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Berlin, remnants of the cold war

Adventure travel tales in North East Europe:
Warsaw, Poland
Vilnius, Lithuania
Sigulda, Latvia
Tallinn, Estonia
St Petersburg
Other European Tales:
Prague, Czech Republic
Sighisoara, Romania
Peloponnese, Greece
Venice, City of Water
Cappadocia, Turkey

Small remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall
Berlin, a city with a turbulent history. After the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, West and East are joined again in one big city. Despite the attractions in West Berlin, however, most tourists head for East Berlin to see what was once behind the wall. Consequently, nowadays East Berlin is a lively place with youth hostels, restaurants and bars. And West Berlin remained itself, a modern western city with little remains of the past. For us, Berlin was the first destination on our World Journey. Out tales start here.

This is it, preparations are over, and so are the goodbyes. We’re in the train moving to the first destination of our world journey: Berlin. We will stay there for one and a half day, just long enough for some sightseeing, but keeping some speed, cause the weather isn’t great in November.

The Berlin Wall

What is left of the Berlin Wall is a small stretch of wall along the river Spree. The wall is not very high, approximately 3 meter. But it was not just the wall that was holding people in East Berlin. It was especially the death strip behind it, an area of 100 meters of no-ones land, where refugees could be shot.

The death strip behind the remaining piece of wall is the river Spree. In the rest of the city, the death strip is being built with especially sky-scrapers.

When the train enters Berlin we see the first familiar sites: the Gedächtniskirche and the Zoo. We move on, heading for the Ost-Bahnhof, indeed the central railway station of East Berlin. After changing money and buying public transport tickets, we head directly to the hostel we found on the Internet. And there we are, our first city to explore.

Heading for the wall

Being in East Berlin, the first thing we want to do is to take a look at the Berlin Wall, or what is still left of it. A small stretch of wall is preserved and we walk to it. In the mean while, it got dark and the wall gives us an eerie feeling. We walk past it and wonder what it would be like not to be able to get behind it.

The remains of the wall are full of drawings, text and graffiti. Idealistic texts, but also neo-nazi ones. It makes this peace of wall not only a memory of the past, but also a proof of the fact that some people do not learn from it.

West Berlin: Kurfürstendam and Gedächtniskirche

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche

This church (Emperor Wilhelm Memorial Church) was bombed in the second world war, leaving only part of the tower intact. In the ruin of the tower, an impressing museum is showing the situation before and after the bombing.

After the war, the church needed to be rebuilt. Different architects were asked to make a design, and a complete reconstruction was also considered. However, they chose to leave the ruin as it was, and to build a modern church beside it, with a massive sky-high (and ugly) tower.

The next day we use the public transportation to see the highlights of the city. We start in West Berlin, the Kurfürstendam. The symbol of capitalism, with its billboards of Mercedes and Cola, and its porn and peepshows. It doesn’t really attract us (we’re used to Amsterdam…) so we move on to the Gedächtniskirche. We are impressed by the ruin, but don’t really like the modern tower of the new church.

East Berlin: Unter den Linden, Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag

Since West Berlin doesn’t have much to offer, we pass the Zoo to the park, confusingly enough named “Tiergarten” (which means zoo). Then we take the metro to “Unter den Linden”, the static main street of the old Berlin. After the war, it became part of the Eastern part of the city, and this still shows with static old building (among which the Russian Embassy). At the end of this street, there’s the Brandenburger Tor, unfortunately in renovation during our visit.

The Reichstag (house of parliament) also has a new part: a glass dome rising above the old facade. We don’t quite like it, but at least the old facade is still there. Why do people think old buildings need a new look, anyway?

Checkpoint Charlie

We move on to Checkpoint Charlie, where the gate between East and West Berlin (that is, the American sector) is still visible. However, it is very difficult to imagine how it was. The Death Strip is now full with modern buildings. The museum inside is where you can experience the past.


Another icon of East Berlin is Alexanderplatz, the main square. Nowadays, it’s surrounded by restaurants and shops. There is very little here to remind us of the past. This square and the rest of East Berlin more and more become similar to the western part of the city. Old houses are renovated and new ones are built. Even the Trabants (old Russian cars) are scarce nowadays.

Oberbaum Brücke

Oberbaum BrückeLast highlight we visit is the Oberbaum Brücke. This is the bridge between east and west where the citizens of the east could meet their relatives in the west once, in 1963. Knowing this, it makes the place a bit surreal.

For the unsuspecting visitor of Berlin, little remains of the former division into East and West. Yet, almost every highlight in the city has something to do with it. Earlier history of Berlin is bombed away, and so this city still breathes the remnants of the war. And it will probably stay that way.

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