After the World War Two Berlin was divided into four sectors but it was the night of 13th August 1961 that changed everything. That’s when the construction of the Berlin Wall started – over 150kms of concrete seperating West Berlin from the rest of East Germany in order to preserve the flood of Nazis and to keep the country free from capitalism (that was the official GDR version). This very structure became the symbol of the Cold War and the division of Germany, one of the most remarkable and absurd events of the modern history. The Wall has divided not only the city but also the families, relationships, businesses etc and it was Berlin’s reality for over 28 years, until 9th November 1989.
Every family in Berlin was affected by the Wall in one way or another. There are archive pictures showing the life in the divided city where relatives show each other newborn babies over the Wall or where families visit the graves of the close ones under the heavy military guard. Houses on Bernauer Strasse, where now Berlin Wall Memorial can be found, were divided by the border – literally as the house itself belonged to East Berlin while the entrance and the pavement was already West Berlin. This place was the scene of the first death caused by the Wall – on 22nd August 1961, only 9 days after the structure was built, Ida Siekmann was attempting to escape from her house on Bernauer Strasse 48, jumping from her third floor apartment into the street – she died shortly after due to the injuries the accident caused.
Over the weekend in Berlin I heard a lot of such personal stories that changed my perception over the events in the German capital. It’s different when you know just the numbers – 136 people died trying to cross the Wall and couple of thousands made it to the West. But as soon as you hear the names and stories of random people’s life all these tragic events are taken to the new level. When I was listening to these stories I had tears in my eyes for most of the time, even if in most cases the ending was positive. It was so hard for me to believe that these tragic times for Berlin ended only 25 years ago!
The best part of my time in Berlin was the photo challenge organized by Visit Berlin. Each of the bloggers (there were 10 of us from all over Europe) got a photo showing the city from the time of the Wall – with the help of our readers we were supposed to find the place now. I got Church of Reconciliation – a beautiful building that was really unlucky to stand right where the Wall went on Bernauer Strasse – that eventually lead to the church’s destruction in 1985. And here I have to say I have the best readers and followers ever, I owe you huge thank you as with your help I managed to win the competition! I was overwhelmed by the response I got on both Facebook and Twitter where I received messages with maps, directions, GPS coordinates and even offers of a ride to the place! I was really speechless!
The challenge was so much fun! Everyone got into the competition mood and we all were super excited when we got our pictures! I was really glad I picked that very picture as I somehow never made it to Bernauer Strasse before. It was a great chance for me to explore the area a little bit. And now I know it’s a must when visiting Berlin – the Memorial that is located there is an amazing lesson to anyone interested in the recent history and for every visitor to understand the city. Besides the Chapelle of Reconciliation, that was rebuilt in the place of the church from my picture, there’s also an original part of the Wall (with the death strip) and the watchtower, exhibition with pictures of these who never made it through the Wall and a lot of information about history and the life in the divided city. Such an interesting place it is!
The day after the challenge we went for a bike tour around Berlin to follow the path of the Wall. Even when wandering around the city it’s not hard to spot where the border used to be as it is marked on the ground by a double row of cobblestones. Instead of typical Wall remnants such as Checkpoint Charlie or East Side Gallery we biked through Prenzlauer Berg via Mauerpark all the way to Bornholmer Strasse – the place where the fall of the Wall started on 9th November 1989. Every Berliner knows what he/she was doing on that very night – our guide Sascha was 15 years old then and proudly singing patriotic songs on the Brandenburger Gate. That’s what makes these events so special for me – there were regular, normal people who did this big change, who created the history!
I learnt so much about the division of Berlin and its recent history that my head was buzzing after these few days spent in German capital. Aftern returning home I spent hours reading more of personal stories from the times of the Wall and watching excellent movies about the issue („Good Bye, Lenin”, „Sonnenallee” and „Rabbit a la Berlin” – all of them highly recommended!). Now I’m really glad and excited as it turned out I will be in Berlin on 7th November on my way to the Balkans – on that day the big celebrations commemorating the fall of the Wall will start – I just cannot miss it! If you also plan a trip to Berlin remember about the weekend of 7th-9th November as it’s gonna be an important time for the German’s capital – you want to be part of it too!
If you want to read more about the Wall and the stories of people who lost their lives when trying to get from East to West be sure to visit the website of Berlin Wall Memorial!
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Big thank you to Visit Berlin for inviting me to be part of their project #BLN25YearsLater, to Berlin on Bike for a great tour and to awesome fellow bloggers for a wonderful company! All opinions remain my own, like always!
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