In January 2008 I was sat in a plane at Heathrow airport. It had backed away from its stand by about 30 feet and was about to taxi out to the runway to take me to Inverness. The aircraft suddenly stopped and the captain’s voice came over the intercom. The captain explained that a British Airways jet from Beijing had just crash-landed (he didn’t actually use the term “crash-landed”) and we would be experiencing a slight delay as a result. I looked out of the window. In the distance I could see the Beijing flight, sat rather uncomfortably at the end of the runway. Luckily, no lives were lost in that incident, but for the next five hours we sat on the tarmac, waiting for clearance to take off from another runway. When we eventually did take off the flight to Inverness seemed rather short by comparison!
On my way to catch my plane I had stopped at the airport bookshop, where I had bought a book on the history of the Berlin Wall. Over much of the next five hours I engrossed myself in its incredible life, and the incredible lives of those who tried to cross it.
One of the main things I wanted to see on our trip to Berlin, therefore, was the Berlin Wall Memorial. The Berlin Wall famously came down in 1989. Seeing the Berlin Wall today is a bit tricky, as most of it has been pulled down, split into chunks, and sold on eBay (I am convinced that if you bought all of the bits of Berlin Wall that are advertised on eBay, then you would quickly accumulate all the materials you would need to build two Berlin Walls).
There is only a small section of the original wall left today. The longest part (1.3 km out of a total 2km still remaining) is now the 1,316 metre long East Side Gallery. It is the longest open-air gallery in the world, with 101 images painted directly onto the wall by various artists. Whilst I wanted to visit the East Side Gallery during our time in Berlin we never actually made it. Am I upset by this? No, not really, because we headed northwest instead, to see the official Berlin Wall Memorial. This was one of the highlights of our trip.
I stood on a patch of grass where, had I stood in the same spot 25 years ago, I would have been shot. This was the death strip.
The Berlin Wall Memorial is a half mile stretch of land running along the original wall’s path, alongside Bernauer Strasse between Gertenstrasse and Brunnenstrasse. Although the wall itself no longer exists, at the Memorial its path is marked by metal rods.
Just after midnight on 13 August 1961, miles and miles of barbed wire were rolled out to form a physical barrier between East and West Berlin. Shortly thereafter prefabricated concrete slabs replaced the barbed wire, and over the years the wall was continuously upgraded and reinforced.
Bernauer Strasse quickly got a reputation as one of the focal points of escape from east to west. The street itself was in West Berlin, but the buildings on the south side of the street, with front doors opening onto the street, were in East Berlin. You could therefore live in East Berlin, but open your front door and stroll out into West Berlin. When the border was sealed the front doors of Bernauer Strasse were also sealed, however, the buildings still fronted the free west and whilst the doors were sealed the windows were not. People wanting to escape to West Berlin in 1961 were looking at those windows very closely.
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Eastern End of the Berlin Wall Memorial: N 52° 32.223 E 013° 23.594
Berlin Day 2 Walk Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):
- Date of Walk: 20 December 2013
- Total distance covered: 5.79 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!