5 Ways To See The Berlin Wall That Aren’t Visiting A Museum
Berlin, Germany is a city that has grappled with its intense and often dark history more than most. It’s impossible to visit Berlin without encountering references to the Berlin Wall, sometimes literally stepping on the violent former Cold War-era border. But in the past few decades, the city has transformed pieces of the wall into awe-inspiring monuments and art pieces. And for travelers who have no context for the Cold War outside of history books and movies, seeing these parts of the Berlin Wall is a hard-hitting experience that feels more real than viewing pieces during a museum visit.
Did your high school history class skimp on lessons about the Berlin Wall? If all you know is that line from President Ronald Reagan’s famous speech — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — we’ll run through the Sparknotes version of Cold War history so you can understand the gist of why you need to visit this complex historical site on your next Berlin trip.
Germany was split into East and West Germany after World War II. Even though Berlin was located in the eastern half, the city was split into East and West Berlin, too, making West Berlin an island in the communist bloc of Eastern Europe. After the Cold War escalated over the next two decades, more and more East Germans fled to West Germany, often via West Berlin. So the communist government of East Germany started building the Berlin Wall to separate the two countries, keep Western influences out and keep East Germans in.
For the next 28 years, the concrete and barbed wire wall with strict military checkpoints prevented residents from crossing from East to West. The area behind the wall was called the “Death Strip,” guarded by machine guns, dogs and trip wires. Nearly 5,000 East Germans still managed daring escapes, but more than 170 people were killed while attempting to cross. The Berlin Wall was finally torn down in 1989 (partly by residents on either side by hand), reuniting the two sides of Berlin.
During the nearly 30 years since the wall fell, Berliners turned the tumultuous history of the wall into art, transforming remnants that visitors can see in various parts of the city. Here are some of the best places to see the Berlin Wall for your Berlin trip itinerary.
1. East Side Gallery
The famous East Side Gallery is a section of the wall transformed by artists both shortly after the fall of the wall in the early 1990s and again in 2009. Each concrete slab was decorated by different artists in their own styles, and many make powerful political and moral statements.
Named “Wall Park,” this remaining section of the wall is covered in graffiti and can serve as a launching point for a self-guided walking tour of the former border. It’s also the location of one of Berlin’s best flea markets.
Lined by Japanese cherry trees (a gift from Japan after the two sides of the country were unified), this portion of the wall was the first to open in 1989 between East and West Berlin. Go when the trees are in bloom in early spring for a stunning effect.
4. Walking And Biking Tours
Although the East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, you can explore where the wall used to be on a walking tour along Berliner Mauerweg or bike from the East Side Gallery to Postdammer Platz on a cobbestoned-lined path marking the wall’s former route.
5. More Traditional Wall Sites
If you decide you want to learn more about the history of the Berlin Wall after visiting some of the more alternative sites (because our super-brief explainer barely scratches the surface), you should head to the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Potentially the most famous section of the Berlin Wall for Western visitors, Checkpoint Charlie marks a former crossing between East and West Berlin. The actual checkpoint is housed in a museum, but travelers can see a replica in the original location and explore a small museum across the street.
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