WHERE THE WALL STILL STANDS
The Wall’s longest surviving stretch is the East Side Gallery, stretching for 1.3 kilometres along the Spree river. Artists covered it in colorful murals after the border opened, adorning it with images such as a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall and a fraternal communist kiss between Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. They repainted the murals in 2009.
At the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, a stretch of the barrier stands at the end of a 1.4-kilometre section of the former border strip, which gives a good impression of how deep a scar the Wall cut through the city. An open-air exhibition is spread along the strip, while an indoor museum will reopen after renovation on the Nov. 9 anniversary of the Wall’s fall. The viewing platform above offers a panorama of the site and downtown Berlin.
LAYERS OF HISTORY
A third remaining stretch of the Wall runs along the edge of the Topography of Terror memorial site, which includes the ruins of buildings where the Gestapo secret police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office ran Adolf Hitler’s police state from 1933 to 1945.
A few small Wall fragments survive at other sites, as do a handful of the 302 watch towers that once dotted the border’s so-called “death strip.”
WHERE SPIES WERE SWAPPED
The Glienicke Bridge, on Berlin’s forested southwestern edge, was the setting for a few of the Cold War’s most spectacular spy swaps. In 1962, US spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged there for a Soviet spy known as Rudolf Abel. In 1986, prominent Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky walked across the bridge to freedom and later, as Natan Sharansky, to start a new life as an Israeli politician. The border was in the middle of the bridge, still painted different shades of green on the two sides of the divide.
The scenically located bridge spans the channel between two lakes. From the bridge, you can walk or cycle along the Berlin Wall Trail, which largely follows the course of the Wall for 160 kilometres around the former West Berlin. Follow the gray-and-white signs marked “Berliner Mauerweg.”
WESTERN AND EASTERN ALLIES
The Allied Museum, in the western Dahlem district, focuses on the history of the Western allies’ role in Berlin from 1945 until their last troops withdrew in 1994. West Berlin was made up of the post-World War II American, British and French sectors. Its status as a capitalist exclave deep inside the Soviet occupation zone was secured by the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift. The original Checkpoint Charlie border guardhouse from the time of the Wall’s fall, from the famous crossing in downtown Berlin, stands outside the museum.
Across town in the Karlshorst district, the recently renovated German-Russian Museum concentrates on the history and consequences of Nazi Germany’s war against the Soviet Union, which started in 1941 and ended with the Red Army taking Berlin in 1945. The building includes the room where Germany’s surrender was signed on May 8, 1945.
SOVIET WAR MEMORIALS
World War II left 26.6 million Soviet soldiers and civilians dead, by the official Russian count, and the Soviet Union built three memorials in post-war Berlin. During the Cold War, the best-known to Westerners was the smallest, which is flanked by two Soviet tanks and stands a few minutes’ walk west of the Brandenburg Gate in former West Berlin.
The biggest and most spectacular memorial stands in Treptow, in former East Berlin. Memorial slabs depicting the course of the war, adorned with quotes from Soviet leader Josef Stalin, lead up to a mausoleum topped by the figure of a soldier standing on a shattered swastika.
Here is the latest news on the old Wall:
BERLIN (AP) — Germany on Sunday celebrates the 25th anniversary of the night the Berlin Wall fell, a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism and the start of the country’s emergence as the major power at the heart of Europe.
A 15-kilometer (nine-mile) chain of lighted balloons along the former border will be released into the air early Sunday evening — around the time on Nov. 9, 1989 when a garbled announcement by a senior communist official set off the chain of events that brought down the Cold War’s most potent symbol.
The opening of East Germany’s fortified frontier capped months of ferment that had already ushered in Poland’s first post-communist prime minister and prompted Hungary to cut open its border fence. The hard-line leadership in East Berlin faced mounting pressure from huge protests and an exodus of citizens via other communist countries.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, is opening an overhauled museum Sunday at the site — home to one of the few surviving sections of the Wall. Merkel, 60, who was then a physicist and entered politics as communism crumbled, recalls the feeling of being stuck behind East Germany’s border. “Even today when I walk through the Brandenburg Gate, there’s a residual feeling that this wasn’t possible for many years of my life, and that I had to wait 35 years to have this feeling of freedom,” Merkel said last week. “That changed my life.”
Much has changed beyond recognition, though some inequalities persist. Wages and pensions remain lower, and unemployment higher, in the east than the west. Many eastern areas saw their population drop as people headed west for jobs, something that is only now showing signs of turning around.
There are cultural differences too: a higher proportion of children are in daycare in the east, a legacy of communist times, and the opposition Left Party — partly descended from East Germany’s communist rulers — remains strongest in the east. But the progress toward true unity is seen in Germany’s top leadership: Not only is Merkel from the east, but so is the nation’s president, Joachim Gauck, a former Protestant pastor and pro-democracy activist. Germans today can be grateful to have lives and opportunities, Gauck said, “that endless numbers of people in the world can only desire and dream of.”
Some of you (Webb, Renie, Paulette) went through Checkpoint Charlie in the Sixties and Seventies as I did. It is an experience I will never forget. Having a machine gun pointed at us from about 25 to 30 yards away, a young lady stripped searched at the Checkpoint, forced to buy East German marks upon entry, and the totally depressing architecture of the city, I shall always remember!