I am SO not done with Berlin. As I told you in my previous post about the Prussian heritage and the nazis, I completely felt in love with the city. Follow me this time along the Berlin wall! And I mean, literally. It’s not all gone (you can even buy pieces of it in tourist shops!).
But first, let’s take a look at the TV Tower
The truth is, wherever you go, your guide (here comes Sam again) will have something to tell you about the nazis, or the soviets, or both. Most monuments in Berlin have been used and re-used by both parties (while sometimes having been built under the Prussians, so much history going on I’m telling you!). Also, most of the main things to see in Berlin are located in what used to be East Berlin, occupied by the soviets during the Cold War.
And as Sam-the-guide told us, the soviets were not very interested in re-building all the monuments and buildings that had been partially destroyed, or at least severely damaged, during WWII. The Prussians, the nazis, all that: they didn’t care much about saving their heritage.
Instead, they built their own buildings. One of the most emblematic one of that period is definitely the TV tower. Modern architecture that looks like a huge disco ball, really…
It was built in the 1960s, and intended to broadcast television programmes from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The tower was built as a symbol of the strength and the efficiency of the socialist system. The sphere of the tower was meant to remind of the sputnic satellites.
But nowadays, it is a symbol of the reunified Germany. It is also the highest bar and restaurant of all Berlin, with a breath-taking view on the city. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to visit it myself… or to try their famous house cocktails.
Fun fact: the tower is nicknamed the Revenge of the pope. It was built as a symbol of modernity, located just behind the Berlin Cathedral, and at the time the leader of East Germany (Walter Ulbricht) had declared that every churches should remove their crosses. Ironically, when the sun shines on the tower, the light reflects as a giant… cross, which you can see from all over Berlin.
Remains of the Berlin wall
The Berlin wall was not built right after the separation between East and West Berlin. For over a decade, the border between the two parts of the city was easy to cross, you just had to go through the checkpoints. And about 3 millions people had left the East for the West by 1961, many of them being skilled workers, doctors, teachers and engineers. In order to stop the embarrassment of the amount of refugees fleeing, the East German government decided to close its border for good, by building a wall.
Hello, it’s me
From the West side of Berlin, the wall was easily accessible. But from the East side, you had to get through meters of barbed wire and even a second concrete wall to get to the actual border wall. The only way to cross was through the checkpoints, but even then, you had to have a special permission to enter in.
On the eastern side of the wall, patrolling soldiers (amongst other obstacles) had for order to shoot anyone trying to cross the border. At least 171 people were killed trying to cross. However, another 5000 managed to pass over or around the wall.
From this building for example (the ministry of aviation built by the nazis at a time where Germany was not allowed to have an air force…), a spectacular escape happened. A man managed to get his family to West Berlin using a zip wire going from the top of the building to the other side of the wall, just a few meters away. Not very discrete, and of course a patrolling soldier saw them. However, he did not try to intervene and stop them, as he was convinced these were only spies sent by the East German government into the West side…
As you know, the fall of the wall happened on 9th November 1989, but not all parts of the wall have been destroyed. Where it was, you will often find a line marked on the floor, or other types of memorials.
Amongst all of the checkpoints that existed between East and West Berlin, there is one that has particularly marked people’s minds. Checkpoint Charlie was maintained by the US Army, on the West side of the border. Its main function was to register and inform members of the Western military force before entering the Eastern side, as well as tourists.
What made checkpoint Charlie so famous? In 1961, for 16 hours, a face-off between Soviets and US tanks threatened to start a third world war.
Another fun fact from Sam-the-guide: the barrier from the checkpoint was so high that, once, a west berliner who had a girlfriend living in the east side decided to attempt bringing her back with him after a day visiting. To do so, he rented a very low sports car, and just drove through the checkpoint, right under the barrier. A very James Bond move! Of course after that, the barrier level was lowered.
There is nothing left of the actual checkpoints in the city. But an inspired American businessman decided a few years ago to rebuild an exact copy of checkpoint Charlie, for tourists purposes. That’s what I call a true million-dollar-idea!
Can you guess question: How do you know whether you are in East or West Berlin? Easy: you just need to check the pedestrian traffic lights!
If you see a little man wearing a hat, also known as Ampelmann, you are in East Germany. Ampelmann really is more than a traffic light sign though; it is emblematic of Berlin, and you can buy T-shirts, mugs or whatever else you want with the little sign on it.
But enough with history facts, let me give you a short overview of what’s coming in my next, and last, Berlin post:
If you like burgers, sausages, beer, gluten-free bakeries and street art, stay tuned: the coolest parts of Berlin are coming your way.