I have seen and heard so much about Berlin Wall that the visit here was a no-brainer. More so when the wall is synonymous to Berlin as it was one of the symbols of the Cold War. I made my way to Berlin Wall Memorial to learn a little more about the walled border between Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc. The whole Berlin Wall Memorial is like a large outdoor exhibit that runs along the entire stretch of Bernauer Strasse. It’s divided into sections with each detailing the different bits of the dark history.
The Window of Remembrance column show photos of 130+ people who had lost their lives at the strip. There are also many other memorials around the site as well.
The green lawn provides a calming effect against the backdrop of border walls.
There is a portion of the death strip with lookout tower which is preserved. From the rooftop of the Documentation Center, it became clear that the chances of East Berliners fleeing were near impossible. The barren lawn makes it easy to spot anybody making the attempt. Worse when we factored in the barbed wires, landmines, rounded-top walls, lookout towers and trigger-happy border guards. Those who had made the attempt must be really desperate despite the odds…
Nordbahnhof Ghost station
And as if the gloomy history on its own wasn’t enough, the rain started pouring. Hence, I made my way for the Ghost Station exhibition in Nordbahnhof station. Ghost Station because the trains from West Berlin continued to pass through the underground lines of this “deserted station”. Those trains with West Berliners on board merely slowed down when approaching the station but without making a stop.
Hence, the underground station was heavily guarded by East Germany’s border guards to prevent it from becoming an escape route. There were still successful attempts and among them were the guards themselves. But the GDR (German Democratic Republic) eventually walled up the entry/exit points.
East Side Gallery painting
Next up would be the visit to East Side Gallery which is the longest preserved piece of the Berlin Wall. It’s quite a distance away from Berlin Wall Memorial via public transportation but is definitely worth the effort. For this is a memorial to freedom, as interpreted by various artists’ graffiti work. It seems to me those coats of paint over the dull concrete walls signified a brighter and colourful future without oppression of freedom. The artists’ creativity and graffiti had made East Side Gallery the longest open-air gallery in the world.
The atmosphere here was less heavy-hearted as compared to Berlin Wall Memorial.
There’s a tourist souvenir shop at one corner which sells GDR memorabilia and it’s possible to get an old GDR passport stamp here too. Another touristy thing to do here is to pay for a car tour around Berlin in the iconic East German made “Trabbi” or Trabant. But I would rather spend the time admiring the beautiful Oberbaumbrücke bridge. :-)
Checkpoint Charlie was the only access point that allowed Allied personnel and foreigners to enter East Berlin by road after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. It was also where the American and Soviet tanks squared up due to a diplomatic row which could potentially trigger World War III. I can just imagine the escalated tension during that 16-hour stand-off by looking at the black and white photo alone. But of course, that uneasiness of the Cold War is all gone and replaced by flock of curious tourists like myself. History bits aside, the star attractions are now the replica guardhouse with sandbags and actors donning US soldiers’ uniform.
There are also two other Checkpoints further away from central Berlin. Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden-Drewitz and Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt-Marienborn. Hopefully, I will get to visit them in future as well.
Berlin Wall in Singapore
As a matter of fact, we can catch a glimpse of Berlin Wall right here in Singapore. Germany has gifted Singapore with two concrete slabs of Berlin Wall to commemorate 50 years of bilateral diplomatic relations in 2016. The pair now stands on a rather secluded area within Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore. This quiet spot seems like a nice resting place for all the turbulence history they had witnessed. But with all due respect, I am not particularly impressed by the graffiti on both the slightly worn-out slabs.