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Trace the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Published by Camilla Cheung, Writer

Country: Germany

The Experience

Once an ominous dividing barricade at the heart of Berlin, the Berlin Wall has today been absorbed into thriving city life; yet it remains a monument to the past. In certain parts of the city the Berlin Wall has disappeared entirely; while in others visitors can still see the brick outline set into the pavement which traces the historic separation between the former East and West Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, certain parts of the concrete barricade were left standing. Today, they are painted over with various artists’ creations, embodying the German sentiment about both the Wall and the country. A visit to the “East Side Gallery" at Warschauer Strasse allows visitors to trace the fall of the Berlin Wall through artists' murals, and reflect on the sad history that allowed such a wall to exist.

Erected in 1961, the Berlin Wall was over 140 km long and was designed to prevent East Berliners (under Soviet control) from escaping to West Berlin (which was under the administration of the Allied powers). Originally built as a barbed-wire fence, the concrete Berlin Wall was later constructed which often separated families who were not allowed to see each other for several years. The Berlin Wall is marked by several monuments along Bernauer Strasse, including a statue erected in memory of Conrad Schumann—a GDR (East German) boarder guard who leapt to freedom over the barbed-wire fence. His photograph has become a symbol of freedom and has been reproduced in a painting on the Wall as well. Other successful escape attempts included jumping from apartment windows over the Wall and landing on the other side.

The number of successful escapes was greatly reduced with the construction of the fourth-generation Berlin Wall in 1975. A parallel fence was then erected further inside the East German border, resulting in a no-man’s-land or “death strip” between the walls. Today, tourists can view this fourth-generation wall and the remains of the electric fence on the other side. Border guards were ordered to shoot escapees on sight; even women and children. At the Berlin Wall Memorial, tourists can learn about the tunnels and other ingenious methods of escape invented by East Berliners.

Tourists can also visit the legendary Checkpoint Charlie—a famous border crossing used by foreigners and members of the Allied armed forces, with the words: “You are leaving the American sector” emblazoned on a large sign. Today, tourists can view a replica of the sign at the former East-West border, though the original building and other artifacts are now located at the Allied Museum. Checkpoint Charlie is often depicted in spy movies and is one of the most popular sights at the Berlin Wall.

Berlin is now a vibrant, modern city with the shades of its past only enhancing its appeal. Many artists moved to Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall due to low housing prices and thriving art culture. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, enjoying a portion of “currywurst” (a sausage doused in curry ketchup—Berlin’s most popular snack), travellers to Berlin can spend an afternoon discussing and understanding the past while thoroughly enjoying the present.




When to Go to The Berlin Wall

Berlin is often cool and rainy for much of the year, so the best time to visit the Berlin Wall is in the summer. Some travellers may prefer visiting during an off-peak season to take advantage of better hotel deals. Tourists may also wish to consider visiting in the fall and combine their trip with the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, which is a 16-day festival taking place in late September and early October. Another good festival to consider combining on your trip is the annual Art Forum Berlin: a contemporary art fair held in late September.

Odds n' Ends

Berlin is easy to get around thanks to its extensive U-Bahn and S-Bahn subway and train networks; as well as an efficient bus system. A day-pass is often available and will save the average tourist several euros in bus and train fares. Travellers who arrive in Berlin can take public transportation from the airport right into the centre of the city.

Berlin can be cool and wet even in the summer, so travellers should be prepared with warm clothing at all times. Most Berliners speak English very well, so asking for help or directions should not be a problem.

Berlin is a popular and modern city, so the choices for accommodation are generally in the higher range. Budget-minded travellers may find that sharing a room for two in a budget hotel is preferable to staying in a hostel dorm as the cost is comparable.

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