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Walking the Wall

28 July 2010

One of the first things you notice about Berlin is how flat it is and this makes it a great city for walking. It also makes it a great city for cycling. Like lots of continental Europe it seems to have had one of those bike hire schemes for ages – why did it take London so long to embrace the idea? – yet you rarely seem to see anyone biking wearing a cycle helmet. What’s all that about? It’s also got a great public transport system. All in all Berlin is a great city to explore.

We were staying in the former East Berlin, on Landsberger Allee, Friedrichshain. Lonely Planet describes the area as ‘fluid in identity and defiant of all standard labels’. Whatever, we were right near an S-Bahn station, a velodrome (them socialists knew what the people needed) and a Pfennigland Lagerverkauf (whereas your market economy has got it really nailed). We weren’t far from Karl Marx Allee and chose to stroll into the city down this impressive boulevard one morning. We were, however, keen to walk some of the route of the Berlin Wall, not least because last time I was here the Wall was very much still up and functional. (And without it I continually mixed up by my ‘east’ and ‘west’ – ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ indeed.)

With the weather bright and sunny we headed towards Treptower Park and started walking alongside the Spree.  Right away you can’t fail to spot the Jonathan Borofsky’s impressive Molecule Man sculptures. They’re not far from where the Wall actually crossed the river. Bits of the Wall survive dotted around the city but for obvious reasons most of the locals couldn’t wait to tear it down and remove all memory of it. As a tourist, though, the chance sightings of random remaining sections are especially interesting. Not least because they all seem to act as local canvasses for the ever present Berlin graffiti. Everywhere blues, reds, and greens creep upwards like a bright giant lichen.

Some portions have been deliberately preserved though and crossing over the baroque Oberbaumbrucke we’re at the East Side Gallery – a 1.3 km open air gallery on the longest surviving stretch of the Wall that offers over 100 paintings commemorating and celebrating freedom. Then it’s back over the Spree via the Schillingbrucke, you then follow some old canals (now pretty rose gardens) going past the old Heinrich-Heine-Strasse border crossing to the Sebastianstrasse/Stallschreiberstrasse residential area. Here you can see what the Wall meant to locals. It was thrown up (and enlarged over the years) down the middle of the street. Friends and families were separated and display boards tell heart-wrenching stories of failed escape attempts where ‘oosties’ tried to tunnel under the Wall to their erstwhile neighbours and freedom.

You can continue the walk but we decided to stop at the iconic Checkpoint Charlie border crossing located at Zimmerstrasse. I’d recommend a visit to Museum Haus that can be found nearby.  The day before we left we made the short trip to Bernauerstrasse to visit the park, observation tower and museum found here – again well worthwhile. The Berlin Wall was a 155 km barrier enclosing West Berlin and in turn isolating it within the German Democratic Republic. Construction began on 13 August 1961 and it was regularly enlarged up until its fall on 9 November 1989. Between 1961 and 1989 136 lost their lives at the Wall – most fatally shot – but these are just the tip of the iceberg when one considers all the suffering created by this monstrous construction.

More information:

Walk the Wall                                                  http://www.mauerguide.com/

Listen to:

Berlin – Take My Breath Away – Love Theme From “Top Gun”

Lou Reed – Berlin

Roger Waters – Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) – Live Version

Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan – All Along The Watchtower

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan

Nena – 99 Luftballons

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