The Berlin Wall tore the city apart, and became the symbol of divided Germany and of the Cold War, until it fell in 1989. The Berlin Wall Memorial tells the story of the wall and how it affected the people of Berlin, and stands tribute to those who died trying to cross the wall and escape.
The Berlin Wall was constructed hastily, almost overnight, in 1961, dividing families and neighbors, and effectively imprisoning the residents of East Berlin for the next 27 years. The first version of the wall was mostly made up of a wire fence, barbed wire and armed patrols. Over the years, the wall became bigger and more sophisticated, as the escape attempts grew. The image of the wall that is remembered today is the fourth version of the Berlin Wall, made up of a stretch of tall concrete blocks, with the infamous Death Strip running alongside: a ‘clean’ stretch of land formed by razing houses, giving the guards a clear aim to shoot at anyone attempting to break through.
The Berlin Wall Memorial contains sections of the original wall, and puts the whole story of the wall into perspective, showing visitors how it affected day-to-day life in Berlin. The memorial runs down the whole of Bernauer Strasse, giving more of an idea of how it encroached on the city and divided friends, families and neighbors. You can even stand in one of the houses on the street and see how one morning in August 1961 they woke up to find a wall standing between them and their neighbors. The number of people who died trying to cross the wall is estimated to be around 138: they died trying to jump over the wall, run past the guards, swim down the Spree, or even drive through the weaker parts of the wall.
At the western end of the street, there is a visitors center with lots of information on the wall and its consequences, including a film and a bookstore. Further along, the documentation center completes the picture with more factual information and an observation tower, and just opposite is the monument erected by the united German government in the mid-1990s, before the whole Berlin Wall Memorial that we see today was built. The large memorial is still being built, but will cover a large tract of land near Bernauer Street.
The Chapel of Reconciliation stands on the site of a former church, which was razed down by the East German authorities to widen the Death Strip. It has been rebuilt, and as well as hosting the local Reconciliation Parish, it is also a memorial for those who died crossing the wall, and services take place regularly.
Finally, an interesting exhibition has recently been added to the nearby Nordbahnhof S-Bahn train station. During the time of the wall, the trains were allowed to continue running through East Berlin, but wouldn’t stop at three stations, which became known as the ‘Ghost Stations’. Armed guards at the stations would prevent anyone from entering or leaving. Today’s exhibition presents photographs and tells stories of these ghost stations, which came back to life after the fall of the wall in 1989.
Visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial
The memorial grounds are open all year round. Entrance to the memorial is free, and guided tours are available in English on Sunday at 3pm.
Tuesday-Sunday: November to March: 9.30am – 6pm
Tuesday-Sunday: April to October: 9.30am – 7pm