Posts Tagged ‘Division of Berlin’

Berlin Wall Memorial

Monday, September 12th, 2016

 

The Berlin Wall Memorial (Berliner-Mauer-Gedenkstaette) opened on 9 November 1999, the 10th anniversary of German reunification. The memorial was created to pass on the history of the city’s 44-year division and the Berlin Wall’s 28-year existence. For years after the border opened in 1989 the German people demanded, “The Wall must go.” They wanted to forget the monstrosity that had separated families, friends and neighbors. Therefore, most of the Berlin Wall was demolished. But a few sections of the Wall escaped the bulldozer, among them a stretch at Bernauer Strasse, including a preserved section of the death strip.

 

Preserved Berlin Wall section at the Berlin Wall Memorial, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Preserved Berlin Wall section on exhibit at the Berlin Wall Memorial, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

From Division to the Berlin Wall and Bernauer Strasse

After World War II, Berlin was divided into a Western and an Eastern section. American, British and French forces occupied the western section; Soviet forces occupied the eastern section. In 1961 the East German government built a wall around West Berlin to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Berlin. As a result, West Berlin became an island surrounded by East Germany. Bernauer Strasse was right on the border between East and West Berlin. The border along this street ran in such a way that the roadway, both sidewalks and the buildings on the north side ended up in West Berlin, but the buildings on the south side turned out to be in East Berlin. Soon, Bernauer Strasse became a symbol of the inhumanity of the Berlin Wall.

After the construction of the wall, the protestant Versoehnungskirche (Church of Reconciliation), built in 1894, ended up in “no man’s land,” inaccessible to residents of either West or East Berlin. The church tower was even used by border guards as a watchtower. In 1985 the East German government detonated the church. Today, the Chapel of Reconciliation stands at the very site where the Reconciliation Church once stood and serves as a place for contemplation.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Bernauer Strasse is the only place in Berlin where visitors can still see a section of the border fortifications with all its installations and barriers. The Berlin Wall Memorial extends 4,500 feet along the former border between East and West Berlin at Bernauer Strasse. Between Ackerstrasse and Bergstrasse, the visitor can still see the last sections of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it and the extent of the border fortifications. Of the 96 miles of former Berlin Wall, close to 700 feet have been preserved and are on exhibit.

 

Berlin Wall Memorial site with the Chapel of Reconciliation to the upper left and the preserved border strip to the right, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Berlin Wall Memorial site with the Chapel of Reconciliation to the upper left and the preserved border strip to the right, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Berlin Wall Memorial runs along both sides of Bernauer Strasse. The Visitor and the Documentation Center are located on the side of the street that formerly belonged to West Berlin. At the Visitor Center two films are shown and information is available about the entire memorial site. The Documentation Center shows an exhibition about the division of the city and has a viewing platform from which visitors can see a 230-foot long section of preserved border area, including the death strip and a watchtower. The surviving border elements reflect the complexity of the border fortifications: the border strip lying between the border wall facing west and “hinterland security wall” facing east, and the additional perimeter defenses installed to prevent any approach to the border strip from its eastern side. The original remains of the Berlin Wall have been preserved as an historical monument, but where sections of the Wall no longer exist, reddish steel poles allude to the Wall. The poles mark where the Berlin Wall used to stand. If observed from a sharp angle, the poles seem to form a solid wall.

 

Steel poles alluding to the part of the Berlin Wall that no longer exists - Berlin Wall Memorial - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Steel poles alluding to the part of the Berlin Wall that no longer exists – Berlin Wall Memorial – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014, www.walled-in-berlin.com

You may recall photographs that show people trying to escape to West Berlin by jumping from windows. These photos were taken at Bernauer Strasse. One of the most famous is that of border guard Conrad Schumann who fled to the West by leaping over the barbed wire fence at Bernauer Strasse.

 

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com