The Berlin Wall was the most powerful symbol of the divided city of Berlin, and of the Cold War in general. On the other hand, the fall of the wall in 1989 remains one of the most striking images of freedom in modern history. Although most of the wall was destroyed, visiting the Berlin Wall, one of Berlin’s most iconic sites, is highly recommended for any visitor to the city.
Remains of the Berlin Wall are now used as an open-air art exhibition. Image Noud W via Flickr
After the war, Berlin was divided between four occupying governments: the US, the UK, France and the Soviet Union. The Soviets supported the creation of socialist East Germany. At first, hundreds of thousands of people moved through Berlin to West Germany, looking for better conditions. In order to stop the flow of emigrants, in 1961 East Germany built a fence along the border in Berlin, which they later expanded into a wall. The wall cut through the city, dividing families and preventing communication between the two sides. Alongside the wall was a clear strip of land, known as ‘Death Strip’, where East German security forces would shoot at anyone trying to cross the border. In all, 138 people were killed trying to cross the wall.
The West disapproved of the Berlin Wall, but did nothing to stop it. World leaders, including a number of American presidents, came to West Berlin to show their support for the city. In the years that passed, resentment against the wall grew, which reached a peak in 1989 when angry East Berliners rose up and forced their way past the guards. East Berliners who flowed through the gates were greeted with champagne and flowers by West Berliners. The wall was soon demolished, and Germany was reunited within a year.
Visiting the Berlin Wall
Today, you can see remains of the wall in a few places. The most famous and popular place for visiting the Berlin Wall is Checkpoint Charlie, which used to be an American-controlled border crossing along the wall, used by foreigners and permit holders. Checkpoint Charlie is still preserved and maintained today, with costumed soldiers posing at the small border crossing. The nearby Mauermuseum (Wall Museum) has artifacts from the wall and tells its story, especially focusing on the people who attempted to cross the wall. Another Berlin Wall landmark is the 1.3km stretch of the wall running along Mühlenstrasse, covered by graffiti, including the iconic painting of the two German leaders kissing. Finally, the Topography of Terror museum contains an 80-meter stretch of the wall. You can also talk older Berlin residents and ask them to tell you their memories of the wall.
The Berlin Wall Memorial encompasses sections of the original wall with modern installations and exhibitions designed to put the wall and the impact which it had on day to day life in Berlin into perspective.