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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Berlin Wall Memorial: To understand the German division

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

At the Wall Memorial, the last cross-section of the former border area can be seen.
The Wall was a frontier zone

The Berlin Wall Memorial is a must for anyone seeking to understand the realities of the German division. Better still: it intelligently combines a place of remembrance with everyday life.

The Berlin Wall Memorial is a highlight.

Twelve years after its foundation, the East German state was in the grip of a serious demographic crisis. Many of its citizens who wanted to flee to West Germany found refuge in West Berlin, which was still relatively accessible from East Berlin. On 13 August 1961, the GDR authorities ordered the closure of the roads. The "Berlin Wall" was to be built and perfected over almost three decades, before it was opened in the autumn of 1989.

Many fantasies and rumours exist about this extremely complex historical period. At the time, two subjects concentrated the entire attention of the population. Firstly, the disfigurement of a capital city deeply shocked contemporaries. But above all, it was the separation of families that many Berliners remembered. These two themes are central to the design of the Berlin Wall Memorial and are very well presented. Bernauer Strasse is a street that is emblematic of the physical separation of the city from the summer of 1961. It is now a new and redesigned space for visitors.

A discreet and reflective memorial

The question of the Wall is approached in a very sober, almost austere way in its design. This uncluttered approach is terribly effective because it puts the question of memory into perspective in the public space. Indeed, the Memorial is freely accessible. However, for the initiated, a certain solemnity emerges, a heaviness that is accentuated by the length of the site. The outdoor information is often left to interpretation and one will understand the need to be accompanied to grasp the reality of the events and their sequence.

The strength of the Memorial lies in the complementarity of the rebuilt and preserved areas, each of which, in its own way, presents the consequences of the division. In addition, a free documentary film is shown in the Visitors' Centre, while a documentation centre offers visitors a striking scenography and a panoramic view of the last visible cross-section of the Wall in Berlin. The perfect combination of memory and history.

A guided tour is necessary

The fact that the Memorial presents the events around the Wall without frills warns the visitor that it is neither a tourist attraction nor a mere historical curiosity. The uncluttered concept will be disconcerting to many. However, it is an essential visit to grasp the realities of a division whose marks are still palpable today.

The very absence of clear information on the site calls into question the discretion of the Memorial, which fits perfectly into the surrounding environment. Once again, the comments of a tour guide are essential. The presence of tourist shops selling colourful pieces of the Wall, GDR magnets to put on the fridge and miniature models of the East German Trabant at a high price is to be regretted.

Reasons to go

  • The cross-section of the Wall

  • The touching tribute to the victims

  • The videos showing films of the escapes to the West

Reasons to avoid

  • Information sometimes missing

  • The absence of a contact person on the external site

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