Berlin: The fall of the wall, 20 years later

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A stretch of the wall at the East Side Gallery. Photo by Franz Patzig.
A stretch of the wall at the East Side Gallery. Photo by Franz Patzig.

On November 9, thousands of Berliners, visitors, and VIPs, including Kofi Annan and Mikhail Gorbachev, will gather at the base of the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But you don’t have to wait until the action-packed Fest der Freiheit (Festival of Freedom) to pay tribute to Germany’s division into East and West between 1961 and 1989.

Dozens of exhibits, concerts, tours, readings, and more related to life and times on both sides of the Mauer are dominating the Berlin’s cultural calendar this fall.

Seeing Red

Information about Wall-related happenings isn’t hard to gather. Painted a jarring shade of tomato red, the Infotreppe (Info stairs, Washingtonplatz, U- and S-bahn: Hauptbahnhof), a staircase parked in front of the Hauptbahnhof (central train station), offers a multimedia exhibit and tips about how to celebrate the Wall during your visit.

From the viewing platform atop the Treppe, you can spot giant, red, helium-filled arrows hovering above the city, one of which points out the current location of a roving red “info box”. This small exhibition space, set up in front of various Schauplätze (show places), throughout the city, emphasize the exciting and myriad ways in which Berlin has changed over the last two decades. Until September 20, the spotlight is on the Adlershof, an impressive cluster of 8,000 high-tech science and media companies that’s located on a former airfield in Treptow, a district deep in the former East.

In addition to visiting these Schauplätze and the city’s most famous Wall-related sights, including the admission-free Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) and the East Side Gallery, you can pay tribute to the city’s division and reunification, Cheapo-style, by visiting a handful of temporary (and free) exhibits in both halves of the city.

In the east

The open-air exhibition Peaceful Revolution 1989/90, in German and English, (open until Nov. 19) sheds light on the non-violent protest movements that led to the fall of the Wall. Fanned out in the southern end of the Communist-era square, Alexanderplatz (near the Saturn electronics store, U-bahn: Alexanderplatz), the extensive exhibit is broken down into three categories: Awakening, Revolution, and Unity. Free and open 24-7, this is a Cheapo alternative to the pricey DDR Museum nearby.

In the west

Less centrally-located, but worth the journey south of the center (near Dahlem, where Free University is located), the free and fascinating Erinnerungsstätte Notaufnahmelager Marienfelde (Marienfelde Refugee Centre Memorial, S-bahn: Marienfelde) marks the spot where the 1.3 million East Germans who successfully “escaped” from the East between 1949 and 1990 were temporarily housed before their relocation to the so-called Goldene Westen (the golden west). After checking out the permanent display, stop by the special exhibit, Mit der S-bahn in den Westen (“To the West with the S-bahn”), about the role that the city’s commuter rail played in the divided city.

For a complete listing of the dozens of Wall-related things to do and see, check out the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall website.

About the author

Susan Buzzelli

About the author: A Pittsburgh native, Susan Buzzelli has been a sworn Germanophile since she spent a high school summer as an exchange student in Buxtehude. After stints in Dresden, Munich, and Hamburg she settled (possibly for good) in Europe’s most dynamic city: Berlin. When she isn't exploring Berlin, she's traveling throughout Germany (with an occasional hop over the border). Her comprehensive guidebook to Germany, Zeitguide Germany, will be published soon. Look for updates on her website, www.susanbuzzelli.com.

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