A Short History of the Berlin Wall
Few cities have had such a convulsive history as Berlin during the 20th century. It was in the firing line of two World Wars and after the fall of the Nazis it became one of the most conflictive zones of the Cold War.
The 13th of August, 1961, Berlin was split by 45km of wall which crossed the city like a scar. Families and friends were separated as two political systems competed amongst themselves. East Germany, was under Soviet control and West Germany, under the control of the United States, France and England.
The four metre high wall, complete with guard towers and permanent military patrols, was the result of the Soviet Isolationist policy. Although it was officially known as the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” it wasn’t long before it became known as the “Wall of Shame”. The total length of the wall was 120km and was progressively reinforced with the passing of the years.
It is estimated that more than 200 people died trying to cross the wall and around 75,000 were arrested. Approximately 40,000 people were able to escape successfully, often through tunnels dug by the West Germans.
It wasn’t until 28 years later, on the 9th of November 1989, the East German authorities opened the border gates allowing people to move freely between the divided Berlin. That very same night, thousands of people took to the streets and started tearing down the wall with picks and hammers. Berliners from one side and the other hugged each other amongst the euphoria and many bars close to the wall gave out free beer to celebrate.
A Tour of the Berlin of the Wall and Cold War
Although the Berlin Wall no longer divides the German capital, it remains in the collective memory, in the architectural differences of the city and a number of installations and monuments all of which invite you to discover Cold War Berlin. If you are interested in taking a small tour of the Berlin of this age here are a few of the most interesting sights.
- Walking Tour of the Berlin Wall– On many of the streets in Berlin, you will find a double line of paving stones with metal plaques marking the location of the wall. There are various information panels along the way.
- Checkpoint Charlie- The busiest border crossing checkpoint. Today there is a replica of the original guard hut and there is a sign which reads “You are leaving the American Sector”
- Berlin Wall Memorial- Located in Bernauer Strasse this historic site still appears as it did in the 1980s. Here you can clearly see the divison between East and West Berlin and the effect the wall had on the local community.
- Mauer Museum-Right next to Checkpoint Charlie this museum houses a collection of photographs, documentation and memorabilia of the time when Berlin was occupied and divided by the Allied forces.
- East Side Gallery-At 1.3km long it is the longest piece of the Wall remaining. Artists from all over the world have covered the wall in hundreds of pieces of graffiti making it an enormous outdoor art gallery.
- Hohenschönhausen Memorial-The old Stasi Central Prison in the GDR where political prisoners and defectors were incarcerated and often tortured.