Visiting the Berlin Wall

Visiting the Berlin Wall

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Berlin had quite an effect on me.  I loved the city, the funky vibes, and amazing food scene, but Berlin still has the shadows of a dark past.  Germany and Berlin are not afraid to face that past though, to remember it, cherish the memory of those who fell during the world wars, and during the division of the city and country into East and West.  They also use this past as a reminder of what must never come again.  The Berlin Wall is one of the most striking remnants of the past, as well as the holocaust memorial, as the Wall crossed the whole of the city, and can still be seen in several areas of Berlin today.  I visited some sections of the wall, to learn about the past, and investigate how Germans are looking to the future.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - Part of the original wall next to the Topography of Terror Museum
Visiting the Berlin Wall – Part of the original wall next to the Topography of Terror Museum

Why Was the Berlin Wall Built?

After World War II ended and Hitler was defeated, Allied forces occupied Germany, and the German capital Berlin.  They divided the city into four sections, each governed by one of the main Allied countries who had liberated Germany – the UK, USA, France and the Soviet Union.  Political divisions between the Soviet Union and the other Allied powers became more apparent, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was confident that the US would withdraw soon, and that the Soviet Union would be able to take full control of Germany.  However, that didn’t happen, and as the Soviets imposed harsher restrictions on the people of the Eastern Bloc, and East Germany, millions of people fled to the West of Germany.  It is estimated that 3.5 million people left East Germany, that is around 20% of the total population, many of whom were young, educated and professional.  To stem the flow of people, and to avoid Western influence and interference, the Soviet Union decided to take drastic action.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - The East Side Gallery shows artist's impressions of the Wall & how many people tried to flee East Germany
Visiting the Berlin Wall – The East Side Gallery shows artist’s impressions of the Wall & how many people tried to flee East Germany

When Was the Berlin Wall Built

At midnight on Saturday 12th August 1961, East German police and army units began to close the border, running rolls of barbed wire and building fences to prevent people crossing.  When residents awoke on the morning of August 13th they found they were trapped, and no longer able to cross freely into West Germany.  The first concrete blocks of the wall were laid on 17th August, and a no-man’s land created between two walls to make it harder to cross.  Even if someone made it over one section of the wall, they would often be shot in no-man’s land before reaching the 2nd wall.  In the years that the wall stood between 1961 and 1989, over 100,000 people attempted to escape East Berlin and cross the wall.  5,000 of these attempts were successful, and an estimated 136 – 200 people died trying to cross in and around Berlin.

Visiting the Belin Wall - A Section of the East Side Gallery pays tribute to those who died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall
Visiting the Belin Wall – A Section of the East Side Gallery pays tribute to those who died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

During the peaceful ‘Velvet Revolution’ which was taking place in 1989 in several Eastern Bloc countries, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the borders became more relaxed, and East Germans who leave through these borders.  By early November, the East German government was designing new regulations which would help control the flow of people and take the pressure of the ‘unofficial’ border crossings in the other countries.  There was apparently some confusion before a press conference on 9th November when the new regulations were to be announced, and the spokesman for the government apparently mistakenly confirmed that the borders were to opened.  This was broadcast on the news on both sides of Germany, and East Germans gathered at the wall checkpoints, demanding that the guards let them through.  The border guards knew nothing about the new rules and tried to stop the people leaving.  No-one was willing to issue orders to use lethal force to prevent them passing, so the border guards had no way to hold back the growing crowds and finally relented to let them through.  As the East Germans left, crossed the border, they were welcomed by the West Germans and they all celebrated together.  Some people climbed onto the wall to dance and celebrate their new freedom.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - Part of the East Side Gallery - The Wall Finally Fell
Visiting the Berlin Wall – Part of the East Side Gallery – The Wall Finally Fell

In the following days and weeks people used basic tools to chip away at the wall, and although the official border crossings remained in place, it became easier for people to cross unhindered by the authorities.  On 23 December 1989 both East & West Germans were allowed to cross without the need of a visa.  On 13 June 1990, the official demolition of the wall began, and on 3rd October East Germany was officially dissolved and the country was reunited.

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Sections of the Berlin Wall Still Visible

Across Berlin, you can still see evidence of the Berlin Wall, from a simple line on the floor to an impressive art gallery.  Other sections are marked with metal poles, that now people can walk between safely, unlike when the wall was in place.

Looking for a tour of Berlin?  Check out these options with GetYourGuide

The Brandenburg Gate

The most famous and impressive section of the wall that still stands is the Brandenburg Gate.  Although the Brandenburg Gate itself isn’t actually part of the Berlin Wall, it became part of the barrier as East Germany lay on one side, and West Germany on the other.  Now, it is a symbol of the history of Berlin, Germany and Europe, and also of unity and peace.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - The Brandenburg Gate
Visiting the Berlin Wall – The Brandenburg Gate

Checkpoint Charlie

Along the Berlin Wall, there were several checkpoints where certain people would be allowed to cross to the East or West side of Germany.  These were named alphabetically – A, B, C, D, etc., and Checkpoint Charlie was Checkpoint C, which was reserved for Allied personnel and foreigners.  Nowadays this is a tourist attraction, and there is a ‘fake’ military checkpoint where you can take photographs, and a replica of the original sign saying you are now entering West Berlin.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - Checkpoint Charlie & the photo opportunity
Visiting the Berlin Wall – Checkpoint Charlie & the photo opportunity

The Wall Close to the Topography of Terror Museum

The Topography of Terror Museum is built on the site where the old Gestapo and SS Headquarters stood during World War II.  The buildings were heavily bombed during the war, and demolished shortly afterwards.  The museum has exhibitions about the activities of the Gestapo and SS, and is a memorial to those were tortured and killed here during the Nazi occupation.

Visiting the Berlin Wall - A large section of the original wall next to the Topography of Terror Museum
Visiting the Berlin Wall – A large section of the original wall next to the Topography of Terror Museum

The East-Side Gallery

In 1990, artists from all over the world came to paint murals on a large section of the wall close to the River Spree.  On the east side of the inner wall, they painted images of change, hope and history, leaving a colourful reminder of what should never be again.  The gallery is a heritage-protected landmark, and it is an offence to deface the paintings in any way.  However, that hasn’t stopped people leaving their own mark on the wall over the years.  Some of the paintings have been restored, while others remain covered in graffiti, although there is an ongoing project to restore and preserve all of the paintings.

Click on the images below to see the full-size photographs in the gallery.

Visiting the Berlin Wall, or what remains of it, is certainly thought-provoking, although it is hard to imagine even now, a mere 30 years later, what life was like in a divided Berlin when the wall was in place.  It really made me think about how we shouldn’t build walls to stop people getting in or out, as well as causing injury and death to those who try to cross it, the wall has long-lasting effects decades later.

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Where to Stay in Berlin

I was lucky to stay with a friend for most of the time I was in Berlin.  For a couple of days, I stayed at EastSeven Berlin Hostel, which was nice but the wifi wouldn’t work for me so I wouldn’t have stayed there long.  You could try JetPak Eco Lodge or Sandino World Improvement Network for something a little different!  Or scroll through the options, there are some really high rated hostels in Berlin on Hostelworld.

BOOK YOUR HOSTEL NOW

Or check the options on Airbnb.   If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get $30 credit to use on your first trip!

Have you visited the Berlin Wall?  I’d love to hear your comments, please share them below.

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The Berlin Wall is one of the most striking remnants of Berlin's past, as the Wall crossed the whole of the city, and can still be seen in several areas of Berlin today.  Here is how to visit some sections of the Berlin Wall, to learn about the past, and investigate how Germans are looking to the future.

Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!

Tales of a Backpacker is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.

Last updated: April 13, 2018

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14 thoughts on “Visiting the Berlin Wall

  1. That piece of history will , forever be etched in the minds of millions of people. I have been to Berlin twice but both times passing by. However last summer we explore some parts of Saxony , which was part erstwhile East Germany

  2. I wasn’t aware that Berlin was divided into four sections after WW2. It is so awesome that artists painted murals on the sections of the wall that survived. Too bad some people defaced the murals. It is such an important piece of history and should be remembered by all.

  3. I love it when I learn something new! I had no idea the Berlin Wall was built as late as 1961. I had just assumed it was built shortly after the end of World War II. It’s crazy to think that all those years after the war, the Soviets were able to get away with building the wall to keep people from leaving the city. I’m so grateful that our world has become more vigilant and more outspoken about human rights. I hope that means these sore spots in our history won’t be repeated. So glad you were able to tour Berlin and see all these interesting sights!

  4. That was an interesting knowledgeable post. I was actually not much aware about the history, its significance and now it is down. Indeed, i am fascinated to visit Berlin wall now.Great pictures too.

  5. I agree, the Berlin wall has a lot of significance and a lot of history in it. This was the first part of Europe I’ve ever visited and I was very much moved by all the history in this

  6. I’ve never been to Berlin but would love to get there someday. I have heard so much of the wall but never knew why it was built in the first place. The history behind it was really an eye-opener and interesting. I love that people had created artworks on the wall now that it no longer serves its purpose.

  7. I cannot imagine what people must have felt when they woke up in the morning to a partitioned city and the desperation of trying to get to their family on the other side.
    Did you visit the Topography of Terror Museum? I don’t think I could do it.

  8. Great details about the wall. Living in the US schools gloss over European historyl your post taught me quite a bit about the wall that I didn’t know. The no man’s land almost sounds like shooting fish in a barrel. Glad to read that despite all the attempts to escape only about 200 people were killed.So interesting that they but the Terror Museum near the wall.

  9. I’m of an age where the Berlin Wall holds a huge significance. As a child it was very much a part of the political landscape of Europe, and with my interest in 20th century history, I was hyper aware of it. I still remember the shock and euphoria when it came down. It shocks me that so much time has now passed that it has been down for longer than it was up! I have not yet visited though so this is a great post for reference!

  10. I have been to the Berlin Wall and I also found it a really powerful experience. I photographed a lot of the same images in the East Side Gallery that you did. I didn’t get to the Topography of Terror Museum, though. And I didn’t realize that the Brandenburg Gate was once part of the Wall either!

  11. Thank you for the in-depth information on Berlin Wall! So much history and like you said – it’s thought provoking. I have not been to Germany yet, but if I do, Berlin is definitely the top place I will visit.

  12. I truly love the history behind this beautiful wall. It’s like you brought me to the past with a great stories to know about. The Topography of Terror Museum is something I should really have to see when I get the chance to visit Berlin. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  13. I went to Berlin in 2015, it was during winter. I would love to go back during Spring or Summer. The Berlin wall is so fascinating. Berlin has so much history, I didn’t get to check out the East side part and really want to go back.

  14. The Berlin Wall had quite an effect on me too, Claire. I grew up in a communist country and I know first hand what the Soviets did to Germany after the war. I love your pin with the “Trabant” (that’s the make of that car). I drove one of those when I lived in Romania. I pinned it in one of my boards. Great post!

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