Thirty-one years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, some small parts of it are still standing. Here, the remainder is a reminder of the fact that freedom does not come for free. The Berlin Wall Path is a good route to follow.
Berlin, November 1st, 2019. Update: February 16th, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — West Berlin was a democratic, free enclave. It was surrounded by the communist GDR, which was a member of the Warsaw Pact. In its capital, East Berlin, dictator Walter Ulbricht assured the world on June 15th, 1961, that “nobody has the intention of building a wall.” Only a few weeks later, the Berlin Wall was built anyway.
The Wall stood for 28 years. In 2019, the 30th anniversary of its fall was celebrated. In today’s Berlin, parts of the Wall are still standing, as reminders for the fact that freedom and democracy need to be won and fought for, even today. One excellent way of looking into Germany’s recent history is to 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.
Berlin Wall Memorial
Along the path, signs inform visitors about the Cold War, the divided city during that period, the Wall itself and its victims. Photos show them what the area they are in looked like while the Wall was standing. Tracking the Berlin Wall Path online, on smart phones, makes sense also because some signs are missing.
The closer we get to the city center, the more information signs pop up on the sidewalks. Some of them commemorate GDR citizens who were murdered by border guards during their attempts to climb or overcome the Wall otherwise. At ‘Bernauer Strasse’, the impressive Berlin Wall Memorial appears.
One Hundred and Forty Victims
At the Memorial, visitors can directly compare, by looking at huge photographs taken before 1989, and at the same spots today. Large pieces of the Berlin Wall and other items can be seen, touched and felt.
At least 140 people were murdered during their escape attempts at the Wall between East and West Berlin. Their photographs are part of the Berlin Wall Memorial (see main photo at top of page). All these people wanted was freedom. They died for it. Georg Feldhahn, Dorit Schmiel and Klaus Brueske were among the first to be killed for trying to leave East Germany. It would take decades until those murders had legal consequences.
Grey vs. Colorful
The Berlin Wall was ugly in several ways. 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. Before Corona hit, American, British, French and Spanish tourist groups on bikes were being rushed along the Berlin Wall Path on a daily basis. Many of these visitors were not even born when the Wall fell in 1989.
Death in the Spree River
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, to the West, 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.
Converted Border Strip
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 used to come here 365 days per year, all day long, before Corona.
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.
Flattened Within Minutes
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.
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.
Fake Soldiers Banned
The most crowded spot of them all is Checkpoint Charlie. Here, hundreds of tourists on bikes and e-scooters used to meet entire bus loads of fellow vacationers from all over the globe. Sightseeing buses and the usual traffic tried to squeeze through the crowd. This place used to be a mess, before the pandemic. Recently, fake soldiers who charged a lot of money for photos were banned from the site.
Between ‘Kreuzberg’ and ‘Treptow’, part of the Landwehr Canal was the border. More towards ‘Neukölln’, the Wall separated streets, including ‘Bouchéstrasse’. One side was the GDR, the other was the Federal Republic (FRG). When they looked out their windows, residents saw a giant Wall.
Cobble Stones Mark the Wall Path
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 watch towers still exist. They are being seen as small memorials too. But Berlin just cannot do it all at once. Some towers will have to wait before they are being restored to the way they looked during the Cold War.
Memorial for Murdered Children
In Berlin’s ‘Plänterwald’ borough, on ‘Kiefholzstrasse’, yet another memorial can be found. It is one of the most impressive ones. It commemorates the children the GDR had murdered at the Berlin Wall. Jörg Hartmann was 10 years old when he was shot at this location, Lothar Schleusener was 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. Exploring the Berlin Wall Path is a good experience. Doing it by bike and taking several days to follow it makes sense.
A map that shows the Berlin Wall Path’s route can be found here.
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