From shortly after World War Two up until 1990, Berlin was the focal point of the Cold War. Divided into four sectors by and occupied by troops from Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union in 1945, tensions between the victorious powers led to an increasing polarization between the Allied West and the Soviet East which would find its apex in the German capital, leading to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Join me to explore this recent historical memory with the Essential Cold War Tour, or go a step further with the Extended tour.
ESSENTIAL COLD WAR TOUR:
On this tour, we can visit two of the last remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall itself and learn the stories of some of the most daring escapes made over, under and through it. We'll visit the seat of government of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or German Democratic Republic) – the House of Ministries, bedecked with the social realist mural entitled the ‘Building of Socialism’. The mural, still visible today, is now counteracted by a nearby memorial to those who opposed the Communist regime and whose sentiments culminated in the protest of June 17, 1953 which would end in a massacre by Red Army troops. From there, we can visit and the site of one of the most remarkable escapes over it, before going on to see the last watchtower remaining in the city centre.
We can visit the Checkpoint building of Friedrichstrasse train station, the site of temporary reunions and subsequent farewells for the few who obtained visas to cross through the border, given the poignant nickname of ‘Palace of Tears’ by the Berliners who once crossed through it, and today a comprehensive museum of the Cold War.
We’ll go on to the site of the Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse, where the border quite literally ran through buildings, generating some of the most astonishing and spontaneous escapes as inhabitants jumped from windows of the soon-to-be-destroyed apartment blocks on the faultline of the wall itself. We’ll see the only remaining stretch of the ‘death strip’ fully preserved in the city today, flanked by both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ walls, between which we can stand. Walking above the routes of tunnels dug below the Wall, we will see the memorial to those murdered by border guards whose ‘shoot to kill’ order claimed hundreds of lives.
We will visit a former 'ghost station' shut down during the time of the Wall in a bid to prevent escapes, and looking to this day as it did when first opened (in 1936).
We’ll go further off the beaten track, far into East Berlin, to see the architectural legacy of the DDR in the shape of the vast boulevard ‘Karl-Marx-Allee’, filming location of the 2006 film ‘The Lives of Others’, and we will go on to visit the interior of the Headquarters of what was perhaps the most fastidious and vast secret police force in Europe, the notorious Stasi or 'Ministry for Security'.
EXTENDED COLD WAR TOUR:
We will visit all of the locations of the Essential tour, going on to visit Tempelhof Airport, formerly one of the biggest buildings in the world, which was the destination of over 200,000 Allied 'candybomber' aeroplanes during the year-long Berlin Airlift. We'll see the Airlift memorial and visit the runways of the former airport itself, now transformed into one of the biggest urban parks in the world.
Our walk will be punctuated by some of the 'white crosses', memorials to victims of the Wall.
We'll complete our visit to the three major remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall with a trip to the East Side Gallery, painted with over 100 murals in the 1990s as a tribute to peace and freedom, with its famous 'Brotherly Kiss' painting.
We will travel to the former Soviet Embassy, still bedecked with hammers and sickles, and continue deeper into East Berlin with a visit to the vast Soviet Memorial and military cemetery in Treptower Park.