For visitors to the Berlin Wall memorial the first decision to make will be which direction to take it in. I think the majority of people start from the visitor centre at the corner of Gartenstrasse and Bernauer Strasse having arrived via Nordbahnhof S-Bahn. The only disadvantage is that you start from the spot where you get the books and souvenirs (genuine piece of the wall only €5.95!), so you need to make your mind up before you’ve seen everything or get the tram back. The main advantage in starting from here, if you don’t know too much of the Wall’s history, is you can see two short films (15 mins each) in the first floor auditorium to give you some background information. The English language versions start on the hour. But I don’t think it will be much of a problem to start from Bernauer Strasse U-Bahn and work your way down to Nordbahnhof. In fact this might help to put the ‘Ghost Station’ exhibition in Nordbahnhof station into context.
The thing to be aware of is that this is a big memorial, around 1.4km, with a lot of information so allow plenty of time. Heading out of the visitor centre you will cross the road to the start of the memorial and this will give you your first view of how the Wall was constructed in its final phase, you will also come to the first of the information posts on your route. These posts have a variety of themes and styles, some have printed information, others are audio posts and others show short videos. There is a blend of straightforward historical information, news reports and personal testimony from both sides of the wall, even from one of the Border Guards. Most things are translated if they are not in English already. In this first section you will come to the Window of Remembrance memorial to the 136 known victims of the Wall, which consists of a photo of each person, where available, and their name being read out at a nearby information post.
The next major part of the memorial is at the corner of Ackerstrasse, on one side of Bernauer Strasse is a reconstructed section of the Wall with the ‘Death Strip’, on the opposite side is the viewing tower and Documentation Centre. The reconstruction gives an impression of how the Wall would have looked in the late Eighties with a Guard Tower and lighting. This is certainly the focal point of the memorial and is definitely not to be missed. If you get the chance to approach this section from the North down Ackerstrasse you can get an impression of how imposing the Wall was as you glimpse the guard tower through the trees and bushes at the end of the street. The Documentation Centre gives you more of the historical background to the Wall’s construction and contains an exhibition of documents detailing the East German government’s plans for the Wall.
From this section heading East you will pass the Chapel of Reconciliation, around the Chapel you will notice the footprint of the original church traced on the ground. For this final section the most interesting features are at, or below, ground level. Here you will find the routes of several of the escape tunnels marked across the strip as well as a feature currently under development the foundations of the houses that were knocked down to clear the strip.
This was never going to be an easy project, but I believe the designers have done an excellent job of bringing together the various aspects of this memorial. There is a lot of information here for those who want to know the history of the Wall, its significance during the Cold War and how it affected the lives of those who lived in its shadow. The memorial to its victims is simple yet moving.
Written and Contributed by Mark Beadle