It has been 25 years since one of the most significant historical events occurred in Berlin; The Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Having an abundance of German ancestry myself I fully appreciate the importance that the fall of the Berlin Wall had on the reunification of Germany.
The Berlin Wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) starting 13 August (my birthday) 1961, and divided west Berlin from east Berlin and surrounding eastern Germany until 1989. It was officially called the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”.
Around 100000 people attempted to escape the regime from East Germany. Along the Berlin Wall alone there was an estimated death toll of 136+.
The 9th November 1989 marks the day this became a barrier no more when it was opened for access. Demolition began in 1990 and concluded in 1992. This was key in reunifying Germany to the country we know today.
Watch the following two documentaries to learn more about the Berlin Wall.
Exhibitions & Museums
Located at 30 stops along the Berlin Wall through the city, the history mile showcases the story of the Berlin Wall (in four languages). Historical photos help to describe events that took place at the location of each stop. A double row of cobblestones and bronze plaques inscribed Berliner Mauer 1961–1989 in the city centre marks the former course of the Berlin Wall. Here you can explore the remaining traces of the border fortifications. Check out this map of the history mile!
The East Side Gallery is a section of the wall on Mühlenstrasse, in Friedrichshain, which was painted in 1990. 118 artists from 21 countries took part in the painting during a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It marks the end of an era for those from East Berlin. Roughly 1.3km in length, this gallery is known to be the “worlds longest open air gallery”.
The exhibit at Nordbahnhof highlights the empty stations of which were deserted between 1961 and 1989. Three U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines ran under East Berlin to take passengers from one West Berlin station to another. The trains would not stop at the deserted stations in East Berlin and could not be boarded there. Armed guards could be seen on dimly lit platforms as the trains slowly travelled through them to get to the next stop. Passengers were warned that the train was entering East Berlin beforehand with the message “Last stop in West Berlin!”
If you are interested in museums then you should check out one of the following: the Allied Museum, Berlin City Museum, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, Berlin Wall Documentation Center, German Historical Museum, German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst, Information and Documentation Center – IDZ, Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum, Stasi Museum and the Wall Museum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie.
Two other street galleries popularly viewed in Berlin, with historical photographs and depictions of the past on the walls. These galleries can be found at Bernauerstrasse and Ackerstrasse and on the corner of Bernauerstrasse and Schwedter Strasse.
From 1933 to 1945 this site was the headquarters of the Gestapo and the Gestapo house prison. After 1939 it also became the Reich Security Main Office, as well as the SS High Command and the Security Service of the SS High Command. The Topography of Terror is now an open air exhibition documenting the history of the National Socialist Program of Persecution and Annihilation.
Buildings & Monuments
The Berlin Wall Memorial is located around the centre of no man’s land; 60m of the former no man’s land was preserved as a physical reminder of the Berlin Wall. The Federal Republic of Germany established this memorial in 1998 in memory of the division between East and West Germany and in memory of the victims from the era.
An outdoor exhibition by the Berlin Wall Memorial is located in no man’s land between Brunnenstrasse and Gartenstrasse because of its great preservation. The exhibition used the many historical artefacts and monuments still located here to help describe the purpose and function of the Berlin Wall. The stories of people whose lives were restricted/disrupted during this time are the main focus of the exhibit.
Just a few days after the Berlin Wall was established (on the 22 August) the GDR Ministry of the Interior established seven street-side border crossings and one train station border crossings. These crossings were to be used only by West Berliners, citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany, and foreign nationals. These eight crossings were at Bornholmer Strasse, Chausseestrasse, Invalidenstrasse, Friedrichstrasse station, Friedrichstrasse (Checkpoint Charlie), Heinrich-Heine-Strasse, Oberbaumbrücke bridge, and Sonnenallee.
The 1894 redbrick neo-Gothic building ended up right in the middle of no man’s land. This meant that it was inaccessible to the congregation and in 1985 the GDR ordered its demolition. The property was returned to the congregation after the fall of the Berlin Wall but it wasn’t until 11 years later that a new church was consecrated.
Stroll through the park and visit the many traces of the Berlin Wall from Behmstrasse along Norwegerstrasse in the direction of Bornholmer Strasse, al;ternatively head from Eberswalder Strasse along Bernauer Strasse to the Berlin Wall Memorial.
The first person to ever be shot and killed trying to cross the border from East to West Berlin was Günter Litfin, an ancestor of my own (if you see a photo of him and anyone in my family next to each other you would see the resemblance). In his honour, and in honour every person who was killed trying to flee to West Germany, a memorial was set up at the site of a former command post of GDR border troops.
Peter Fechter was shot by GDR border guards on 17 August 1962 as he and a coworker attempted to escape East Berlin over the Berlin Wall. His coworker escaped unharmed however Peter lay severely wounded on the border strip at the base of the Berlin Wall. Without the ability for anyone on the western side to help him he slowly bled to death. GDR border guards did not remove his body until almost an hour later. Witnesses laid flowers and wreaths at the site that same day and a memorial was set up that still exists today. The spot where Peter Fechter died is marked on the ground by basalt rock.
A stone erected in 1982 on Bernauer Strasse near Swinemünder Strasse, by the Borough Office of Wedding, honours those who died at the Berlin Wall in the Wedding borough.
Brandenburg Gate is the famous former gate to the city, and located right behind it was the inside of the border of the Soviet sector (Pariser Platz).
The Parliament of Trees against War and Violence or Parlament der Bäume gegen Krieg und Gewal is an artistic installation started by artist Ben Wagin on the former border strip in 1990. It includes trees, memorial stones, original parts of the border fortifications, pictures and texts created by many artists. 258 victims names are also inscribed on slabs of granite.
Potsdamer Platz was once Europe’s busiest intersection; occupied by many hotels, restaurants and stores. After the Second World War the British, American and Soviet Sectors of Berlin met at Potsdamer Platz. This meant that after the Soviets erected the barricades between Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz, this section of Berlin became a giant wasteland; no man’s land.
The border fortifications ran parallel to the flood channel at Schlesischer Busch. It was occupied by three guards and an officer. After 9 November 1989 an extra crossing was set up here. Most of the buildings from here have been removed except one lonely watchtower which has been preserved and deemed a historical monument.
Wall Monuments & Traces
Remains of the Berlin Wall which are now protected as historical monuments are also available to visit. These include the hinterland wall on Bornholmer Straße, wall monuments along the “Ulbricht curve”, from “no man’s land” to “Mauerpark” in Prenzlauer Berg, along Bernauer Straße, around the Nordbahnhof station, the watchtower of the former Kieler Eck command post, the cemetery Invalidenfriedhof, the hinterland wall at Leipziger Platz, the watchtower on Erna-Berger-Straße, the wall on Niederkirchnerstraße, at the Schillingbrücke (the border through the Spree), the East Side Gallery, the Schlesischer Busch command post, and the hinterland wall at Rudower Höhe.
In 1971 a group of people called the Berliner Bürger-Verein established the Weisses Kreuze (White Crosses) memorial at the point where the outer wall, near the Reichstag building, met the riverbank. The southern bank of the Spree was West Berlin territory, while the river was East Berlin territory.