For the most part the 155 kilometer long wall that once divided West Berlin from East Berlin has long been demolished. Some parts however have been preserved, including a 220 meter long section on Bernauer Straße.
The wall is part of a much larger memorial site, stretching 1.4 kilometers long, that provides poignant information about the history of the Berlin Wall and the life of residents who lived near the Wall.
The Wall at Bernauer Straße
After the Second World War Berlin was divided into a Western and Eastern section. The western part of the city was effectively an island surrounded by East Germany.
In 1961 the East German government decided to build a wall around West Berlin to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Berlin. Bernauer Straße was right on the border so this meant that one half of the street ended up on the east side while the other was on the west side of the divided city.
On August 13, 1961, several citizens who found themselves on the east side of the wall jumped out of windows to the West. The windows were soon cemented up and the buildings were later demolished. In the early years Bernauer Straße continued to be a popular place for escape attempts and there was even an underground tunnel dug underneath the wall. Not all attempts to escape to the West succeeded however, and those who lost their lives during their attempts are honored here.
Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, few residents were keen to preserve it and the wall was torn down at a rapid pace. A few parts of the Wall however had escaped demolition, among them a stretch at Bernauer Straße that even included a preserved section of the death strip. In 1994 the German government decided to create a memorial dedicated to the Berlin Wall here.
Berlin Wall at the
Berlin Wall Memorial site
Exhibits along the length of the memorial site give insight into different aspects of the Berlin Wall and the residents living near it. You get information about the many attempts of people who tried to flee to West Berlin including very personal stories and historical photos. One of the most famous is that of the border soldier Conrad Schumann who fled to the West by leaping over the barbed wire fence at Bernauer Straße.
Death Strip & Wall Documentation Centre
To get a good idea of what the Berlin Wall looked like in its final form as built around 1979, climb up the observation tower at Bernauer Straße 111, from where you can see a 70 meter long section of the border area, including the death strip and a watchtower.
The same building houses the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre, which offers background information on the history of the Berlin Wall through the audiovisual exhibition “1961 | 1989”.
Chapel of Reconciliation
From the viewing platform of the Wall Documentation Centre you can also see the Chapel of Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung). The chapel was built at the site of the former Church of Reconciliation, a late-nineteenth century church that was situated on the east side of the border between East and West Berlin.
After the construction of the Wall the church ended up right on the death strip and thus became inaccessible to residents of both West and East Berlin. The church tower was even used by border guards as a watchtower. In 1985 the East German government decided to demolish the church.
In 2000, eleven years after the fall of the Wall, a modern chapel was built on the foundations of the former church. Some remains from the old church, including the church bells and the damaged altar are now inside the chapel.