published: September 2014
Visiting the Berlin Wall
Berlin is a city you have to visit to truly understand the Europe of the 20th Century and the Europe of today. For so long it was the symbol of division, the only place where the Iron Curtain was a tangible divide. On the 13th August 1961, construction began on a wall that for 28 years would separate friends, break up families and completely divide a city. The Berlin Wall was the frontline of the Cold War.
Today only two small portions of the wall remain, left as permanent reminders of a barrier that brought so much pain to this city. The largest section can be found near Wasrchauer Strasse Station and runs for about 1km parallel to the river along Muhlenstasse. However today it is no longer a long bland concrete slab guarded by guns but an artistic mural known as the East Side Gallery.
Visiting the Berlin Wall is best done by a leisurely yet thought provoking stroll that will take you half an hour or considerably more depending on how long you stop to appreciate the artwork. Predictably for such an iconic political structure, much of the work is of a political nature but the range of artists that took part in creating the mural means that there are many varied themes. The underlying one is that of freedom, something the wall denied Berliners on both sides of the divide for almost three decades.
Nowadays of course the city of Berlin is totally different to what it was in 1914, 1939, 1961 or even 1989. A century on from the start of the first of two World Wars which many countries blamed almost entirely on Germany, the new Berlin is a modern liberal peace-loving city and the seat of the unified German Parliament once more. The motherly Angela Merkel is revered by many Germans and wields greater power than anyone else in the European Union.
From a travellers perspective, many come to Berlin for the brilliant nightlife which is fueled by 24 hour techno raves in industrial factories converted into giant night clubs. While it may lack the style and medieval feel, that many of Europe’s great cities possess, there are few more fascinating places anywhere in the world. The city is constantly evolving and changing but does so in such a cool uniquely German way.
But of all the things that the city has to offer, a visit to The Berlin Wall Mural has to be number one on the to-do list of anyone new to the city. It tells the tale of division better than any museum could do yet manages to maintain an upliftingly positive feel of hope and freedom.
There are quite a few nice passages in German and English. Some feel a little bit dreamy but there’s certainly some truth in this.
One of the more controversial features the black, red and gold of the German flag with the Star of David in the middle. Clearly not everyone is a fan of this new German-Israeli flag. Much of the mural has been covered in the kind of graffiti you might see on a wall in your local car park which is a bit of a shame but given that freedom of expression is kind of the point of this thing it’s unlikely to be removed.
This ‘forced thumbs up’ is one of the most powerful pieces. The secrets of life behind the Iron Curtain are still being revealed and there are few fascinating spots around town where you can learn about life in East Berlin under Soviet rule.
At the site of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie there is a somewhat comical mural which remembers it’s history as the official border crossing between East and West Berlin although in reality only a select few had access to it.
There’s an area of grass in what used to be effectively ‘no man’s land’ in which anyone who tried to enter would have been greeted by bullets. Today it’s a nice place to sit down and reflect at what is an eerily emotional spot.
Find out more about the Berlin Wall and it’s mural on the East Side Gallery Website.