Tag Archives: Berlin Wall

Sunday Documentary: The Tunnel

People At The Berlin Wall At Schwedter Strasse - Still From NBC Documentary - The Tunnel

Photo: Still from The Tunnel – NBC

Produced by Reuven Frank and narrated by Piers Anderton and first aired on 10 December 1962, the NBC documentary The Tunnel follows a group of West Berlin students determined to help people flee communist East Berlin.

Featuring footage shot inside the tunnel under the Berlin wall, the programme offers a unique insight into the remarkable efforts some were willing to go to in order to secure the freedom of others.

The tunnel stretched 120 to 140 metres below the border from Schönholzer Strasse 7 to Bernauer Strasse 78.

As the film points out the intention was to free many more East Germans but the tunnel flooded after 29 people had used it to cross from East to West.

The Tunnel

The documentary and the story it depicts also inspired the film Der Tunnel (2001) and the documentary Der Tunnel: Die Wahre Geschichte (1999).

Der Tunnel (auf Deutsch)

Der Tunnel: Die Wahre Geschichte

Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled for this video but you can find it here.

The East Side Gallery – “Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Dmitri Vrubel - Fraternal Kiss (Brezhnev and Honecker embrace) - one of the paintings on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions – a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall that stands as an ‘international memorial for freedom’.

The wall running along Mühlerstrasse near the banks of the River Spree was painted with over 100 murals by a group of international artists.

On 28 February 2013 my Twitter feed was abuzz with the news that a section of the wall was to be removed so that a developer could build a block of luxury flats on the land between the wall and the river.

People reacted strongly.

A protest was organised for the following day at the Wall and thanks to those protesters the removal was halted with just a small section gone.

A larger protest was organised on the Saturday morning.  Reports of the numbers present varied but official estimates put the turnout at 6,000.

A petition was started and thousands of signatures were quickly added.

On Monday morning events took a turn for the bizarre.

I woke up when my phone buzzed beside me.  I had a notification of a tweet from @HildaHoy.

I blinked a few times.  I pinched myself.  I wasn’t dreaming.

David Haselhoff had somehow read a post I had written on Sunday about his song Looking For Freedom, in which I had referred to the threat to the East Side Gallery and had tweeted about it.

Later that day, David Hasselhoff wrote his own blog post about the issue and urged his fans to sign the petition.

The Hoff’s involvement was widely reported – articles appeared on the websites of The Guardian, Berliner Morgenpost and Süddeutsche.  The Mädels with a Microphone made a great podcast about the protests.

And now to top it all off in an interview with HuffPost Live, David Hasselhoff has said that he would be willing to perform at the Wall to show his support.

Save East Side Gallery Petition - A computer generated image of flats at the Wall

Image: Change.org

The number of signatures on the petition to Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is now closing in on 75,000 – you can add your name to it on change.org.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous speech, delivered at the Berlin Wall in 1987, the message is:

“Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Work at the wall has been suspended until after the issue has been discussed at a meeting of the Berlin Senate on 18 March.

The developer has how said that the section of wall was being removed to give access to a new pedestrian bridge – a replacement for the Brommybrücke, which was blown up by the Nazis as the Soviets advanced on Berlin.  Klaus Wowereit has indicated that he thinks removal of the wall should be avoided if possible.  Early signs are good that a suitable compromise can be reached.

It would be incredible to see The Hoff perform at the Berlin Wall and if that happens, Gilly has to be there too.  And if it’s going to be perfect, we have to go to a bar on Hasselhoffstrasse (if the concert happens there has to be a street named after him) afterwards for beers, a burger and Vodka Ahojs – the man himself being present would be the icing on the cake.

Ohrwurm: David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom

David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom (Live in Berlin) sung on the Berlin Wall on New Year's Eve 1989

Source: David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom (Live in Berlin)

Today’s Ohrwurm is David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom, which seems appropriate on a day when the people of Berlin are again protesting at the wall.

David Hasselhoff singing on top of the Berlin Wall, with the Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop, on New Year’s Eve 1989 came at a time when people were celebrating the fall of the wall.

In fact, according to this BBC article, the Hoff is disappointed that his role in uniting the people of East and West Germany is not more widely acknowledged.

My friend Gilly and I recently discussed the Hoff’s contribution to Berlin and the possibility of a street being named after him.  Hasselhoffstrasse anyone? Or maybe the Hackesche Höfe could become the Hassel Höfe?

Today, Berliners will gather at the East Side Gallery to protest against the removal of a section of the wall to build a block of luxury flats.  The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km stretch of the wall on Mühlerstrasse near the Spree covered in murals by international artists, as an “international memorial for freedom”.

Dmitri Vrubel - Fraternal Kiss (Brezhnev and Honecker embrace) - one of the paintings on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery

It seems perverse that such a symbol could be torn down, especially in a city that has so many empty and abandoned buildings.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in Berlin on 12 June 1987, the message to Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit is:

Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!

A petition has been started to halt the destruction of the wall and currently has over 53,000 signatures.  If you’d like the East Side Gallery to remain unchanged you can sign here.

David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom (Live in Berlin)

The song starts at 0:55 if you want to skip the introduction from the Hoff.

The Rise And Fall Of The Berlin Wall

The 2 part documentary, The Rise And Fall Of The Berlin Wall, from the History Channel, tells the story of the Anti Fascist Protection Rampart, more commonly known as The Berlin Wall, erected on 13 August 1961, which fell on 9 November 1989.

Tourists peer through gaps in the Berlin Wall at a Watchtower at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

Of particular interest, is the lengths that people would go to, to bring loved ones across the wall.  Describing her husband’s endeavours to free her and her daughter, Roswitha Köppen says:

I see it as the greatest proof of his love.  Not every man would do what Klaus did.  Basically, he risked his life for us.

Also notable, are the ingenious plans of the Bethke family.  The first of the three brothers escapes in May 1975.  Ingo, a Border Guard, paddles across the Elbe river on an air bed.  Eight years later, on 31 March 1983, Ingo helps his brother, Holger,  to flee the East, across a steel cable, strung between buildings facing each other at the border.  Ingo and Holger then hatch a successful plan to fly their youngest brother Egbert, on a micro-lite plane, from The Soviet War memorial at Treptow Park to The Reichstag on 26 May 1989.

Part 1: The Rise

Part 2: Fall

Border Experiences: Everyday Life in Divided Germany

Built in 1962, the departure hall for the border checkpoint at Friedrichstrasse train station soon became known as the Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears), as it was frequently the sight of tearful farewells.

Here, those bound for West Berlin were subjected to passport checks, baggage searches and probing questions.

After the fall of the wall the building was used for cultural events and concerts but was closed in 2006 whilst building work was completed nearby.

In September 2011 the building reopened housing the permanent exhibition, Border Experiences: Everyday Life in Divided Germany.

With personal accounts, interviews, news reels and artifacts, the exhibition tells the story of the wall and the life of citizens in a divided Germany, with an emphasis on the restrictions on travel.

As well as the building itself and the passport control passages, photographic displays and audio commentaries tell the story of the routines and procedures followed here.

A bank of monitors shows still photographs of the surveillance carried out by the Stasi, focusing on the family and friends of those travelling as well as the travellers themselves.

It’s not all about unhappiness though.  Some of the personal accounts told here have happy endings.  Jan Möllmann from the West and Silke Schmidtchen from the East met in 1987 but their relationship was defined by their separation by the wall.  Jan tried unsuccessfully to move to the DDR.  They tried to feel connected through music – Jan listened to Silly and Silke to David Bowie.  After the fall of the wall the pair were able to conduct their relationship on their own terms and married in 1992.

This is another of Berlin’s many sights where you are aware that ‘history happened here’ – lives were altered and a nation was shaped by the events played out in the Palace of Tears.

Of course, the one thing that the exhibition and building can no longer fully convey is the fear that gripped travellers as they queued here and the conflict of emotions (happiness at leaving the country and sadness at leaving loved ones) that people experienced.

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

The Berlin Wall and Monument in Memory of the Divided City and the Victims of Communist Tyranny at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer on Bernauer Strasse

The Berlin Wall Memorial extends from the Nordnahnhof S-Bahn station along Bernauer Strasse to the corner of Schwedter Strasse.

After reunification the people of Berlin clamoured to remove the Berlin Wall and open up the city but in time they began to understand that it was necessary to preserve some of it as a memorial and a reminder of the city’s divided past.  The Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse is the result of that necessity.

Through a series of exhibitions and memorial sites, the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer seeks to tell the story of the lifecycle of the wall and its effect on the city of Berlin and its inhabitants.

Border Stations and Ghost Stations in Divided Berlin

Starting at Nordbahnhof there is a photo exhibition in the S-Bahn station building about Berlin’s ghost stations.

The Ghost Stations and Border Stations in Divided Berlin exhibition at Nordbahnhof

After the construction of the Berlin Wall, it was necessary to close some stations in order to prevent East Germans escaping through the tunnels and train tracks where East Berlin lines temporarily entered West Berlin.

Nordbahnhof was one such station.  Station entrances were sealed and side tunnels were blocked and trains would pass through the former station without stopping.

A display about the underground wall - part of the Ghost Stations and Border Stations in Divided Berlin exhibition at Nordbahnhof

One of the exhibits here tells of the border guards who capitalised on their unique position to make their own escape.  Once it was known that the guards themselves couldn’t be trusted they observed the ghost stations from sealed units.

The Visitor Centre

On exiting Nordbahnhof station you will see the rust-coloured pavilion of the Visitor Centre on the corner of Bernauer Strasse and Gartenstrasse.

The Visitor Centre of Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

This is the starting point for registered tours and visitors can get an overview of the many elements of the memorial.

The Memorial Grounds and Window of Remembrance

Along Bernauer Strasse part of the wall still stands but where some sections were demolished before the memorial was established, rusted steel rods, reminiscent of the exposed supports in the decaying or damaged concrete chipped away by souvenir hunters, mark its original path.  These poles give a sense of where the wall stood but also allow you to peer through the ‘wall’ to see the two halves of the once divided city.

Poles mark the line of the Berlin Wall at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer Memorial Grounds on Bernauer Strasse

The Window of Remembrance stands in the grass of the death strip (Todesstreifen) here and is a memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall.  The photos of the victims are displayed in windows in the wall along with their dates of birth and death.

The Window of Remembrance at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

One of the most well-publicised and tragic victims of the wall was Peter Fechter, a bricklayer from East Berlin.

Attempting to cross the Wall at Zimmerstrasse in 1962, he was shot by the border guards and fell to the ground, where he lay near the wall screaming loudly.  With both sides fearing reprisals if they ventured to his aid in no-man’s land, Peter was left to bleed to death.

He was just 18 years old.

A Portrait of Peter Fechter in The Window of Remembrance at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

This section of the memorial grounds ends at a large metal wall that is one end of the Monument in Memory of the Divided City and the Victims of Communist Tyranny.  Exiting left and crossing Bernauer Strasse you come to the Documentation Centre.

Documentation Centre

The Documentation Centre houses an exhibition about the construction of the wall told through photographs, archive documents and video presentations.

Here you will see footage of East Berlin residents crawling through the barbed wire of the original border or jumping out of their apartment windows into the arms of West Berliners in the street below.

As a result of these escapes windows in apartment buildings were bricked up and many of the apartment blocks that formed the border were destroyed.

Alongside the Documentation Centre there is a tower with a viewing platform overlooking the monument, a preserved section of the wall with the death strip intact and a watchtower enclosed by two steel walls.

The Documentation Centre and Viewing Platform at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

Overlooking the Monument in Memory of the Divided City and the Victims of Communist Tyranny from the viewing platform at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

Recrossing Bernauer Strasse on leaving the Documentation Centre you can walk around to the far side of the death strip you have just overlooked and sneak a peek through the slits in the wall from ground level.

The Berlin Wall and Watchtower at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

Chapel of Reconciliation

Continuing along Bernauer Strasse you will see the Chapel of Reconciliation.

The original Protestant Church of the Reconciliation Parish was rendered redundant when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961.  The church stood in the death strip and as such was inaccessible to citizens of both East and West Berlin.  The church came to symbolise the divided city and became a site of protest and as such it was an embarrassment to the government of East Germany.  In January 1985, having stood empty for over 23 years the order was given to destroy the church and it was blown up.

The new Chapel of Reconciliation was built on the site of the old church, incorporating the original altarpiece and regular prayer services are held here for the victims of the Berlin Wall.

The Chapel of Reconciliation at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

The bells of the original church were also salvaged and are now housed in the louvered wooden structure to the left of the chapel in the above photograph.  They are still rung to call parishioners to prayer.

The sun streaming through the wooden slats of the outer wall of the chapel makes for a peaceful and contemplative mood even without entering the chapel itself.

The Inner Wall of the Chapel of Reconciliation at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (BerlinWall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

Memorial Grounds

The Memorial Grounds continue from the Chapel of Reconciliation to the corner of Schwedter Strasse opposite the Mauerpark.

This final section is still a work in progress and includes markers of some of the many tunnels built under Bernauer Strasse by those hoping to escape to a better life in the West.

The markings of the Tunnel 57 escape tunnel on Bernauer Strasse at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial)

The NBC documentary The Tunnel follows the efforts of one such group of tunnellers and is a fascinating insight into the lengths people would got to in order to help people escape.

You will also see the famous picture of a guard jumping the original barbed wire border at the corner of Ruppiner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse adorning the side of one of the apartment buildings here.

All through the memorial grounds there are posts with photos and audio commentaries bringing the history of the wall to life.

The Memorial Grounds and Audio Posts at Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) on Bernauer Strasse

Berlin is a city where history is evident on almost every corner and on Bernauer Strasse the past has been brought to life and coexists with the present.

The Berlin Wall Memorial is not as obviously attractive as its more colourful cousin, the East Side Gallery, but I think a visit here is essential to gain a better understanding of Berlin’s divided past.