Berlin is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Traveling to Berlin for the last twenty years has sometimes felt like going to a construction zone as Berlin rebuilds itself after WW2 and the Cold War. While Berlin could not be farther than what it was in 1989 when The Wall went down, you still can visit East Berlin for some GDR (The East German nation) nostalgia. The Wall The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 as a way to keep East Germans for defecting and moving into West Germany. At the time, the Soviet Union controlled East Berlin and East Germany, while West Berlin was considered a free city and while not a part of West Germany, it was controlled by the French, British and American occupied forces. The GDR government claimed that the Wall was was an "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" to keep the Westerns out of East Berlin, it was truly built to keep the East Germans from leaving and defecting to West Germany. The Wall started to reopened on November 9th 1989, due to a communication error between the East German government and a lower level political spokesman who declared the wall open immediately although that was never the intention of the party bosses. The result was mass amounts of people and press went to the wall and the boarder guards could not refuse them leaving and opened the gates to West Berlin. A wonderful movie that takes place during this time period and is one of my all time favorite movies is Goodbye Lenin!. Where to see the Wall The East Side Gallery The East Side Gallery consists of 105 paintings from artists from all over the world on the east side of the Berlin Wall. It is called the "largest and longest open air art gallery in the world." It is between the Oberbaum Bridge and the Ostbahnhof, and is along the former borderline that ended at the Spree and Mühlenstrasse. During the time that the Berlin Wall was up, the east side was blank although the west side was full of graffiti. So in 1990, it was like a blank canvas for the artists. It was renovated in 2009, although there is clearly a problem with graffiti. To get to the East Side Gallery, you can either get off at the Warschauer Strasse metro stop or at the Ostbahnhof or Warschauer Strasse train station. It is 1.3 Km long and is in threat of redevelopment as the property that it sits on is very valuable for condos. Mauerpark The Mauerpark is a public space in the Prenzlauer Berg, a very fashionable area of Berlin. Mauerpark literally means Wall Park and it is a nice green park that used to be a section of Cold War–era death strip, the no-mans land. There is a section the Berlin Wall that is prime real estate for graffiti which is actually not only allowed, but encouraged and a little exhibit with photos about the area. If you are in the area on a Sunday there is an amazing and large flea market that I highly recommend going to. Topography of Terror Topography of Terror is a memorial and documentation centre dealing with the terror inflicted by the Nazi regime. It is a sobering site at the central institutions of Nazi persecution and terror including the Secret State Police Office with its own “house prison,” the leadership of the SS and the leadership buildings during the Second World War. At the Topography of Terror there is 200 meters left of the Berlin Wall that have been preserved with all the traces of the destruction that occurred during the transitional period of souvenir hunters. The admission is free and it is right by the Potsdamer Platz. Mauerweg - The Berlin Wall Trail One way to get a real sense of the Berlin Wall is to do a bike tour of the parameter of the wall. The Wall is 150 km so it is not necessary to ride the entire wall, but you can ride sections. Where the wall was is marked by bricks showing where the wall was and signs as well. There are many bike tours or you can ride it yourself. The Berlin tourist office has this really good tour on their website that you can do independently. Check Point Charlie Check Point Charlie is one of the most popular symbols of the Cold War. This was the one place that allied forces could enter through the Berlin Wall. It was also the place of a week long stand off between American and Russian tanks. It is incredibly touristy now, but it is still worth a visit. One of the best little museums is here as well. The Mauermuseum also called the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is a very unique museum. It started in October of 1962 by human rights activist Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt as a two room museum about the newly erected Berlin Wall and has grown into good size museum about the Berlin Wall, the people effected by it and challenges today for human rights. This museum should be on the top of your list when visiting Berlin. East German Architecture Alexanderplatz One of my favorite things to do when I am in the old East Berlin section is look at the East German architecture. The first place to start is Alexanderplatz. Alexanderplatz is easy to get to as it is a major transportation hub with the S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations there as well as it being a cross of 3 subway (U-Bahn) lines, 3 S-Bahn lines, and many tram and bus lines, as well as regional trains. Alexanderplatz was named after Russian Czar Alexander I, who visited the capital of Prussia in 1805, it was destroyed in WW2 and was rebuilt in the 1960s and 70s as part of East Berlin's ultimate urban showcase. While most people find Alexanderplatz as ugly it really is a showcase of Soviet Union Architecture. There has been many talks about tearing everything down and rebuilding it, the city has decided to keep most of it and make it a historical site. While other communist landmarks have been demolished, pedestrian-friendly Alexanderplatz will stay as a reminder of the period. The two main sights in Alexanderplatz are the TV tower and the World Clock. The TV Tower was built to demonstrate the strength and efficiency of the socialist party system. You can take an elevator to the top to have an amazing view of Berlin. The second sight in Alexanderplatz is the World Clock was constructed in 1969 as part of the square's redevelopment. Weighing 16 tons and 10 meters tall, it features a revolving cylinder with the world's 24 time zones bearing the names of major cities in each zone. The clock is topped by a simplified model of the solar system, which revolves once a minute. Ampelmännchen Ampelmännchen which means traffic light men in German, is a beloved symbol in East Germany. It won out over the traffic symbols in West Germany and remains as one of the few East German symbols in use. During unification, people tried to change the traffic lights to the west German kind, but people protested and the Ampelmännchen remained and is now a symbol of Berlin and a popular tourist souvenir. Soviet Style Buildings Because Berlin was mostly destroyed in WW2, East Berlin was rebuilt in the Soviet style. While many of the buildings have been demolished or rebuilt beyond distinction, if you go into East Berlin you can still see the buildings. The buildings are composed of notoriously unattractive materials mostly made from thick concrete. Karl-Marx-Allee Street is a great place to see the buildings. Enjoy walking back into history. The 1960s are calling you.
- Photo of the Day for 8/30/15: Tulip field in The Netherlands
- Photo of the day for 8/31/15: Sacre Coeur Paris