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5 Free Things in Berlin: Cold War Legacy

October 17, 2014

Geir Moulson, The Associated Press, October 17, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — In January 1989, then-East German leader Erich Honecker declared that the Berlin Wall could stand for another century. Less than 10 months later the border was open, and soon Berliners were in a hurry to tear down the 155-kilometer (96-mile) barrier. However, there's still plenty to see of the Cold War past as Berlin marks the 25th anniversary of the Wall's fall. Many of the historical sites are free, though you'll need to take advantage of Berlin's efficient and inexpensive transport network — or rent a bike — to get around a city that still lacks a single center and whose sights are widely spread.


The Wall's longest surviving stretch is the East Side Gallery, stretching for 1.3 kilometers (more than a quarter mile) along the Spree river. Artists covered it in colorful murals after the border opened, adorning it with images such as a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall and a fraternal communist kiss between Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. They repainted the murals in 2009.

At the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, a stretch of the barrier stands at the end of a 1.4-kilometer (nearly one-mile) section of the former border strip, which gives a good impression of how deep a scar the Wall cut through the city. An open-air exhibition is spread along the strip, while an indoor museum will reopen after renovation on the Nov. 9 anniversary of the Wall's fall. The viewing platform above offers a panorama of the site and downtown Berlin.


A third remaining stretch of the Wall runs along the edge of the Topography of Terror memorial site, which includes the ruins of buildings where the Gestapo secret police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office ran Adolf Hitler's police state from 1933 to 1945.

A few small Wall fragments survive at other sites, as do a handful of the 302 watch towers that once dotted the border's so-called "death strip."


The Glienicke Bridge, on Berlin's forested southwestern edge, was the setting for a few of the Cold War's most spectacular spy swaps. In 1962, U.S. spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged there for a Soviet spy known as Rudolf Abel. In 1986, prominent Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky walked across the bridge to freedom and later, as Natan Sharansky, to start a new life as an Israeli politician. The border was in the middle of the bridge, still painted different shades of green on the two sides of the divide.

The scenically located bridge spans the channel between two lakes. From the bridge, you can walk or cycle along the Berlin Wall Trail, which largely follows the course of the Wall for 160 kilometers (100 miles) around the former West Berlin. Follow the gray-and-white signs marked "Berliner Mauerweg."


The Allied Museum, in the western Dahlem district, focuses on the history of the Western allies' role in Berlin from 1945 until their last troops withdrew in 1994. West Berlin was made up of the post-World War II American, British and French sectors. Its status as a capitalist exclave deep inside the Soviet occupation zone was secured by the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift. The original Checkpoint Charlie border guardhouse from the time of the Wall's fall, from the famous crossing in downtown Berlin, stands outside the museum.

Across town in the Karlshorst district, the recently renovated German-Russian Museum concentrates on the history and consequences of Nazi Germany's war against the Soviet Union, which started in 1941 and ended with the Red Army taking Berlin in 1945. The building includes the room where Germany's surrender was signed on May 8, 1945.


World War II left 26.6 million Soviet soldiers and civilians dead, by the official Russian count, and the Soviet Union built three memorials in post-war Berlin. During the Cold War, the best-known to Westerners was the smallest, which is flanked by two Soviet tanks and stands a few minutes' walk west of the Brandenburg Gate in former West Berlin.

The biggest and most spectacular memorial stands in Treptow, in former East Berlin. Memorial slabs depicting the course of the war, adorned with quotes from Soviet leader Josef Stalin, lead up to a mausoleum topped by the figure of a soldier standing on a shattered swastika.



Berlin Wall Memorial:

Topography of Terror:

Berlin Wall Trail:

Allied Museum:

German-Russian Museum:


This article was written by Geir Moulson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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