CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
When I started to plan a family trip to Berlin, I was surprised when my nine year old son asked to see the Berlin Wall. It hadn’t occurred to me that he had ever heard of the wall since it was torn down years before he was born. It turns out that he learned about it in school, and, even at his young age, he was able to understand the significance of dividing a country using a concrete wall and abstract ideas. Not wanting to discourage his interest in history, my family and I set out to find what we could of the Berlin Wall’s remains.
The significance of the Berlin Wall to Germany’s, and the world’s, history is hard to overlook. In recognition of that significance, the Berlin Wall Memorial was established. The Memorial is a combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits along Bernauer Straβe. In 1961, Bernauer Straβe was cut in half by the wall. Neighbors were cut off from each other as the wall went up and windows and doors facing West Germany were bricked off by officials in East Germany. The divided street became a symbol of a divided country and world. Today, portions of the wall and examples of the division between the East and West have been preserved along a mile long path to help visitors understand the scope and significance of the Berlin Wall.
Visitors can see several intact sections of the inner wall covered in graffiti. The inner wall served as the first barrier between East and West Berlin and obscured views across the wall so that those on the East side could not easily communicate with people in the West. Despite efforts to separate the East and West, about ninety people were able to escape through tunnels that ran underneath Bernauer Straβe. Markers along the Berlin Wall Memorial indicate the tunnels’ routes. Unfortunately, not all escape attempts were successful.
Between 1961 and 1989, it is estimated that at least 136 people died at the Berlin Wall. Many of those people were trying to travel from the East to the West, but the fatalities include border soldiers and people on the West side of the wall. A stark display covered in black and white photos memorializes those who are known to have died at the Berlin Wall. Other outdoor displays indicate where buildings were torn down to make room for the wall, and metal poles show exactly where the Berlin Wall stood. Stopping places along the route provide the chance to read in-depth descriptions about how the wall the built, how people attempted to get across the wall, historical events, and descriptions of average citizens whose lives were impacted by the Berlin Wall.
The route along Bernauer Straβe includes several indoor exhibits as well. People can view an introductory film at the Visitor Center. Visitors can also stop at the Chapel of Reconciliation to appreciate a moment of peace and reflection. Inside the Berlin Wall Documentation Center, visitors can tour exhibits explaining topics such as how everyday life differed from one side of the wall to the other, personal accounts of living in Berlin while the wall was in place, and the efforts to tear the wall down. An observation tower is attached to the Center. From the top of the tower, visitors can glance over a wall to see an example of the no man’s land strip that ran along the Berlin Wall and the watchtowers that bordered it.
By the end of our visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial, we had a deep understanding of why the Berlin Wall was constructed, the effect it had on people from its construction in 1961 until its demolishment in 1989, and the lasting significance it has had on the world. My son’s desire to see something he had only read about contributed to our whole family’s experience in Berlin and appreciation of our time in Germany. I have no doubt that your family will have a similar experience at the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Admission to all the Berlin Wall Memorial buildings and outdoor exhibits is free. The Visitor and Documentation Centers are open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Visitors are welcome at all the Memorial’s open-air exhibits Mondays to Sundays from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM. The Memorial has sights along Bernauer Straβe. It is suggested to begin your trip at the Visitor Center, which is located at Bernauer Straβe 119, 13355 Berlin. It is easily reached from the S-Bahn station Nordbahnhof or the U-Bahn station Bernauer Straβe. The Documentation Center can be found just down the road from the Visitor Center at Bernauer Straβe 111, and the Chapel of Reconciliation is located at Bernauer Straβe 4. For more information, you may visit www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de or call +49 (0)30 467 98 66-66.
Tips For Your Trip:
Phone: +49 (0)30 467 98 66-66
Bernauer Straβe 119
Bernauer Straβe 4
Bernauer Straβe 111
U-Bahn: Bernauer Straβe
Visitor and Documentation Centers:
Tuesdays – Sundays: 1000 – 1800
Memorial’s open-air exhibits:
Mondays – Sundays: 0800 – 2200