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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Berlin Wall Memorial: Understanding German Division

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

At the Wall Memorial, the last cross-section of the former border area can be seen.

The Berlin Wall Memorial is a must-visit for anyone seeking to comprehend the realities of the German division. More than that, it smartly combines a place of remembrance with everyday life.

A Visit Is a Highlight

Twelve years after its foundation, the East German state found itself in the throes of a significant demographic crisis. Many of its citizens who wished to flee to West Germany found refuge in West Berlin, which remained relatively accessible from East Berlin. On August 13, 1961, the GDR authorities ordered the closure of the roads. The "Berlin Wall" was constructed and perfected over nearly three decades before it was opened in the autumn of 1989.

This exceedingly complex historical period is shrouded in many fantasies and rumors. At the time, two subjects held the complete attention of the population. Firstly, the disfigurement of a capital city deeply shocked contemporaries. More importantly, 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, a street emblematic of the physical separation of the city from the summer of 1961, is now a newly redesigned space for visitors.

A Discreet and Reflective Memorial

The Wall's topic is tackled in a very sober, almost austere way in its design. This minimalist approach is remarkably effective because it places 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, highlighting the necessity of guidance 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 presenting the consequences of the division in its unique way. In addition, a free documentary film is shown in the Visitors' Centre, while a documentation centre offers visitors a striking exhibition and a panoramic view of the last visible cross-section of the Wall in Berlin. It's the perfect combination of memory and history.

A Guided Tour is Necessary

The fact that the Memorial presents the events surrounding the Wall without embellishments serves as a reminder to the visitor that it is not a tourist attraction nor a mere historical curiosity. The minimalist concept might disconcert many. However, it is an essential visit to grasp the realities of a division whose marks are still palpable today.

The absence of explicit information on the site raises questions about the Memorial's discretion, which perfectly blends into the surrounding environment. Once again, the insights of a tour guide prove essential. The presence of tourist shops selling colorful pieces of the Wall, GDR magnets for the fridge, and miniature models of the East German Trabant at a high price is regrettable.

Reasons to Visit

  • The cross-section of the Wall

  • The poignant tribute to the victims

  • The videos showcasing films of escapes to the West

Reasons to Skip

  • Sometimes, information is missing


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