Berlin: 25 years after the fall of the Wall, only fragments and ghosts remain
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 30, 2014
Nov. 9, 2014, will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On that evening in 1989, a chance remark by a midlevel East German government bureaucrat sent first a score, then hundreds, of people to the Wall’s east-west border crossings.
Spokesman Günter Schabowski announced that the government had passed a regulation that would allow East Germans to travel to the West.
By midnight, thousands were crossing into West Berlin, and within days the inhuman border that for 28 years had separated families and friends and a great city was no more.
Soon afterward, the so-called Mauerspechte, or Wall (Wood)Peckers, attacked the Wall for souvenirs. Huge sections were removed to let traffic again move freely through Berlin.
By the time the two Germanys were reunited on Oct. 3, 1990, much of the Wall had disappeared. Today, almost all of the barrier that had run nearly 97 miles through the city and around West Berlin is gone, torn down, in part, to erase the bitter memory of Germany’s Cold War division.
But there are places where you can still see the Wall.
The best place to get a feel for how the Wall was 25 years ago is at the Berlin Wall Memorial Complex that runs for almost a mile along Bernauer Strasse.
The monument, unveiled in 1999 for the 10th anniversary of the Wall’s fall, is made up of two tall steel walls that enclose a section of the original Wall, a guard tower and some of the obstacles a person would encounter trying to escape East Berlin.
Over the past 2 ½ decades, the complex has been expanded and includes the Chapel of the Reconciliation. Note the outline in stones in front of it that marks where the Church of Reconciliation, destroyed by the East German government in 1985, once stood.
Perhaps the most moving part of the complex is the Window of Remembrance, a memorial dedicated to 136 people who died at the Berlin Wall, including eight East German border guards. A photo of each person adorns the rust-covered steel wall. Family, friends and visitors often leave flowers or remembrance stones by the photos.
A line of steel poles marks where the Wall once stood, and information tablets explain the sites.
Although the Wall is no longer standing in most spots, you can sometimes see where it ran. Look down, and you will often find a double row of cobblestones running along the street, crossing sidewalks and sometimes
even running into the sides of buildings. These mark where the Berlin Wall once stood.
The longest stretch of the Wall still standing is along Mühlenstrasse and the Spree River. The remnants have been turned into what is considered the world’s largest open-air art exhibit, known as the East Side Gallery.
The eastern side of the Wall is adorned with more than 100 murals painted by international artists.
In some places, the Wall has been re-erected. At Potsdamer Platz and across from Checkpoint Charlie, graffiti-covered slabs have been set up, popular spots where tourists pose for pictures. Inside the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, a German parliamentary building across the Spree from the Reichstag, a section of the Wall has been re-erected where it once ran.
A remarkable remnant of the Wall stands along Niederkirchner Strasse, near Checkpoint Charlie. Covered with graffiti and scarred by souvenir hunters, this block-long stretch has been fenced in on one side to save it from scavengers.
On the other side it is within the grounds of an infamous site from a different era, the “Topography of Terror,” a documentation center on the grounds of the former Nazi SS headquarters. Some of the graffiti on this side is original, from the days it faced West Berlin.
The Berliner Mauerweg, or Berlin Wall Trail, traces the course of the Wall and the former East German border fortifications that encircled West Berlin. It is about 100 miles long and can be biked or hiked. Maps and information markers dot the trail.
Along the way, you’ll pass memorials to people who died trying to flee East Germany. One, on Zimmerstrasse, remembers Peter Fechter, a young man who was shot and killed by East German border guards on Aug. 17, 1962, while trying to escape to the West. The lower line of the marker reads “... he only wanted freedom.”
Visitors have their photos taken in front of the Berlin Wall on Potsdamer Platz. The sections have been re-erected where the Wall once ran. Before World War II, Potsdamer Platz was the busiest traffic junction in Germany, but throughout most of the Cold War the area was a wasteland. Today it is once again a busy section of the German capital, with offices, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, subway stops and lots of vehicular traffic.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES