Kind of funny, that I'm recapping two trips in a row featuring a wall -- the Great Wall and the Berlin Wall. I wonder if there's some cool wall to visit in India so I continue the theme?
Anyway, first stop on last year's vacation extravaganza was Berlin. It was my second time in Berlin and when I went the first time, it was a solo backpacking trip all over Europe and I didn't like it at all. Everything seemed to go wrong. I got into one train station and my departing train that night was from another. So I went to the other train station to stash my backpack. I left to explore the city, and it started raining. Since I was in college and on a major budget, I went back to the train station to get my umbrella. It added up to wasted time. The city seemed very American, complete with McDonalds and KFC. I was unimpressed, having come to Germany from Italy (where I'd been studying) via Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Austria -- lots of smaller towns, nothing like Berlin. My main memories of Berlin the first time: going to the zoo and seeing pandas, seeing a huge section of the wall, and seeing an empty underground bookcase symbolic of Nazi book burnings.
This trip was much different. I was there primarily for the marathon, but coming in with a different perspective (15 years older), with money I could spend, with better weather, and straight from the US (as opposed to small town less-traveled Europe), it was awesome!
If I had to say what had changed the most in 15 years, it would be the Berlin Wall. There were large sections around the city last time I was there. On this trip, there were a few preserved sections and an amazing museum nearby called the Topography of Terror.
The Wall Monument
Construction on the Wall began on August 13, 1961. The Wall spanned more 150 km and was built by the GDR to seal off East Berlin and the rest of the territory from the GDR. Between October 1949 and August 1961, over 2.7 million people fled the GDR, most of them crossing the border between Berlin's Eastern and Western sections. The Wall was designed to end the stream of refugees and ensure that no one crossed the border unchecked.
Of course, there were ways around it. I recommend watching Der Tunnel (that's German for "The Tunnel") -- a great German movie made for TV in 2001 and released as a movie in 2005.
The Wall actually had several sections, a front wall and a hinterland wall, an inner track with a patrol path, watchtowers, and barrier fortifications. By 1989, at least 136 people had died at the Wall, 98 of them while trying to flee and most of them shot down by GDR border guards.
At the Wall, in part of a building's skeleton, there was a cool open-air exhibit with lots of photos and blurbs about the history:
Book burning photo:
As a lawyer, I had to take this photo:
This lawyer photo's caption is in the photo after it:
Stories of victims:
Inside the Topography of Terror exhibit:
USSR reforms, a growing protest in the GDR, and the flight of thousands of GDR citizens via Eastern European countries led to the peaceful fall of the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. A news event I remember! Shortly after that, the first sections of the Wall came down, and by the reunification of Germany on Oct. 3, 1990, most of the Wall was gone from Berlin. The Topography of Terror exhibit ensured the remaining 200 meters of the Wall were preserved, with all the traces of destruction that occurred during the transitional period. More wall:
Overall, I prefer the old wall, but the new exhibit and features. It's definitely something worth seeing on any trip to Germany.