History and sights: the Berlin Wall


The Wall dividing East and West Berlin was in existence from 13 th August 1961 until the opening of the GDR borders in November 1989. The structure was largely destroyed in the following months (the source of all those fragments sold over the years since) so now there are few traces and in many areas it is impossible to work out where it ran.

Berlin Wall Itinerary
Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse was the crossing point where passport holders from all countries could move (with very strict controls) from East to West Berlin using the S-Bahn system. Many other crossing points were restricted to Berliners and/or West Germans (other than Berliners) and Checkpoint Charlie was restricted to foreign nationals. The place where the controls were carried out can still be seen next to the station. It is now a club, retaining the name by which it was known then: it is called Tränenpalast (palace of tears).
If you want to see a stretch of the Berlin  Wall and learn about the history, take the S-Bahn to Nordbahnhof from Friedrichstrasse. Leave Nordbahnhof station by the exit marked “Bernauerstrasse” and you come out into what was no-man's-land from 1961-90 as the whole S-Bahn line was inoperable while the Wall was in existence. Walk east along Bernauerstrasse .          On your right you have the line of the wall and you can visit the Gedenkstätte und Dokumentationszentrum Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Documentation Centre and Memorial).
A visit is a very sobering experience as you will see newsreels showing the dramatic story at this very point where the houses were the demarcation line between the French and Soviet sectors of Berlin. While the lower floors were being bricked up, people escaped from the upper storeys. The houses were later largely demolished, leaving only the ground floor façades (with death-strip and hinterland wall behind. In the 1980’s the houses were finally demolished completely, as was the church which was directly behind the line of the Wall. A new-generation wall was then built, parts of which still remains in situ today.  
If you up the external stairs to the viewing point you can look down on the reconstructed death-strip and hinterland wall which shows how the installations used to be. You can also see the chapel of reconciliation built on what was no-man’s land (the name is a reference to the church that was demolished, the “Versöhnungskirche” , reconciliation church).
Here the whole area along Bernauerstrasse is being developed and you can still make out where the death strip was, whereas in most other places it has long been covered up. You can continue to your itinerary to Bernauerstrasse U-Bahn station and from there get to Alexanderplatz.
The documentation centre website, which has an English version, is: berliner-mauer-dokumentationszentrum.de

Mauer-Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is much better-known, with Checkpoint Charlie being one of Berlin’s most famous sights. The museum was set up soon after the Wall was built, initially on Bernauerstrasse, and it was relocated in 1963 to crossing point C (Charlie) on Friedrichstrasse/.Kochstrasse. This incidentally was a crossing point for foreigners only. The hut at the crossing point is only a reproduction as the original was removed when it became redundant and can be seen now in the Alliertenmuseum in Dahlem. www.alliiertenmuseum.de .
The Mauer-Museum (Wall Museum) was founded as a private initiative soon after the Wall was built, at the height of the Cold War, and its presentation is, perhaps inevitably, considerably more propagandistic than at the Gedenkstätte where testimony is allowed to stand for itself.
Website:   http://www.mauer-museum.de/index.php/en

Potsdamer Platz was right on the border between East and West Berlin. Pre-1990 there were no buildings anywhere near the Wall at this point and the lines of the old street layout could still be made out in places. On the western side there were viewing platforms over the Wall. Building work was frenetic in the early years after Reunification with “Europe’s largest building site and it is still not completed in the vicinity of Leipziger Platz. A few slabs of the Wall are still in situ, and in the pavement and on the road you can see a red line which shows where the Wall ran. This line can be followed along to the Reichstag building.

The East Side Gallery on Mühlenstrasse near the Ostbahnhof is the longest stretch of Wall still in existence and probably the most photographed today. Mühlenstrasse was in fact in East Berlin but the Wall at this point presents its “outside” face, which normally faced West Berlin, because behind the wall was the death strip and then the canal, so nobody could escape over the Wall here. The paintings were done in 1990 and have been renovated recently because the East Side Gallery is now a protected monument.

Further reading:
The Berlin Wall , by Ingolf Wernecke and Christian Bahr. A brochure covering the history of the Wall, including photos and maps.
Die Berliner Mauer heute: Denkmalwert und Umgang/The Berlin Wall today: cultural significance and conservation issues , by Polly Feversham and Leo Schmidt.. Contains many illustrations and a good bibliography.
Wo die Mauer war/Where the Wall stood , by Harry Hampel and Thomas Friedrich.
Wo stand die Mauer in Berlin?/Where was the Wall in Berlin?/Où se trouvait le Mur de Berlin?, by Gabriele Camphausen, Christian Bahr and Günter Schneider.

An interesting website has lots of maps and photos of the Berlin Wall: