The Red Army sweep through Berlin, drawing the curtain on the Europe theatre of the Second World War. The defeated Germany split into four administrative zones, each occupied by the American, British, French and Soviet forces.
The German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, evolved from the Soviet-occupied Eastern zone and was quickly integrated into the Eastern Bloc. They had control of all the eastern part of Germany, except a small enclave of Berlin, which further divided into the four zones occupied by the Allies. West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR. As the only border between the Soviet Bloc and the Western world, Berlin became the epicentre of the Cold War.
Thousands of people fled East to West, among them were many educated and skilled people. Combating this brain drain required drastic action and as a result, the "Anti-fascist Protection Wall" was built almost overnight. At first, it was a barbed wire fence, but it developed into a complex system of physical barriers. With all the deterrents they continued to flee, or try at least. During the 28 years of the Iron Curtain existence at least 40,000 people escaped. 75,000 people were prosecuted for trying. 1,300 died in the attempt, of which 136 died in Berlin. These figures are only estimates, as the Checkpoint Charlie Museum suggests that the East covered up many deaths and implies the real number could be much higher.
The escape attempts are infamous. Families dropped into shafts that connected with West Berlin ghost trains, tunnels were built, people modified cars to create minuscule hiding spaces, people hot air ballooned or flew over the Wall, and two men windsurfed over 100kms to Denmark. The first group to disappear were, in fact, East German guards, sent to block up the sewers to prevent people escaping via those very tunnels.
When the Wall fell, so too did the USSR, putting an end to the Cold War. Understandably most people wanted to see the Wall completely destroyed. The population, both East and West took to it with pick and hammer. There are a few places, however, that spared complete destruction. They remain as a memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and a gallery devoted to peace. A sombre reminder of the atrocities that befell this city.
As you travel through Berlin, often you will see marking on the ground. These designate where the Wall once ran. For the parts still remaining, let us go into detail, starting from the north and going south along the former Wall.
Berlin Wall Memorial
From a historical point of view, this is probably one of the most interesting parts of the Wall remaining. We think of the Wall as a single wall, but it was far more complex than this. At the Berlin Wall Memorial, one can climb to a lookout platform to see the complete working of the system. There was a large outer wall facing West Berlin and a smaller inner wall. The area in between was the called the "death strip", where orders to shoot to kill were issued. Here lay a watch tower, high voltage street lights, a bed of nails, electric barbed wire fence, guard dogs, and alarms. There was even raked sand to deter sympathetic soldiers from looking the other way if one were to attempt an escape.
At the eastern edge of Liesenstraßer, there is a small section of the Border Wall that would be uninteresting if it were not for the fact it is not memorialised, remembered or torn down. It feels like they forgot this piece existed. As a tourist to 'The Divided City' it serves as a reminder that the Wall was not an attraction, but a permanent ever present symbol of oppression and division.
Gedenkstätte Günter Litfin
Here we can find one of the few remaining watch towers. Sitting alone along the canal that acted as the border between East and West, the lookout today houses a permanent photography exhibition and serves as a memorial for those who lost their lives trying to escape.
What had once been the busiest intersection in Europe, housing one of the very first traffic lights on the continent was sliced literally in two by the Wall, leaving it in a desolate state. An observation tower was built in the West here, initially for military and police, but frequently used by citizens to gaze at the East from afar. There are a few pieces of the Wall still standing with panels detailing the history between them.
Topography Of Terror
We have here the best preserved historical section of the Wall. Running along the south side of Niederkirchnerstraße is 200m (656feet) of the Wall that the adjoining museum, "Topography Of Terror", requested to be preserved. Both inner and outer walls, with all of the original traces of destruction as it fell, remain intact. It is a stark, unglorified section of the Wall that drives home the cold reality of the division of Berlin.
Although there is not any part of the physical wall left at Checkpoint Charlie, I feel it deserves a special mention as it was here that Russian and American tanks lined up facing each other in a very tense 18-hour standoff that could have resulted in the beginning of World War III. There is now a mast over the replica checkpoint bearing the image of an American guard facing what was the East and a Russian Guard facing what was the West. Many interesting museums crowd the crossroad.
East Side Gallery
The longest section of the Berlin Wall that remains today lies at the East Side Gallery. Over 1,316 meters (4,317 feet) of the Wall was painted by artists from around the world in 1990 to become an international memorial for freedom. Located in this part of the Wall is arguably one of the most iconic graffiti art pieces, "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love" It depicts an image of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing (the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union and East Germany respectively).
Walking along Puschkinallee, the border between the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Treptow, one might pass by the tower thinking nothing more of it than a viewing platform or a bird lookout. It is not until you see the searchlight that the grim history surfaces. The former guard tower sitting in Schlesischer is one of the few remaining to be found in present-day Berlin. It was a command tower, responsible for eighteen other towers nearby. It sits at 10m (32feet) high, with four floors, including an underground floor, a toilet, a holding cell, a meeting room and observation level. Across the road are the remains of a smaller instalment of the Wall that people use as a fresh graffiti canvas.
Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours: professional photography guided tours designed to help you get the best out of your camera whilst exploring wonderful cities with a local. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.