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25 Years Later, Ways to Explore the Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall

06/27/2014 03:13 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2014
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This November, the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlin has spent a quarter of a century reconnecting, rebuilding and redefining itself around this painful historical scar.

While Berliners long sought to forget this period, thankfully numerous museums, exhibitions and tours have developed to help younger Germans and foreign visitors dig deeper into the complicated history of both the Wall and German division.

With the big milestone coming up, we've compiled a list of 10 ways to explore the history of the Wall, its construction, dismantling, and the reunification of Germany. And good news for budget travelers, almost all of these are free to visit!

Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin Wall Memorial's "Window of Remembrance" pays tribute to those who lost their lives at the border. Photo: mr172

1. Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial

Starting point for any deeper understanding of the Berlin Wall is the Berlin Wall Memorial, near S-Nordbahnhof. Before exiting the station, study the informational displays in the stairwell and station foyer telling the story of the Bahnhof and others like it which became "ghost stations." (The GDR blocked access for its citizens to certain sections of Berlin's S-Bahn network which could have served as a direct escape route to West Berlin.)

Above ground, you'll find indoor and outdoor informational displays, including historical films, original documents and numerous broadcasts and interviews detailing the events leading up to the Wall's construction, reactions and dramatic events -- including numerous escape attempts -- around its construction in August 1963, what the division of the city meant for its residents (especially those in the shadow of the Wall, as here in Bernauer Str.), and what the city looked like in the days and months after the Wall came down.

The interpretive park ends at U8-Bernauer Str., but you may choose to extend your walk to Mauerpark, the meeting point of three Berlin districts.

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, Bernauer Str. 119. Outdoor displays accessible at all times, indoor displays 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (summer), to 6 p.m. (winter), closed Mondays, free admission. S-Nordbahnhof, U8-Bernauer Str.

East Side Gallery

A memorial dedicated to freedom, the East Side Gallery features restored murals that graced the Wall before the fall. Photo: Antonio Campoy

2. Visit other bits of the Wall

Other places to view original segments of the Wall include Berlin's East Side Gallery (running along the Spree between S-Ostbahnhof and S-Warschauer Str.) or the Topography of Terror (between Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie). There are numerous Wall pieces which have now been sprinkled around Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz, generally not in their original location.

Deutsches Historisches Museum

The spectacular new wing of the Deutsches Historisches Museum designed by I.M. Pei opened in 2003. museumPhoto: Mario Mantel

3. Explore the German Historical Museum

To understand better the parallel developments in West and East Germany following the end of World War II, including the events leading to reunification, visit the German Historical Museum's permanent exhibition. An entire floor is dedicated to this period, and visitors to the well-designed display get an excellent sense of the events leading to the division of Germany, as well as the significance of the erection of the Berlin Wall and the inner-German border for the GDR economy and East-West German relations in the mid- to late-20th century.

Deutsches Historisches Museum, Unter den Linden 2. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, admission €8/4. S-Friedrichstr., S-Hackescher Markt, S-Alexanderplatz, bus stop Unter den Linden/Staatsoper.

Cobblestone line Berlin Wall

Keep an eye out for cobblestone markers that show the path of the former Berlin Wall security complex. Photo: Peter M

4. Trace the path of the Wall

Where was the Wall located? Well, in the center of Berlin, the former path of the westernmost element of the Berlin Wall security complex is often marked by a cobblestone line, regularly inset with copper plates stating, "Berliner Mauer 1961-1989." You can easily pick up this line running behind the Reichstag and around the Brandenburg Gate, past the Holocaust Memorial, up to Potsdamer Platz, then past the Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie to points beyond.

It may be difficult to believe it today, but anywhere you're standing in the Potsdamer Platz area -- now home to the Sony Center and numerous other highrise developments -- was once entirely empty, fully contained within the Berlin Wall complex.

In other sections of Berlin, the Wall perimeter wasn't marked with the cobblestone line. The Wall border followed the sector boundaries between West and East Berlin (which typically followed the borough or Bezirk boundaries which even today divide the city into its various districts), which is why one of the city's most important stretches can be found in the Bernauer Str., the boundary between the districts of Mitte (East) and Wedding (West).

The truly dedicated can study this map carefully in order to understand whether they are in West or East Berlin at any given moment. If you've found a boundary but aren't sure which side you're on, you can safely guess that the side closest to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) on Alexanderplatz is probably the "East."

Tranenpalast

An exhibit in Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) captures the emotional experience of the border crossing. Photo: mompl

5. Cross between East and West Berlin at Friedrichstrasse station

If you find yourself confused and lost by the complicated design of the Friedrichstrasse train station, this is not without reason. One of the city's transportation hubs, the station was redesigned to maintain separate passenger flows for eastern and western travelers after it became an essential border crossing between East and West Berlin following the Wall's construction. You can see a giant model of this elaborate system in the bright blue Tränenpalast, or Palace of Tears, just outside the station next to the Spree canal.

It was here that many West Berliners exited the GDR; the name refers to the tears that were shed as families affected by German division were forced to say their goodbyes. The building now houses an excellent historical exhibition on border crossings, with eyewitness accounts from those who left East Germany legally and illegally, those who visited and passed through rigorous controls, those who smuggled, and those performing the controls.

Grenzerfahrungen - Tränenpalast at Bahnhof Friedrichstr., Reichstagufer 17. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays (closed Mondays), 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and holidays, free admission.

Checkpoint Charlie

To get a better idea of Checkpoint Charlie's history, turn away from the men in costumes. Photo: mariannedewit

Read the full article

For five more ways to explore the history of the wall, check out the full version of this article on EuroCheapo.com. Find out where to look when visiting Checkpoint Charlie, plus visit a GDR apartment, search through Stasi files, and more.

This article was written by Hilary Bown, and originally published on EuroCheapo.com.