“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
The Berlin Wall, known here as the Berliner Mauer, is Berlin’s most famously infamous landmark. The stories about it’s construction and enforcement are shocking but what is most incredible is the way Berlin has changed since the Wall fell in 1989. Everyone here says that Berliners aren’t like other Germans; they don’t talk like other Germans, they don’t act like other Germans, and they don’t want to be like other Germans. Everything that I’ve read about the city suggests that the after-effects of Communism are a big part of what makes Berlin special. If we, as new wannabe Berliners, want to understand the city as it is now we need to understand what made it this way. Luckily, we happened to be out at brunch with a group of Alex’s coworkers the weekend before last and they offered to give us a little tour of the area where the Berlin Wall once stood.
We began our history tour by heading over to Bernauer Strasse to walk the line of bricks that marks the path of the first incarnation of the Berlin Wall. Bernauer Str. itself was split in half between West and East Berlin such that former across-the-street neighbors were suddenly on different sides of the country overnight. The GDR used the front walls of the houses on one side of Bernauer Str. to create some of the first wall and eventually the rest of the house would be destroyed. When they began constructing another parallel wall, any houses, businesses, churches, etc. that were in the way were demolished. The space in between the two sides of the Wall was known as the Death Strip and was covered with sand or gravel to show the footprints of anyone who attempted to leave the East. Along Bernauer Str. there are large pictures on the sides of the buildings that show the Wall and GDR citizens successfully, and unsuccessfully, crossing to the West side.
Nearby, a city block of the Wall has been preserved to give a little insight into what it was like to live on the West side and look over at the East. From an observation tower across the street you get an aerial view of the two parallel walls and the Death Strip in between.
The next weekend we made our way over to the East Side Gallery to see another preserved portion of the Wall. Instituted in 1990, the Gallery serves as a memorial of sorts that features 105 paintings that depict the artists hopes for a better future in Berlin. Near the middle there is a break in the wall that opens to a park on the river Spree and is home to a memorial for peace in Korea.
When the Wall came down life in Berlin changed dramatically and in the past 25 years the city has evolved into a place that would probably drive the GDR up a wall (pun intended). It is a city characterized by young, free-thinking, creative, and ambitious inhabitants who are anything but conformists.
Too see more pictures from the Wall & our weekend adventures, click below!
Here’s a map from Wikipedia of Berlin when it was divided to help you envision where the Wall stood. 🙂
Above: The Korean peace memorial near the East Side Gallery. I have no idea why the heck it looks like a giant pot scrubber with atoms stuck in it.
Below: A few more shots of the East Side Gallery.
Below: Two pictures of Tempelhof Airport, an abandoned airport turned park that is a Berlin favorite for BBQ’s on sunny days.