Euphemistically called ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier’, this grim symbol of oppression stretched for 160km, turning West Berlin into an island of democracy within a sea of socialism. Continually reinforced and refined over time, its cold concrete slabs backed up against a ‘death zone’ of barbed wire, mines, attack dogs and watchtowers staffed by trigger-happy border guards.
More than 5000 people attempted an escape, but only about 1600 made it across; most were captured and 191 were killed. The full extent of the system’s cruelty became blatantly clear on 17 August 1962 when 18-year-old Peter Fechtner was shot during his attempt to flee and was then left to bleed to death while the East German guards looked on.
At the end of the Cold War this potent symbol was eagerly dismantled. Memento seekers chiselled away much of it and entire sections ended up in museums around the world. Most of it, though, was unceremoniously recycled for use in road construction. Today little more than 1.5km of the Wall is left, but throughout Berlin segments, memorial sites, museums and signs commemorate this horrifying but important chapter in German history. Besides the places mentioned below, the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie also chronicles this period.
Beside the wall on Bergstraße. The church shown in the period photo was the Church of Reconciliation, completed in 1894 as an imposing brick-built building by the architect Gotthilf Ludwig Möckel, in the Gothic revival style. It received minor damage during the war, and still had a deactivated American bomb found during its reconstruction in 1999, but the church survived the war. With the Berlin's division in 1945, the church building found itself within the Soviet sector, with most of the parishioners in the neighbouring French sector resulting in the Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961, running directly in front of the church on its western side and behind it on the eastern side, preventing access to everyone except the border guards, who used its tower as an observation post. The church building was destroyed in 1985 in order ‘to increase the security, order and cleanliness on the state border with West Berlin’ according to the official justification by the DDR regime. Four years later in 1989, the Wall fell.
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery describes itself as "an international memorial for freedom." It is a 1316 metre-long section of the Berlin Wall located near the centre of Berlin on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The actual border at this point was the river Spree. The gallery is located on the so-called "hinterland mauer", which closed the border to West Berlin. This is the longest, best-preserved and most interesting stretch of Wall and the one to see if you’re pressed for time. It was turned into an open-air gallery by international artists in 1990. The better works are located near the Ostbahnhof end. The Gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. It is possibly the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world. Paintings from Jürgen Grosse alias INDIANO, Dimitri Vrubel, Siegfrid Santoni, Bodo Sperling, Kasra Alavi, Kani Alavi, Jim Avignon, Thierry Noir, Ingeborg Blumenthal, Ignasi Blanch i Gisbert, Kim Prisu, Hervé Morlay VR and others have followed. The paintings at the East Side Gallery document a time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better, more free future for all people of the world. In July 2006, to facilitate access to the River Spree from O2 World, a 40-meter section was moved somewhat west, parallel to the original position.
Painting 25 is one of the best known of the Berlin wall graffiti paintings, a depiction of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing as painted by Dmitri Vrubel. On the left is the condition of the painting in 2005 and at the right is me standing beside it after its restoration. The Russian words at the top read "God! help me stay alive" and continue at the bottom "Among this deadly love" ("Господи! Помоги мне выжить среди этой смертной любви"). Vrubel created the painting in 1990. Along with other murals in the section, the painting continued in display after the wall was taken down, but vandalism and atmospheric conditions gradually led to its deterioration. In March 2009, the painting, along with others, was erased from the wall to allow the original artists to repaint them with more durable paints. Vrubel was commissioned to repaint the piece, donating the €3000 fee he was paid to a social art project in Marzahn. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love (sometimes referred to as the Fraternal Kiss or Bruderkuss) is, according to Anthony Read and David Fisher, "particularly striking, with a sharp, satirical edge." However, it was also widely criticized on creation as a straightforward reproduction of the photograph that inspired it taken on October 7, 1979 when Brezhnev was visiting East Germany at the time to celebrate the anniversary of its founding as a Communist nation.
A 23-metre section was scheduled to be removed on March 1, 2013, to make way for luxury apartments. None of the artists whose work will be destroyed were informed of these plans. The demolition work actually started on March 1, 2013. According to German news FOCUS, authorities were not aware of the start of the demolition. Due to the involvement of protesters, demolition was postponed until at least March 18, 2013. Nevertheless, Two-thirds of the paintings are badly damaged by erosion, graffiti, and vandalism. One-third has been restored by a non-profit organization which started work in 2000. The objective of this organization is the eventual restoration and preservation of all the paintings. Full restoration, particularly of the central sections, was projected for 2008. Remediation began in May 2009.
The restoration process has been marked by major conflict. Eight of the artists of 1990 refused to paint their own images again after they were completely destroyed by the renovation. In order to defend the copyright, they founded "Founder Initiative East Side" with other artists whose images were simply copied without permission. Bodo Sperling launched a test case in the Berlin State Court in May 2011, represented by the Munich art lawyer Hannes Hartung and with the support of the German VG Bild-Kunst. The Court will address the question of whether art should be listed as destroyed and then re-copied without the respective artists' permission. The outcome of the trial will be a landmark declaration for European art law.
The memorial to the June 17 uprising, with the DDR-era mural in the background within Göring's former air ministry HQ. The central Monument in memory of the 1953 Uprising in the East German Democratic Republic is represented by a groundfloor relief, surrounded by a low barrier, created by Wolfgang Rüppel. Remarkably, Max Lingner's 18-metre long mural "Aufbau der Republik" (Building the Republic) is allowed to remain in situ.
Photos from my 2014 and 2016 school trips on the anniversary of the uprising.
James Bond at the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War in Octopussy and me in 2007. Walter Ulbricht agitated and manœuvred to get the Soviet Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into free West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighbourhood of Berlin. Behind me is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a private museum opened in 1963 by Rainer Hildebrandt, which was augmented with a new building during the 1990s. The two soldiers (one American and one Russian) represented at the Checkpoint Memorial were both stationed in Berlin during the early 1990s.
Checkpoint Charlie then and now
Leon at the site and as it appeared in 1961. The crossing has been partly reconstructed with a US Army guardhouse and a copy of the famous sign warning ‘You are now leaving the American sector’. The original is now next door at the private Haus am Checkpoint Charlie shown behind, a popular if cluttered museum reporting mostly on the history and horror of the Berlin Wall. The exhibit is strongest when documenting the courage and ingenuity displayed by some DDR citizens in escaping to the West using hot-air balloons, tunnels, concealed compartments in cars and even a one-man submarine.
At the newly-renovated Stasi Museum located in the former headquarters of the Stasi (officially the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), on Ruschestraße 103, near Frankfurter Allee at U-Bahn Station Magdalenenstrasse Line U5. The building was erected in 1960-61 as the offices of Erich Mielke, who served as Minister for State Security from 1957 until the end of the DDR. The entire block is a series of grey labyrinthine buildings, all hunched catastrophically together. A city within a city, the Stasi offices came complete with a movie theatre, canteen, a supermarket – and were surrounded by apartment buildings housing the people the Stasi liked to keep a close and paranoid eye on. My students from the Bavarian International School are shown at the entrance which served as the main building, Haus 1. It is home to Mielke's recently opened office and looks exactly how you'd expect it to look: carved busts of Marx and Lenin lining the hallways and the foyer, brown marble columns, off-white almost yellow walls, tacky gold-coloured railings. Whereas the first and third floors host a series of exhibitions about survivors of the DDR regime, methods of surveillance, propaganda and general history, the second floor was entirely Mielke's. The abundance of space the man must have enjoyed on this luxury floor is nauseating considering how much the citizens of East Germany suffered under his watchful eye.
Bavarian International School students in 2014 and 2016 when the outdoor exhibition opened.In the corridor to the office and working quarters of Mielke. The main hall is dominated by three portraits: a bronze of Lenin; intarsia of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, the forerunner to the KGB; and a painting of what looks to be Richard Sorge, a much-lauded Soviet spy executed by the Japanese during WWII. On January 15, 1990 demonstrators took over the Stasi headquarters. A week later, the Central Round Table, a committee made up of representatives of the SED dictatorship and civil rights groups, decided that a “memorial and research centre on GDR Stalinism” should be established in House 1. When nothing came of this declaration of intent, members of the Berlin citizens’ committee and other civil rights activists took action and began securing the historic site. In August they founded the association “Antistalinistische Aktion e.V.” (ASTAK). On November 7, 1990, it opened the Research Centre and Memorial at Normannenstrasse with an exhibition titled “Against the Sleep of Reason”. House 1, later named the Stasi Museum, has been open to the public ever since. The offices of Erich Mielke are preserved in their original condition and form the centrepiece of the historic site. The museum today serves as a "centre for the collection, preservation, documentation, rehabilitation and exhibition of evidence and research materials relating to East Germany".
Mielke's personal study then and today, almost perfectly preserved as it was. There's a bed, a small kitchen and a bathroom, which suggests that Mielke must have spent the vast amount of his time working, rarely going home to his wife and son. Mielke served his post until the wall fell. On November 9, when the wall was accidentally declared "open" at that famous press conference which changed history, the Stasi freaked out and started destroying files as everyday citizens rushed the Stasi offices and demanded to see what had been written about them. Mielke was kicked out of the party on December 3, almost certainly an attempt by the communists to wash their hands of those who committed unspeakable crimes. No longer shielded by his fancy role in the corrupt government, Mielke was arrested for the murder of the two policemen back in 1931. In 1992 he was sentence to six years in prison, and served four of those six years at the Moabit prison before being released for medical reasons. Mielke, his lawyers argued, was senile and had forgotten what he had done.
File card depicting exactly how Erich Mielke wanted his breakfast served
It was from this office here that Mielke commanded a staff that grew from 2,700 at the time of the organisation’s formation in the 1950s to around 91,000 in 1989. As a consequence of the economic problems of the DDR, Mielke initiated a hiring freeze in 1983, otherwise the ranks would surely have swelled further. Here is his desk, which features his phone, a chair, wood-panelled cupboards (everything is wood-panelled), and a shredder, an ominous nod to the frantic efforts of the Stasi to shred secret documents of the citizens they spied on for an entire generation.
Beside busts of Ulbricht and Lenin
Prison transporter (Gefangenentransporter ) Barkas B 1000 with 5 cells used by the Stasi
Beside the statue of (Iron) Felix Dzerzhinsky on the three separate visits to the museum. Dzerzhinsky is best known for establishing and developing the Soviet secret police forces, serving as their director from 1917 to 1926. Later he was a member of the Soviet government heading several commissariats, whilst being the chief of the Soviet secret police. The Cheka soon became notorious for mass summary executions, performed especially during the Red Terror and the Russian Civil War
Erich Mielke's apartment
Lastly, there's his desk, which features his phone, a chair, wood-panelled cupboards (everything is wood-panelled), and a shredder, an ominous nod to the frantic efforts of the Stasi to shred secret documents of the citizens they spied on for an entire generation.