Alongside its alternative scene, many visitors to Berlin want to know where to see the Berlin Wall, or what still stands of it.
2019 marked 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a shocking symbol of the division of Berlin and Germany and the Cold War, which finally came down on 9 November 1989.
Visiting Berlin today, it’s hard to think that this thriving, fun and booming European hotspot was once partitioned into East and West (alongside West Berlin’s encirclement by its own Wall), a division that began in 1961.
For 28 years a concrete wall over 100km long divided Berlin, and the entire country. Now it’s one of the main go-to sights in the city. But its history is complex and vast, and while I learnt about it at school and saw it for the first time as a 16-year-old history student, I was still learning about it three days into my recent trip to Berlin.
I didn’t just want to go to Berlin and I had just seen the wall – I wanted to absorb every ounce of information I was feed to know why; to find the reason and to understand the consequences. I’d look at people my parent’s age and wonder about their individual stories during the Wall years of 1961 – 1989 and I’d look at people my age and wonder how the ideologies they’ve grown up with shape their outlook today in a unified city.
As you stroll through Berlin you will notice two rows of cobbled stones marking where the wall once stood – a wall which cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany. While the city is reunited, its past is never forgotten and the trail of stones means that this piece of history is firmly in your consciousness as you wander.
At times it is hard to define which side is East and which is West due to the rapid and continuous construction (marked by a sea of cranes, scaffolding and overland pipes). I found myself constantly whipping out my map and trying to work it out. But there are still some parts of the city that feel shrouded in the dark past, still trying to catch up with the unified present, still trying to modernise and fit in, still bearing the scars of soviet influence while its western sibling glistens as new. Or is it just that those districts are still living in and holding on to the past? After all, not everyone wanted the Wall to come down.
It was those moments that made me feel confused about what I felt about Berlin. What should it be? Will it ever be a city as one? Will there always be an East and West divide because the scars run too deep?
Has gritty become ‘cool’ because that’s the only way to justify and accept post-war devastation?
Today, the preserved parts of the wall serve as memorials. Without it there you wouldn’t be able to imagine how imposing a structure it once was, how imprisoned it must have made people feel, the desperation it caused among people separated from loved ones… the distinct lack of choice and freedom.
So before you strike a ridiculous pose on it or scribble your name on it with squiggles, dates and love hearts (yes I saw this happen) think about what it is, what it means, and what it symbolises.
Where to Visit The Berlin Wall – Three Preserved Sites
The East Side Gallery
This is the best-preserved and longest part of the Wall and is beautifully decorated with murals painted by international artists, which have been there since 1990 – a year after the boarders of East and West started to open. Over 1km long, it’s an array of spectacular colour and creative vision, but much of this open-air gallery carries political messages and symbols of peace.
This stretch of the wall stands alongside the river and it’s a really lively area. Behind sections of the wall, you will find a few bars including one on a boat, one with its beach and the funky Jamaican themed bar, Yaam.
The East Side Gallery Metro Station: S-Bahn Ostbahnhof (and a short walk)
The Berlin Wall Memorial – Former Border Strip in the Bernauer Strasse
On the historical Bernauer Strasse, this memorial was the one that hit me hard.
The grounds are preserved and so you find yourself walking within the former border strip. On one side you will see preserved sections of the Wall and on the other long brown bars where the other Wall and a watchtower once stood. It is said that the bars symbolise the ‘prison’ feeling of the Wall. There are also markings in the grass across the former border strip to highlight the route of the most famous and successful tunnels constructed for escape.
The open-air gallery highlights how the border facilities were constructed and controlled, but it is here that you see how this particular section of wall connected and was built into houses and other main buildings (the Wall ran directly in front of the buildings situated on the East Berlin side of the street) and the urban destruction it caused.
This site is also where the first elements of unification took place, where on November 10, 1989, the first portions of the Wall were knocked down to create a crossing between East and West Berlin and a year later it’s where the official demolition of the border fortifications began. Construction is still taking place there today.
Berlin Wall Memorial Metro stop: U-Bahn Bernauer Strasse
The Berlin Wall Near Checkpoint Charlie
Located in the centre of the city and a 10-minute walk down the road from the Disneyland-like attraction that Checkpoint Charlie has become, this memorial houses a short section of wall which has been mostly chipped away for souvenirs.
Here there is a line of information boards – presented as a timeline of events detailing the history of the country and what factors led to the Wall’s construction. There is now also a dedicated museum on the site. I recommend spending some time here to get to grips with it all.
Nearest transport stop: U-Bahn Kochstrasse
The Importance of Visiting Berlin Wall Sites
Berlin has changed dramatically since the fall of the Wall and German reunification. Architectural remains of the former East remain, historical buildings and been restored and grand new buildings dominate, yet the two halves of the city are now as one. A city once divided but which now thrives in unison.
Importantly, the dark history of the city is always at the fore, with plenty of museums, memorials and tours from which we can all learn from when visiting. Like the GDR Museum and the Stasi (Ministry for State Security) Museum to learn more about what life was like in the former Soviet state of East Germany. Or take a city tour in a Trabant (East Germany’s famous “cardboard cars”) alongside uncovering more – much of which is coated with the remnants of an East Berlin past.
What are your thoughts about the Berlin Wall? Which parts have you seen and how did it make you feel?