
Digging escape tunnels became another way people attempted escape at Bernauer Straße. Hundreds were able to their way to the west, with the most famous is known as tunnel 57.
The Berlin Wall Memorial has the last portion of the wall with the surrounding grounds largely the same as when the wall was in operation. The Berlin Wall actually had an outer wall and an inner wall with a no man’s land in between. Manned guard towers were on constant lookout for potential escapees.
The memorial site has recreated such an area. You can view this from a viewing platform on top of the documentation center. Inside the documentation center are artifacts and enlarged pictures giving a historical visual record.
There are many memorials throughout the site that honor those who lost their lives trying to escape along with stories of those who successfully escaped. Markers outline buildings that have sense been torn down, usually by East Germany, along with markers showing the placement of the underground tunnels. The remains of the reconciliation church, which once stood on the border strip, can also be seen.
The Berlin Wall memorial is located in central Berlin. The nearest metro stations are Berlin Nordbahnhof on the S Bahn or Bernauer Straße on the U Bahn.
East Side Gallery
The East side Gallery has the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still intact, measuring a little under in one mile in length. After the reunification of Germany over 100 artists were brought in to create the longest open air gallery in the world. It gets its name as the artists patient on the eastern side of the inner wall.
The paintings collectively display a message of peace and freedom, in stark contrast to the representation of the wall itself. The gallery has been a victim of graffiti, vandalism, and erosion that threaten the long term preservation of the gallery. Large potions of the wall are now behind chain link fences to protect them from further vandalism. A restoration process is currently underway.
Located along the river Spree, the East Side Gallery is easily accessible right outside either Warschauer Straße and Ostbahnhof stations.
The most famous border crossing has become quite the tourist trap. Sill the history of this this border crossing makes it worth a visit.
One of three borders crossings between East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie got its name after the third letter of the phonetic alphabet after alpha and bravo. Charlie became the most talked about checkpoint between east and west because it was the only location where foreigners were allowed into East Berlin. It was the location of prisoner swaps between the two countries and it developed a reputation as a Cold War flash point where spies moved in and out as portrayed in spy novels and movies.
A famous incident in 1961, further shined a light on Checkpoint Charlie. U.S. diplomat Allan Lightner refused to show his passport to East German border guards as he was attempting to enter East Berlin to see an opera. American troops including tanks came to the defense of Lightner and Soviet tanks soon arrived as well. The standoff lasted for 16 hours before President Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev agreed to stand down.
Checkpoint Charlie became one of the primary places people attempted to escape into West Berlin. It was attractive as one of the few places where there was a gap in the wall to allow for the border crossing.
Today the famous border crossing consists of the American border crossing guard house where people take pictures with people dressed as border guards. There is a depiction of the famous standoff between Cold War enemies with a photograph of an American solider facing the Soviet zone and a Soviet soldier facing the American zone. A replica of the border sign signaling the entrance from the American zone to Soviet zone. Nearby the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is a small museum that has artifacts and historical look at the famous border crossing.
Checkpoint Charlie is located on Friedichstraße within walking distance of the Topography of Terror and Potsdamer Platz. The nearest metro station is Kochstraße on the U Bahn.
Berlin Wall Watchtower
A short walk from the hustle and bustle of modern Berlin at Potsdamer Platz is where you can find a famous relic of the Berlin Wall. The last remaining Berlin Wall watchtower stands anonymously, almost hidden from view. It was one of 200 BT-6 watch towers originally built in the late 1960’s. These were the first concrete watch towers constructed. The previous ones were made of wood.
Volunteers are on hand to give a history lessen for anyone interested. For a donation you can climb to the top and have a look around.
The watchtower is located on Erna-Berger-Straße. The nearest metro station is Potsdamer Platz on the U Bahn or Berlin Potsdamer Platz Bahnhof on the S Bahn.
Topography of Terror
The Topography of Terror is one of the most visited sites in all of Berlin. The site itself is the former headquarters the the Nazi SS. Most visitors come here for its ties to Nazi Germany, but there is also Cold War history here as well. After World War II the Berlin Wall was constructed along one flank of the bombed out Nazi SS building remains.
After the end of the Cold War, the wall located on the site was protected as being on museum grounds. The Topography of Terror museum site now has the longest portion of the outer wall that remains intact at over 650 feet. The East Side Gallery is home to the largest inner portion of the Berlin Wall.
The Topography of Terror is located on Niederkircherstraße between Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie. The nearest metro stops are Anhalter Bahnhof on the S-Bahn or Potsdamer Platz or Kochstraße on the U Bahn.