Skip to content
FTRC.BLOG / Europe / Germany / Berlin / Everything You Need to Know about the Berlin Wall

Everything You Need to Know about the Berlin Wall

  • Berlin
  • 18 min read
  • Last updated on

The Berlin Wall symbolized the Cold War and split the city into East and West for nearly three decades. Today, it is a powerful reminder of the tumultuous past and is a popular destination spot for Berlin tourists.

We’ll be diving into the history of the Wall, its significance, and the best ways to experience it during your visit to Berlin.

From its origins as a barrier between East and West Berlin to its eventual fall and the reunification of Germany, the Berlin Wall is a crucial destination for anyone interested in European history and culture.

Whether you’re a history buff or just looking to explore the city’s iconic landmarks, this article is for you! So, let’s dive in and discover the fascinating story of the Berlin Wall.

But let’s start talking about it from the beginning…

FURY IN BERLIN

Why did they put up the Berlin Wall?

The Berlin Wall was erected by the East German government on the morning of August 13, 1961, to prevent citizens from fleeing East Germany to West Germany, which was seen as a threat to the stability of the socialist state. That day was a Sunday, and we cannot imagine the surprise some people felt when they woke up and saw what was happening all around town. 

East Germany was struggling economically and politically at the time, and many of its citizens were dissatisfied with the government’s policies and restrictions on personal freedom. The Berlin Riots of 1953 were still fresh on many people’s minds. As a result, many East Germans sought to escape to the West, where they believed they would have better opportunities and a higher standard of living.

The construction of the Berlin Wall was a drastic measure the East German government took to stem the flow of emigrants and demonstrate its commitment to socialism and the Soviet Union. The Wall symbolized the Cold War, the geopolitical conflict between the Western powers, led by the United States, and the Eastern bloc, led by the Soviet Union. The construction of the Wall heightened tensions between the two sides. It led to a period of increased hostility and division in Europe.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the country was reunified again, and this infamous barrier between East and West Germany was dismantled.

.47. //67*/2k/2732/16.f -  East / West Berlin Wall 1987

And who took down the Berlin Wall?

The Berlin Wall was ultimately brought down by the people of East Germany, who came together in a historic moment of unity and protest. The fall of the Wall resulted from a combination of factors, including popular uprisings in Eastern Europe, changes in Soviet leadership, and the efforts of activists and politicians on both sides of the Wall.

In the months leading up to the fall of the Wall, protests and demonstrations erupted throughout East Germany, demanding greater political freedom and an end to the oppressive regime of the Socialist Unity Party. On November 9, 1989, the East German government announced that citizens could travel freely to West Germany, sparking a wave of celebrations and demonstrations quickly spreading to the Wall.

Crowds of East and West Germans converged on the Wall and, in a spontaneous outpouring of joy and solidarity, began dismantling it with their hands and the help of some pickaxes. In the following weeks and months, the Wall was gradually torn down, becoming meaningless, with thousands of people crossing freely between East and West Germany for the first time in nearly three decades.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a momentous event in world history, marking the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era of unity and cooperation between East and West. 

Potsdamer Platz, East Berlin, 29 August 1962

What happened after the Berlin Wall fell?

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, marked the end of an era of division and hostility in Europe and set the stage for unprecedented change and transformation in the region. In the years that followed, the reunification of East and West Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of new democratic states in Eastern Europe fundamentally altered the political and economic landscape of Europe and the world.

One of the most immediate and dramatic consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the reunification of Germany, which had been divided since the end of World War II.

In October 1990, just over a year after the fall of the Wall, East and West Germany were formally reunified as a single, democratic state.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War also had far-reaching implications for international relations, as the balance of power shifted away from the bipolar world order that had characterized the post-World War II era. The United States emerged as a superpower, and the European Union expanded rapidly to include new members from Eastern Europe.

In the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has undergone a period of unprecedented integration and cooperation, marked by the expansion of the European Union, the adoption of a common currency, and the development of shared policies and institutions.

At the same time, however, the region has faced new challenges, including economic inequality, political polarization, and nationalist and populist movements.

Now, here are some of our best articles about the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin Wall Memorial, known as Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer in German, is a collection of monuments and museums commemorating the city’s division by the Berlin Wall and the individuals who lost their lives as a result. It is widely regarded as the best place to gain insight into the history of the Wall and its impact on the city and the wider region.

Our first visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial was 2011 during our initial trip to Berlin. It was a revelatory experience that taught us about a chapter of history we had not learned about during our upbringing in Brazil. Since then, we have made a point of taking our friends to the site whenever they visit. We have consistently witnessed the same sense of awe and appreciation that we felt during our first visit.

For this reason, we have decided to write about this remarkable destination. We aim to convey the excitement and significance of the Berlin Wall Memorial and to provide a comprehensive overview of the story behind the Wall and its lasting impact on the world.

The last victim of the Berlin Wall

Chris Gueffroy’s name may be obscure. But his story is a significant part of the history of the Berlin Wall. His memorial is located where the Landwehr Canal meets the Britz Canal, and we stumbled upon it by chance.

It’s hidden between Treptow and Neukölln, where factory and transport companies now stand, along with the occasional Lenin statue. When Chris attempted to cross the Berlin Wall, the area looked completely different from how it appears now, much like the rest of Berlin.

Parliament of Trees Against War and Violence

The Parliament of Trees is a memorial constructed from 58 segments of the Berlin Wall situated in the former no man’s land. However, the main focus of this environmental art piece is the trees themselves. Sixteen trees, symbolizing the prime ministers of the sixteen German states, were planted and serve as the foundation of this memorial.

It was only slightly reduced despite concerns that the nearby construction of the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus would threaten the Parliament of Trees. Inside the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, a circular room displays remnants of the Berlin Wall secured by Ben Wagin along the Wall’s former path. Each concrete slab features hand-painted numbers denoting the year and the number of individuals killed at the Wall that year.

The East German watchtower on Potsdamer Platz

During my weekend following the Lichtgrenze through Berlin, I accidentally stumbled upon the East German watchtower on Potsdamer Platz. This moment made me question whether I would ever truly know everything there is to know about this city.

I often think I know Berlin like the back of my hand, but it surprises me every day. The hidden East German Watchtower on Potsdamer Platz is a prime example. How often had I walked past this street without realizing that this watchtower stood so close?

Its location behind a tree cluster means it can only be noticed when standing directly underneath it. It makes me wonder how many people walk past it without even realizing what it is.

A piece of the Berlin Wall signed by Ronald Reagan

When you enter the Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus in Berlin, you will step back in time and delve into the fascinating history of the Berlin Wall. This celebrated cultural department store offers a unique opportunity to witness a piece of the Berlin Wall that bears the signature of former US President Ronald Reagan.

Encountering such a notable artifact is an extraordinary experience you won’t encounter daily. By chance, during a visit to Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus on Friedrichstrasse, we stumbled upon this fragment of history, unaware of what we would discover.

The displayed section of the Berlin Wall, adorned with Reagan’s signature and a memorable quote from his iconic speech, is a proud testament to a pivotal era. The third-floor exhibit, illuminated with bright lights, offers an interactive journey that encapsulates the essence of the period.

East Side Gallery in Berlin

The East Side Gallery in Berlin is a globally recognized tourist spot that artfully combines history and culture. What was once a symbol of separation and subjugation, the Berlin Wall, has now become the longest open-air gallery globally, spanning one kilometer along the banks of Friedrichshain’s Spree River.

More than just a sightseeing destination, the East Side Gallery is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of art. It is an essential visit for anyone seeking an accurate understanding of Berlin’s history and culture.

Lichtgrenze

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin chose to recreate it for a limited time using white balloons filled with a special light called Lichtgrenze.

Though it was a far cry from the concrete barrier and the fear it once represented, the installation served as a poignant reminder of the city’s divided past.

If walls could talk… by Marcus Haas

Strolling down the former path of the Berlin Wall near Bernauer Strasse, one cannot miss the captivating meat mural that stands out as our top pick for street art in Berlin. The expansive artwork depicts towering buildings being sliced apart by a colossal knife. At the same time, the city’s outline is portrayed using delicate white tissue.

This masterpiece symbolizes the Berlin Wall’s deeply entrenched impact on the city, like a wound that runs alongside it.

Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall

Checkpoint Charlie, the third checkpoint between East and West Germany, was one of three such checkpoints. The other two were Helmstedt and Dreilinden. These checkpoints were identified by the phonetic alphabet, with the Helmstedt checkpoint being called Alpha, the Dreilinden checkpoint called Bravo, and the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint named Charlie.

The checkpoint served primarily to register and inform members of the Allied Military Forces before they entered East Berlin. The fact that the American military police operated the checkpoint is the sole reason why the history of this place is of interest to me.

The newly found original Berlin Wall

In 1999, local historian Christian Bormann discovered something that should never have been misplaced. Almost a decade after the demolition of the Berlin Wall began, Bormann uncovered a portion of the Wall that had been left behind, forgotten in the woods between a train station and a supermarket. This stretch of the original Berlin Wall, erected in 1961, measures over 80 meters long, complete with V-shaped brackets that once held barbed wire. It is difficult to fathom how something of such historical significance could have been lost, so we journeyed there to see it ourselves.

In late January 2018, on an early Sunday morning, we headed to Berlin Schönholz to investigate the recent news surrounding the discovery of this original segment of the Berlin Wall. According to reports, Christian Bormann stumbled upon this section of the Wall in 1999 but was initially unable to verify its authenticity.

After conducting research for several years, Bormann concluded that this was, in fact, an authentic piece of the Berlin Wall. Somehow, it had been forgotten in the woods, and its demolition had been overlooked in 1989.

East German Watchtower in Schlesisches Busch

As you wander through the vibrant neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Treptow in Berlin, it’s unlikely that you’ll be searching for remnants of the Cold War. But if you venture close to Schlesisches Busch, you’ll discover a stunning piece of history tucked away in plain sight. Here, where the Berlin Wall once loomed, you’ll find the popular Badeschiff and Club der Visionäre and an East German Watchtower.

Decades ago, the Berlin Wall was a heavily guarded border that separated East and West Germany. The Wall was fortified with watchtowers, manned by East German guards tasked with preventing any attempts at escape to the West. While much of the Wall has since been dismantled, a handful of these watchtowers remain a testament to the era.

If you’re interested in exploring these historical relics, a few watchtowers are still accessible to the public. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to see such an artifact amidst the lively nightlife scene of this area.

Where rabbits used to cross the Berlin Wall

The art installation known as the Rabbit Field can be found on a short section of Chausseestraße between Mitte and Wedding. It consists of brass rabbits in life-size, placed into the road and pavement.

While Berlin is not short of sightings of rabbits, these particular ones have a deeper meaning, symbolizing the city’s history and the division caused by the Berlin Wall.

The Abandoned Checkpoint Bravo

Checkpoint Bravo was one of three Allied checkpoints used by the United States in the divided Germany and Berlin during the years after the Second World War and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. While most people are familiar with Checkpoint Charlie, many don’t realize there was also an Alpha and Bravo checkpoint named after the first letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet.

Originally located on a bridge over the Teltow Canal, Checkpoint Bravo was later moved to a different location called Albrechts Teerofen. However, in this article, we’ll focus on the original and abandoned Checkpoint Bravo, which we were fortunate enough to stumble upon while exploring the woods.

Visiting the site of the abandoned Checkpoint Bravo was a surreal experience. It’s hard to imagine the tensions that must have run high at this spot during the Cold War as people from East and West Germany passed through the checkpoint, hoping to reach the other side. Today, the checkpoint stands empty and forgotten, a stark reminder of the city’s past.

While Checkpoint Charlie may get all the attention, we highly recommend visiting Checkpoint Bravo if you’re in Berlin. It’s a fascinating piece of history that shouldn’t be overlooked. Plus, the surrounding woods are a beautiful place to take a walk and reflect on the city’s complex past.

Escaping the Berlin Wall and East Berlin

On August 21, 1988, four individuals made a daring attempt to flee from East Germany in search of freedom in West Berlin, braving the hazardous waters of the Spree River. Among the group were three men and a woman, all endangered their lives in pursuit of a brighter future.

While viewing this event today may create a sense of distance and detachment, it is crucial to remember that this was the reality of life in Berlin at that time.

Cycling the Berlin Wall with Tilda Swinton

In 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tilda Swinton and filmmaker Cynthia Beatt embarked on a surreal and captivating journey. Swinton rode her bicycle along the Berlin Wall, capturing the experience on film, which ultimately became known as Cycling the Frame. The movie is a stunning depiction of a city divided by a wall that cut it in half.

The film commences and concludes at the Brandenburger Tor, where Swinton leads viewers on a journey that evokes many emotions. Presently, it is nearly impossible to identify most of the places she traversed. Occasionally, signs indicate the path Swinton took, while at other times, one must rely on the size and shape of the surrounding buildings to discern their location.

Konrad H. Jarausch Explains The Rise And Fall Of The Berlin Wall On A Ted-Ed Video Animation

The construction of the Berlin Wall began on a Sunday – August 13, 1961, to be exact. Law enforcement and military personnel accompanied construction crews, who deployed their machinery onto the streets. This was how Berlin awoke on that fateful summer Sunday many years ago. While initially modest in scale, the Berlin Wall eventually evolved into one of history’s most notorious dividing structures.

In this video, Konrad H. Jarausch offers an informative overview of the Wall’s construction, motivations, and ultimate downfall.

Walled in! The inner German border

Walled in! The Inner German Border” is a computer-generated animation created by Deutsche Welle and the Berlin Wall Foundation to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This short film provides an overview of the fortifications and the establishment of the border between East and West Germany, making it an invaluable resource for those seeking to learn more about this historical event.

Given that the Berlin Wall only exists in the recollections of those who experienced it firsthand, few preserved sections around Berlin serve as mere symbolic reminders. It can be challenging to imagine how a metropolis as vast as Berlin could have been divided in half by a wall. As someone who struggled to conceptualize this idea, I believe “Walled in! The Inner German Border” provides valuable insights into this significant chapter in history.

Postdamer Platz in 1989

Berlin had ghost stations due to the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The Wall followed the arbitrary borders established by the Allied Powers and the Soviet Union when they divided the city, disregarding Berlin’s natural flow and geography.

As a result, when the Wall was erected overnight, families were separated, streets were bisected, and the public transportation network was left in disarray.

Berlin Wall: One Year After it was built

Construction of the Berlin Wall commenced rapidly in the early morning hours of August 13, 1961, beginning with the installation of barbed wire before advancing to bricks and eventually a fully-fledged wall. Over time, the Wall was improved and developed into the iconic structure that can still be observed in contemporary Berlin, such as at the East Side Gallery and the Mauer Memorial.

However, this article focuses on something other than the historical significance of the Berlin Wall and its impact on the city. Rather, it centers around a news report from August 1962, commemorating the first anniversary of the Wall’s erection.

Everything You Need to Know about the Berlin Wall

Felipe Tofani

Felipe Tofani

Felipe Tofani is a passionate designer with a penchant for crafting unique experiences and a mixed taste in music. As the curator behind this blog's explorations, he takes pride in discovering fascinating destinations. Whether unearthing hidden gems or sharing captivating historical narratives, Felipe is the creative force driving the stories you find here. Join him on a journey of design, discovery, and the delightful rhythm of unconventional tunes.View Author posts