West Berlin was a democratic, free enclave. It was surrounded by the GDR, a communist country and member of the Warsaw Pact. In its capital, East Berlin, dictator Walter Ulbricht assured the world on June 15th, 1961, nobody had the intention of building a wall. But only a few weeks later, the Berlin Wall was built.
The Wall stood for 28 years. Now, the 30th anniversary of its fall will be celebrated. In today’s Berlin, parts of the Wall are still standing, as reminders. Every day, tourists and students look at Wall memorials. They learn and they are being reminded of recent history, also when they follow the Berlin Wall Path.
On the Path we learn the Wall between East Berlin and West Berlin was 43.1 kilometers (26.8 miles) long, while the part separating West Berlin from the GDR had a length of 111.9 kilometers (69.5 miles). The construction was 3.6 meters (11 feet) high. There was an inner and an outer part, and a border strip in between.
Along the path, signs inform visitors about the Wall and its victims. Photos show them what the area they are in looked like while the Wall was standing. Tracking the Wall Path online, on smart phones, makes sense also because some Wall Path signs are missing.
The closer we get to the center, the more information signs pop up on the sidewalks. They tell us which GDR citizens were murdered by East German border guards during their attempts to climb or overcome the Wall otherwise. At ‘Bernauer Strasse’, the impressive Berlin Wall Memorial appears.
At the Memorial, visitors can directly compare, by looking at huge photographs taken before 1990, and the same spots today. Large pieces of the Berlin Wall and other items can be seen, touched and felt.
A total of 136 people were murdered during their escape attempts at the Wall between East and West Berlin. Their photographs are part of the Berlin Wall Memorial. All these people wanted was freedom.
Georg Feldhahn, Dorit Schmiel and Klaus Brueske (see photographs above) were among the first to be killed for trying to leave East Germany. It would take thirty years until those murders had legal consequences.
The Berlin Wall was ugly. This is what it looked like from East Berlin (see below). In West Berlin, graffiti sprayers and painters at least made it look artsy and colorful.
There are more memorials all over Berlin. On a daily basis, American, British, French and Spanish tourist groups on bikes are being rushed along the Wall Path. Many of them were not even born when the Wall fell in 1989.
Between the bridges ‘Oberbaumbrücke’ and ‘Schillingbrücke’, and between ‘Marshall-Brücke’, named after former U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, and ‘Hugo Preuss-Brücke’, the Spree river was the border between East and West Berlin. Many refugees who tried to swim across were shot by the GDR regime’s henchmen.
Close to the Wall Path, the Bush Kohl Gorbachev Monument honors three politicians who contributed a lot to making the reunification of Germany possible after the fall of the Wall. Only Michael Gorbachev is still alive.
The Berlin Wall can also be seen and shot on a million selfies at ‘Potsdamer Platz’, one of the most frequented sightseeing spots in Berlin. Tourists come here 365 days per year, all day long.
There is even more to see along the Berlin Wall Path. Between ‘Engeldamm’ and ‘Bethaniendamm’, there used to be a wide and ugly border strip. Today, that same location is a quiet park in the center of the city.
Another important Wall memorial is the East Side Gallery at the Spree riverbank. Here, countless painters have taken their art to a long part of the Wall. In some cases, it was about making the construction more beautiful, other paintings include political messages.
Tourists who need a break can just sit down and look at the Spree river for a while, in a more quiet atmosphere, after fighting their way through all the other tourists at the Gallery.
The Berlin Wall symbolized the dangerous Cold War period. And it still does. Had any escalation lead to an all-out thermonuclear war, both East and West Germany would have been flattened within minutes. So many missiles with nuclear warheads were pointed at both countries.
The most crowded spot of them all is Checkpoint Charlie. Here, hundreds of tourists on bikes and e-scooters meet entire bus loads of fellow vacationers from all over the globe. Sightseeing buses and the usual traffic are trying to squeeze through the crowd. This place is a mess.
Between ‘Kreuzberg’ and ‘Treptow’, part of the Landwehr Canal was the border. More towards ‘Neukölln’, the Wall separated streets, e.g. in ‘Bouchéstrasse’. One side was the GDR, the other was the Federal Republic (FRG). When they looked out their windows, residents were staring at the Wall.
In parts of Berlin, a double line of cobble stones marks the pathway of the Wall. The line runs along streets, through parks and construction sites. Some residents are unaware of what those cobble stones mean, others have been living there for a long time and know exactly where they are.
Some of the GDR’s ugly watch towers still exist. They are being seen as small memorials too. But Berlin just can not do it all at once. Some towers will have to wait before they are being restored.
In Berlin’s ‘Plänterwald’ borough, on ‘Kiefholzstrasse’, yet another memorial can be found. This one honors the children the GDR had murdered at the Wall. Jörg Hartmann was 10 years old when he was shot at this location, Lothar Schleusener 13.
In south-eastern Berlin, the Wall Path runs through the beautiful ‘Heidekampgraben’ park. It is just the right place for nice bicycle rides or walks. Moving along the Berlin Wall Path makes people think of the recent history, the Wall victims, about walls and separation in general.