Berlin Wall Walking Tours: 50 Years Later
Visible HistoryWhen the Wall fell on November 9, 1989, it followed massive protests, an astonishing amount of community organizing, and the prayers of thousands in both west and east, all of whom couldn’t quite believe such a momentous event was happening in their lifetimes. Many had felt the same way in 1961, when the East German government, in an attempt to keep their beleaguered citizens from leaving, built the wall practically overnight. A few sections are left standing and many special installations illuminate the effects of the Wall on the city: it cut through neighborhoods, bisected narrow streets, and sliced lives in half.Tip: Follow the cobblestones to get beyond the overly-commercialized stretches of the former Wall, like Checkpoint Charlie. Look down for a line of stones marked every so often with a metal plaque bearing the words "Berliner Mauer 1961–1989."
Plan Your Trip
Walk One: Friedrichshain to Treptow via the Oberbaumbrücke and the FlutgrabenStarting at the East Side Gallery (pictured) cross the Oberbaumbrücke, a former border checkpoint, and turn left at Schlesische Strasse. (There’s no sign of the Wall here, as the border followed the Spree River for 500 meters.) Ubiquitous graffiti and crumbling buildings make it easy to imagine isolated Kreuzberg during the days of the Wall. Cross two small canals and pick up the trail of the Wall again at Am Flutgraben. Up ahead is the Grenzwachturm (border watchtower). Stop at the non-profit art collective Flutgraben e.V., which hosts infrequent exhibitions. Turn right to follow the Flutgraben (small canal) south until you reach an overpass, part of an elevated railway that used to lead to the pre-war train station Görlitzer Bahnhof. Now, the railway is a park connecting Treptow with Görlitzer Park, the site of the old station and a meeting point for anarchist groups and revolutionaries before the Wall fell.
Walk Two: Bernauer Strasse to Bornholmer Brücke via Mauer Park Starting behind Nordbahnhof (S-bahn), follow Bernauer Strasse to the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, located in the former "death strip," where a church was once blown up by the East because it was an obstruction to guards and a possible hiding place for those trying to flee. Follow Bernauer Strasse until you reach the corner of Schwedter Strasse, then take the path that cuts through Mauer Park (pictured). Also located in the former death strip, the park has one of the hippest flea markets in town. At the park’s northern end, Schwedter Strasse turns into the Schwedter Steg, a footbridge over an impressive chasm of connecting train tracks and S-bahn lines. Turn around for a spectacular view of the TV tower. Descend the steps on your left and continue along Norwegerstrasse. When the path goes under an imposing brick bridge, take a flight of steps up to it. This is the famous Bornholmer Brücke, where East Berliners overwhelmed the wall checkpoint and became the first to push through to West Berlin. Photo Credits: Berlin Wall Fragment courtesy Wolfgang Scholvien, East Side Gallery courtesy visitBerlin.de-Koch, Mauerpark courtesy Guenter Steffen
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I visited both West and East Berlin during the winter of 1972. While on the subway, I recall passing from West to East and back. The West was well lit and clean. Upon entering the East, the subway slowed to a crawl and we were "greeted" by a single, armed guard standing beneath a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. We kept moving at a snail's pace until we passed back into the West. On another day I walked into the eastern side through Checkpoint Charlie. Just into the eatern side, all visitors had to exchange West German Marks for East German Marks at an unfair 1-to-1 exchange rate. We were told to spend it all while there or give it back upon departure. Hoping not to be shot on sight, I kept my leftovers on the way out. To say the least, it was all a depressing experience.
I remember watching it in the news - how people were tearing it down. I also remember watching a movie about the wall and how many were killed in an attempt to go over it.
I was lucky enough to go the Berlin in early 1990, just after the Wall "Fall." It was an amazing experience.
The train ride from was very intimidating, once we reached the East Germany border. Armed soldiers boarded the train to check passports. You could hear a pin drop. I went to Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate and carved out big chunks of concrete for the wall with a crow-bar. They all have the colorful spray-painted graffiti. I had a nice display case built to showcase all the pieces.
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