The Cold War, a political affair that took place between the US and the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1999, put the city of Berlin in a very unique situation. After World War II, Berlin was separated into both east (communist) and west (free), as well as British, French, American and Soviet sectors. In 1961, after much East German immigration to the West, the Soviets built the infamous Berlin Wall. This iconic yet inhumane wall stood as a barrier between the communist East and free West for nearly 30 years after its construction, separating families and ruining lives. Berlin was basically at the centre of the conflict between the west and east, and many of the most important events of the Cold War occurred in the city. Therefore, the Berlin of today is home to many Cold War Era related sites – three of which I’ll be writing about in this guide.
One of the most visited spots in the city, the Berlin Wall Memorial is a centre and memorial displaying a conserved section of the former Berlin Wall. At this memorial, there are some of the only still standing parts of the wall still remaining as well as open areas of the wall with markers showing where it used to stand. You’ll also find an open air exhibit with info on the history of the wall and area, plus a small memorial for those who died trying to get to West Berlin.
Located on Bernauerstraße, the memorial is where historically one of the important segments of the wall stood. When construction of the wall first began in August 1961, many East Berlin residents on this street escaped to the west using many creative strategies. Conrad Schumann, a former East German solider, made his famous (and successful) escape attempt to West Berlin near the memorial. His escape, which involved him jumping over barbed wire while the wall was still being built, is one of the most famous escape stories in history (read more about it here).
The third checkpoint opened by the Allies, Checkpoint Charlie’s name comes from the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. During the separation of Germany, it was the only place where foreigners and military personnel could cross from east to west. Many iconic historical events took place at Checkpoint Charlie, more than at any other German checkpoint – it was the scene of an infamous confrontation between US and Soviet tanks, one of the only armed conflicts of the Cold War; the site of dozens of courageous escapes by East Germans, some successful and some failures; and it was often used as the location of prisoner swaps between the Soviets and Americans.
Today the checkpoint is home to a replica sign and guardhouse, as the original booth is now located in a different Berlin Museum. A marker traces the path where the Berlin Wall once stood, less than thirty years ago. The area surrounding the landmark is now pretty touristy, with a huge gift shop and a couple museums around it. I’d suggest checking out the mini display/museum on Friedrichstraße north of Checkpoint Charle, as it is free to look at and is very informative and interesting.
East Side Gallery is a former section of the Berlin Wall that today is painted and decorated with over a hundred murals and paintings. Officially the longest open air gallery in the world, it is made up of a 1.3 kilometre section of the wall also making it the longest continuous section of the wall still in existence.
The painting and decorating of this portion of the wall began right after the wall came down, in late 1989. Due to graffiti, vandalism, and erosion, the gallery recently underwent some restoration, amid major conflict. Today, fortunately, most of the paintings lining the wall are under pretty good condition. Shown above is the iconic ‘Fraternal Kiss’, or ‘My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love’ painting by Dmitri Vrubel, liking the most photographed work at the East Side Gallery.
That’s all for my Cold War Era guide to Berlin -I hope you enjoyed! Also – happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!! This is my first Canada Day in the country for a few years and I can’t wait to celebrate my amazing country’s birthday tonight. I’ll be heading to a parade this morning and then seeing some fireworks tonight, which will hopefully be a ton of fun. I’ll definitely be taking a ton of photos and videos during the celebrations, so make sure to follow me on instagram (@hannahtravelsblog) to check those out. Have you heard of or even visited any of these sites? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!