A Guide to the Berlin Wall for First Time Visitors
You might have heard of the Berlin Wall, or you might not. As for me, European history was not part of my school syllabus, and unfortunately, I was not one to seek history lessons outside of my school textbooks. So, while I might have come across the name in passing, I didn’t have the faintest idea what it was.
But the Berlin Wall is one of the main attractions in Berlin and in the whole of Germany. Your trip to Germany would not be complete without paying it a visit.
If you’re not sure what the Berlin Wall is and why you must include it on your itinerary, don’t worry — this article will tell you all you need to know.
The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that was erected to divide Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
After the end of World War II and the defeat of Hitler, Germany was occupied by the Allied powers. They divided the capital city Berlin into four sections, each to be governed by one of the main Allied countries that were responsible for liberating Germany, namely France, the UK, USA, and the Soviet Union.
However, the political differences between the Soviet Union and the other Allied powers soon became apparent. The Soviets imposed harsh restrictions on the people in their section (East Germany), causing millions of them to flee to the West.
At least 3.5 million people (20% of the total population), many of whom were young, educated professionals left East Germany. Following this, the Soviet Union resorted to drastic measures.
So, one morning, the East Germans woke up to find that they were closed in by barbed wires and fences, and could no longer cross freely to the other side. The first concrete blocks were laid on 17th August 1961 to form the Berlin Wall.
To make it harder for people to cross, the Soviet built two walls running parallel to each other. These were separated by a no man’s land. What that means is that even if someone made it over one wall, they would often be shot down in the no man’s land before they reached the second wall.
During the three decades of the wall’s existence, over 100,000 people attempted to cross it by climbing over, jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through sewers, and driving at high speeds through unfortified parts of the wall.
Of this number, 5,000 (including some 600 border guards) were successful, while at least 171 people were killed.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
As the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US began to thaw in 1989, the borders between East Germany and West Germany became more relaxed. On 9th November 1989, the East German government announced a change in their regulations. Starting at midnight the same day, citizens would be allowed to cross the country’s borders.
Following this announcement, throngs of people from East and West Berlin congregated at the wall, drinking and dancing in celebratory mood, all the while chanting, “Tor auf!” (“Open the gate!”). At midnight, they flooded through the checkpoints and long-separated families were reunited.
More than 2 million East Berliners visited West Berlin that weekend, in what was later known as “the greatest street party in the history of the world.”
People used hammers and picks to chip away at the wall, while cranes and bulldozers demolished section after section. On 3rd October 1990, almost one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of East and West Germany was made official.
Berlin Wall Today
Today, you can still see evidence of the Berlin Wall, marked by metal poles, lines on the floor, replicas, and even parts of the original wall.
The East-Side Gallery
Located close to the River Spree, the East-Side Gallery is a real section of the East’s inner wall and is undoubtedly the most famous remains of the Berlin Wall.
In 1990, artists from all over the world came to paint murals on the 1,300-metre (1 mile) long section. Most of the artworks carry messages of change, hope, and history, as a reminder of what had been and should never be again.
The gallery is now a heritage-protected landmark, and any act of vandalism done on the paintings is considered an offence. However, this has not stopped some people from leaving their marks. There is an ongoing project to restore and preserve the paintings.
The Brandenburg Gate
Constructed between 1788 and 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was not actually part of the Berlin Wall, but became one of the barriers separating East Germany from the West. Now, this 26-metre tall structure remains standing as a symbol of the country’s tumultuous history, as well as the peace and unity it later achieved.
Along the Berlin Wall, there were several checkpoints, named alphabetically, from A, B, C, and so on. Checkpoint Charlie (Checkpoint C), which was guarded by the US Army, is now a must-visit tourist attraction where you can take photographs and see the replica of the original sign saying, “You are now entering West Berlin”.
Checkpoint Charlie is linked to a museum that not only provides general information, but also reveals the means and attempts made by the people to escape East Germany.
Berlin Wall Memorial
On Bernauer Straße, a strip of the wall and a former watchtower were rebuilt especially for a memorial. This open-air museum offers historical audio and video materials about the Berlin Wall. There is also a viewing tower at the visitor center where you can see the wall from a different perspective.
How to Tour the Berlin Wall
- Self-Guided Tour – Touring all these remnants of the Berlin Wall is easily doable on your own. You can either walk from one place to another or use public transports. To get a better understanding of the things that you see, you can also rent a multimedia guide at any one of the collection points (Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Wall Memorial). Once you’re done, simply return it at any of the collection points.
- Guided Walking Tour – To get the most out of your visit, it’s best to go on a guided tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You might also get to hear some personal anecdotes from them. There are many walking tours to choose from depending on your budget and preference. This one, for example, combines the wall tour with Berlin Communist Tour.
- Underground Tour – Between 1961 – 1982, there had been more than 70 self-dug tunnels in attempts to escape East Germany, of which only 19 were successful. Learn all about them on this Berlin Underground Tour.
- Bike Tour – Another alternative is to tour the walls on two wheels. This bike tour takes you to all the important sites of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. You can book it on Klook. If you have never heard of Klook before, click here to find out more about this travel app and whether it is legit.
Final Thoughts on the Berlin Wall
For a city that is famed for its vibrant art scene and thriving nightlife, Berlin sure has a dark past. It’s hard to imagine that a mere 30 years ago, the country was divided into two, and hundreds of lives were lost trying to cross from one side to the other.
Visiting the Berlin Wall can help you understand what such divisions can do to the people affected by them. It’s an inspiring thing to see how Berlin and Germany bounced back from this tragedy and became a stronger nation because of it.
Instead of being afraid to face their horrible past, they gallantly use it as a reminder to themselves and others of what should never happen again in the history of the world.
Have you been to any place with a dark past? How did it affect you? Share your experience in the comments below.
Wowww banyaknya kenangan Ummi di sana, best betul Sis nengok.. kira kalau b]ke Berlin Wall ni boleh sekali masuk museum laa ya..
Terima kasih, sis. Bike tour ni tak termasuk tiket ke muzium, tapi dia akan bawa kita tengok tinggalan2 tembok Berlin ni. Sambil tu, guide akan bagi penerangan tentang sejarah tempat tersebut. Banyak juga yang kita boleh belajar.
Cantik betullah pemandangan sekitar bandar berlin ni, berangan nak pergi satu hari nanti, suka tengok senibina bangunan lama tu penuh sejarah
Ya, Zaidalifah. Bandar Berlin ni banyak sejarah pahit manis. Walaupun senibinanya mungkin tak secantik bandar2 lama lain di Eropah. Semoga angan2 anda itu akan jadi kenyataan suatu hari nanti.
Wow the history of Berlin Wall kinda dark. Never knew such story before. It must be nice to stand in front of one of a great history there
Yes, it was an extraordinary feeling, Farhana. To see something that is so historically significant. Makes you feel poignant about the past but also hopeful for the future.
Look at that street art now. True – a mere 30 years ago the wall hold people from meeting but now it becomes the meeting place for everyone.
Such is history. People learn from it.
Well said, Rawlins. What an irony, isn’t it, that the wall they built to divide actually ends up uniting people now, and making them stronger as a nation. It’s a good thing that they left part of the wall standing, lest we forget.
I byk kali juga tgk movie barat yg memaparkan berlin wall. Tapi bc entri you br tahu apa ug boleh kita buat disana
Terima kasih, Ayu. Semoga info ini bermanfaat sekiranya Ayu melancong ke Berlin nanti.
Wowww.. Panjang betul wall di.. Siap ada macam2 lukisan. Vandalisme kat mana2 ada. Haishh.. Setiap luisan ada cerita dia
Ya, Nadia. Setiap lukisan pada Berlin Wall ni ada cerita untuk menyedarkan dan mengingatkan kita pada sejarah lampau. Semoga tak berulang lagi.
Thanks Ummi share info yang oadat tentang Berlin Wall. Sesiapa yang nak pergi ke sana mesti baca article ni dulu
You’re welcome, Nur. Happy to share the knowledge. Rasanya sejarah Jerman ni tak diajar dalam sukatan pelajaran sekolah kat sini kan, jadi mungkin ramai yang tak tahu.
thanks for this sharing, now I am adding this Berlin wall in my places to visit in Berlin planning file 😀 Berlin is 1 of my to travel destination. cheers, siennylovesdrawing
Oh that’s good to know, Sienny. Berlin Wall is a must-visit if you go to Berlin.
nice sharing Ummi
its my first time know about the dark past of Berlin Wall. lucky you got chance to travel there..
Thank you, Huda. Glad to share the information.
Pernah dgr tapi tak tahu apa sejarah dibelakangnya. Barulah tahu sekarang. Bila dah ke merata tempat barulah lebih ngerti sejarahnya kan.
Ya, kak Bell. Walaupun saya tak berapa minat sejarah, tapi travel memaksa saya untuk belajar. 🙂
ah, another destination that i must visit after the lockdown. love reading about its historical significance that you shared in this article!
Thank you, Grace. Glad you enjoyed the article and I hope it will be useful for you.
Wow.. tak sangka Berlin ada sejarah yang agak pilu suatu ketika dulu..
Ya, Moha. Banyak sebenarnya sejarah pahit yang melibatkan negara Jerman ni, terutama pada zaman Perang Dunia ke-2 sehinggalah jatuhnya tembok Berlin. Cuma dalam sukatan mata pelajaran sekolah kita tak banyak menekankan tentang sejarah Eropah, jadi kita kurang pendedahan.
Another beautiful blog of yours! Love reading them! Hopefully one day you will send me postcards! Too beautiful.
Thanks, Jen! I don’t send postcards anymore, unfortunately.
This is interesting and informative read. Thanks for sharing .I am going to visit Berlin Wall when in Berlin .
You definitely should, Madhu. I hope this article will be useful for your future visit 🙂
This is a great guide to the Berlin Wall! We were fortunate enough to visit in November 2018. I knew of the wall but I definitely learned so much more of its significance from visiting. It really surprised me how ‘recent’ the history of the wall actually is! Being born in the 90s, it is almost during my lifetime! The Berlin Wall Memorial was a fascinating place to learn about the history and the view was spectacular! I’m gutted we didn’t make it to the East Side Gallery but I’ve got an excuse to go back! Thanks for the great guide!
You’re welcome, Hannah! I think that’s an excellent excuse to go back. I can totally relate to what you said; I was born in 1989, 2 months after the wall fell down. Can’t believe it has only been that long.
I love the Berlin Wall! I went there 3 years ago and I still use some if the pictures as my wallpaper😊
I can totally understand why, Jade. The murals are so beautiful, aren’t they? And each one of them carries an important message.
Berlin is such a fab city, so full of history and so vibrant too. We actually have a piece of wall at my parents house. My dad used to work in East Germany a lot back in the day.
That’s so amazing, Deborah! What a meaningful souvenir to keep. Your dad must have a lot of stories about his time working in East Germany.
Very informative post! I’ve visited Berlin a few times over the years and never tire of seeing the wall. My dad has a piece of it from the day it fell.
Oh wow, that’s amazing! It must carry a significant meaning to your dad and maybe the whole family.
This is such an incredible part of Germany’s history. Thank you for sharing all the informative tips especially on the different ways to tour it – it’s great to have many options!
You’re welcome, Jennifer! Happy to share the tips 🙂
This is an awesome site in Berlin, thanks a lot for sharing its history!
You’re welcome, Val! The Berlin Wall is indeed an important site in Berlin and all of Germany.
Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 I was in Berlin just for one day and I loved it.
You’re welcome, Isabella. Glad that you enjoyed Berlin!
Fascinating! I remember watching the wall come down on TV in 1989. Would love to visit here someday.
Wow, that must have been amazing to see it on TV when it happened, and would be even more so if you get to see it in person now. I was only 2 months old when the Berlin Wall fell.
I bet that’s so interesting getting to see it in person and learn more about it. This is high on my list of things to visit in Berlin.
Yes, Krista. The Berlin Wall is a must-visit if you go to Germany. It’s very interesting to see it in person.
Berlin is an incredible city and it shaped 20th century Europe for better and worse. Thanks for sharing this and its history.
You’re welcome, Arrivals Hall. I’m glad that I got to learn about Berlin through my travels. Traveling has taught me so many things that I didn’t learn in school.
To see something historical is always an amazing feeling. I have read about the Berlin Wall history.
Then you must visit this place if you ever go to Berlin, Suvarna. It’s a sobering experience.
What a piece of history to see in person! Happy to hear they are preserving the murals and sharing the story.
Yes, they are, Laurel! It’s an eye-opening experience to visit the Berlin Wall.
I’ve always been fascinated by Soviet-era history in this part of the world (it was the focus of my studies in university) but I’ve somehow never been to the Berlin Wall in person! This definitely made me want to visit as soon as COVID is over. Seems like such an interesting destination.
You definitely should, Carrie! It must be interesting to see in real life what you have been studying for so long. 😃
Wow!! I’ve always planned on visiting the Berlin Wall when I go to Germany. I also took AP European history and learned about this, but naturally over time slowly forgot. This post was a refreshing reminder of its history!
Ah, I barely remember what I learned in school, Kylie. Haha. I hope you’ll get to see the Berlin Wall when you visit Germany. It surely will be meaningful when you already have a good understanding of its history.