Berlin is the most unique and intriguing capital city around Europe. It has a very distinct and troubled recent history: for forty years two opposites ideologies developed two sides of the same city, looking at each other, but divided by a wall, The Wall. Since we are very fascinated by recent history, we decided to spend a long weekend there. We did many different thing while we were there, while this post is focusing only on what we discovered about the Wall.
1. Book a walking tour
There is plenty of walking tour online with good reviews on TripAdvisor You certainly can choose one suits you the best. We chose a Cold War specific half day tour with Insider Tour. Our guider, Nickolai, who was very friendly, knowledgeable and patient even when we bombarded him with gazillion questions. I won’t spoil too much here, but a few of the things in this list are covered in that tour. You can have a decent idea of the city geography via the tour, which help to explore it by ourselves later.
2. Go to the German History Museum
If you’re staying in Berlin for more than three days, expect to catch some rain sooner or later. In that case visit a museum. We caught some rain indeed! The rain was pouring down when we were out of the Berlin Dom. Since the German History Museum was very close, so we gave it a try. What a place! We had to skip entirely the first floor, where the permanent exhibition is about Germany from Middle Ages up to the First World War. Instead we focused on the ground floor: Weimar Republic, Nazi Regime, Second World War and Split Germany up to reunification. The amount of information, historic props, posters, photos, footage and so on is almost overwhelming, but if you have patience and time it’ll be very rewarding. If you have to select only one place, for me it would be this one!
3. Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße
Berlin Wall Memorial is more than a kilometre long. It gives you the idea of how the fortification was done. There are actually two walls, in between of which are wide enough to have a turret, electrified barb wires and machinery. This is so called “Death Strip”. This gives you a vivid imagine, which you cannot ignore, of how difficult to escape east to the west . There is a small museum on the opposite side of the road called Bürgerbüro, with a spiral staircase that will give you a panoramic view of the Wall area.
4. Go to the Stasi Museum
Our tour finished in front of the former Stasi headquarters. After visiting the museum, we were amazing by how powerful and omnipresent the secret service had become in the GDR era. Highly recommended! Have you seen the movie called The Lives of Others? Ten you’ll find large number of spying equipment in the museum described in the movie. You probably need to know a little about the political figures of those years to appreciate the museum better. We got lucky instead, a free tour in English was about to start upon our arrival (3pm usually). The guider was born in Leipzig, GDR at the time, and he spoke by personal experience. He was literally amazing, leaving us speechless and shocked. Through his stories and facts he managed to make us feel like Winston in 1984, where the eye of the Big Brother is always watching and the psycho police is checking every single detail of your behaviour. I can’t recommend him enough!
5. Take a walk in Karl-Marx Allee
Before approaching Stasi Museum you would walk through a surreal place, Karl-Marx Allee. When you get out of the U-bahn station, you’ll feel you were in Moscow. Karl-Marx Allee and Frankfurter Allee are a monumental socialist boulevard built by the GDR in the sixties. On the way, try to stop at Cafe Sybille, which has been trying to preserve the look and the feel of the Soviet era. Also Karl-Marx Buchhandlung is nearby. I won’t spoil it, but if you watched The Lives of Others, you’ll find a book store looks very familiar.
6. Take a quick stop at the Tränenpalast (The Palace of Tears)
The Tränenpalast is on your way to the Brandenburg Tor, or to the infamous Checkpoint Charlie. It is a former border crossing at Berlin Friedrichstraße station, where East Germans said goodbye to their West Germany visitors. Nowadays it becomes a permanent exhibition to remind visitors of the unbearable separation those days and to show the tearful reality at the checkpoint. It is free entry and literally few meters outside Friedrichstraße station. Go and take a look!
7. Pass by the Checkpoint Charlie and visit the adjacent Mauer Museum
What can I say? You will never miss Checkpoint Charlie given the amount of flashing lights blinking at. Extremely popular, but little of the real elements left. A place you cannot avoid, will end up there sooner or later as it is in the middle of Friedrichstraße. The watchtower, as a tourist attraction, is similar to the one installed in the 1960 during the early years of the Wall. However, the nearby Mauer Museum is more interesting to my humble opinion. It focuses on real stories of failed and successful escapes over the years. Very interesting indeed!
8. Go to the Topography of Terror
If you’re nearby Checkpoint Charlie or Potsdamer Platz, walk a bit further and stop at the Topography of Terror. The place is a bit out of the topic because it is mainly about the Third Reich. The area is used to be the SS headquarters during the Nazi regime. However, on the way, there are still remnants of the wall, which awaken the joy of the reconciled unity of the country.
9. Visit the East Side Gallery
Graffiti lovers…here is something for you. Many different artists drew graffiti on a good portion of a 1.4 kilometre-long wall strip, after the reunification of Germany. This became a permanent exhibition somehow. You can definitely find some excellent work, including the famous Kiss.
10.Walk or cycle a bit of the Mauerweg (Berlin Wall Trail)
Mitte (the former city centre of East Berlin) is small enough that you can walk around with little effort. We highly recommend to take a bike or stroke around. Follow the Mauerweg from the Topography of Terror, this leads you through Potsdamer Platz and end up at the Brandenburg Tor. In a sunny day, you can bike through Tiergarten, stop by the Reichstag and continue to the Bahnhoff Zoo station which is the former West Berlin city centre.