Ultimate Backpacker Guide to the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall is one of the German capital’s most important, historic memorials. With over one million people coming to visit the Berlin Wall last year, there’s no doubt that it’s an absolute must-see when in Europe. Steeped in fascinating history from the Cold War, people come from far and wide to see its remains and learn more about its most poignant years of separating the East from the West. There are a number of different places in Berlin where you can visit the Berlin Wall, the most famous being the Berlin Wall Memorial and East Side Gallery. Read on to discover more about the Berlin Wall, where to see it and how to get there.
Need a hostel in Berlin? Check out St Christopher’s Inns Berlin Mitte hostel, just a 6 minute cycle from the Berlin Wall Memorial
History of the Berlin Wall
Heard about the Berlin Wall but don’t know much about the history? We’re here to give you all the facts so you know some context before your trip to the German capital.
Before the wall was built
In an attempt to help Berlin get back on its feet after World War II ended in 1945, the city was split into four allied occupation zones - putting West Berlin under the control of the UK, US and France, and designating East Berlin to the Soviet Union. However rather than making things better, the formation ended up splitting the country in two where East Berlin become fully communist and the West was democratic. This was the cause of major unsettlement in the country and the prime reason the wall was built.
After years of unrest between eastern and western governments, well over two million people left Germany between 1949 and 1959 to escape the communist rule. As a result, East Berlin decided to build the wall that caused hundreds to wake up on 13th August 1961 trapped away from their homes, jobs and loved ones. The final, finished Berlin Wall was 66 miles of 3.6 metre high concrete, plus barbed wire for 41 miles and over 300 look-out towers, all completely encircling West Berlin.
After the Wall
28 years of control, 5000 successful escapes and 200 shot from attempted escape, 9th November 1989 was a monumental day for Germany. East Berlin announced that at midnight that night, the people of Germany could cross the border freely so at the stroke of midnight, the checkpoints opened and thousands flooded through with beer and champagne in hand. People used picks and hammers to help tear down the wall, and in October 1990 the country was reunited officially. You can see why the Berlin Wall is such a significant landmark in Germany.
Berlin Wall Memorial
One of the main ports of call for visitors looking to get the full Berlin Wall experience, the Memorial on Bernauer Strasse is one you shouldn’t miss out on. Here, you’ll see part of the original, untouched Berlin Wall, Chapel of Reconciliation, the Documentation Centre and the Window of Remembrance. To get here, get off the U-bahn at Bernauer Strasse or the S-bahn at Nordbahnhof.
The day before the reunification of Germany was made official in 1990, the magistrate in East Berlin declared that this 60 metre section of original Berlin Wall would be kept as a historical monument. Now, millions visit every year to see in person how intrusive this one, small section feels, and imagine what it would have been like to be completely encircled and trapped within it.
Take a look around the Documentation Centre which exhibits the history of the wall using imagery and stories. Get the answers to all your questions within the exhibition space here which is open Tuesday - Sundays from 10am until 6pm.
The Berlin Wall New Memorial Grounds consist of 4 areas, split by topic. The main message here is about the people - how they coped, how their lives were affected, and those whose mission was to reach beyond the Wall. This section of the memorial is the most dominant making it near impossible to miss.
Head underground and see one of the most-attempted routes of escape during the standing of the Berlin Wall. Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station was closed off and guarded constantly to prevent East Berliners from using the train tunnels to escape to the West. The exhibition is a fascinating one, helping to put into perspective the desperation of the Eastern government to stop people from escaping. You may even have arrived at the memorial via this section.
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is an important symbol of how the people of Germany overcame such a difficult, oppressive period in their history. The 1.3km stretch of remaining Berlin Wall is completely covered in 101 bright murals, painted by hundreds of artists who came from across the world to transform the grey, concrete slabs into symbols of freedom and anti-oppression after the Cold War. What once represented division and hostility now stands today to reflect the complete opposite.
Find the East Side Gallery between Oberbaum Bridge as the Ostbahnhof, showcasing some of the most famous, political paintings in the world. Get off the U-bahn station at Warschauer Strasse or S-bahn station at Ostkreuz and stroll along the wall, stopping to capture the most iconic murals on your camera. Here are a few of the most famous murals on the Berlin Wall…
‘The Fraternal Kiss’ by Dmitri Vrubel
Cartoon Heads by Thierry Noir
Trabant Car breaking through the Wall by Birgit Kinder
‘It Happened in November’ by Kani Alavi
‘Diagonal Solution to a Problem’ by Mikhail Serebryakov
Article by Darcy King