In this last Walking Berlin instalment we step along a line which once divided the world, and consider the loss of a unique Berlin.
A double row of cobblestones traces the six kilometre route of the Berlin Wall through of the centre of the city. Begin at Bernauer Strasse (S-Bahn NordBahnhof) which in 1961 East Germans split down the middle. The Berlin Wall Memorial centre documents the history of the divide, and must be visited. Head south to the Brandenburg Gate and – as you mingle with the tourists and street entertainers – consider that for 28 long years this was no-man’s-land, with the Gate sealed off from West and East Berliners alike. Note the old East German border watchtower near Potsdamer Platz. Follow a 200 metre stretch of the original Wall past the Topography of Terror to infamous Checkpoint Charlie (and the fascinating Mauermuseum). Carry on along Zimmerstrasse to the memorial to Peter Fechter, an escaping, 18-year-old East Berliner who was shot and left to bleed to death by East German border guards in 1962. Pause at Stralauer Platz with its remains of the inner (east facing) Wall. End your walk at the East Side Gallery, the longest-surviving section which has been transformed into an open-air art exhibition on the banks of the River Spree (U1/S-Bahn Warschauer Strasse).
The Wall was a heinous construction which scarred Berlin and Europe. Its fall was among the most important historical events of the 20th century. Yet for almost three decades it and the paucity of East German Communism, and its near-strangulation of West Berlin, made this place unique. In its Kreuzberg squats, on the death strip, in the sleepy suburbs and during pompous May Day Parades along Karl-Marx-Allee, there was nowhere like it in the world. No one wishes for the return of those days, but should modern Berlin be going so far to erase the physical reminders of its uniqueness?
Today the danger facing Berlin – like almost all wealthy Western cities -- is homogenisation. As property prices spiral, and shopping centres rise on open ground, and artists’ studio are converted into luxury apartments, this dynamic, mixed and infuriating capital becomes more and more conformist. On this walk you will see the change at Potsdamer Platz, along Friedrichstrasse, at Checkpoint Charlie. Of course, ‘Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein,’ as author Karl Scheffler wrote over a century ago. It is a place damned to forever become, never to be. But in twenty years’ time, if this trend continues, how different will Berlin be – in urban-planning terms -- from Chicago, Munich or Beijing?
consider that for 28 long years this was no-man’s-land, with the Gate sealed off from West and East Berliners alike. Note the old East German border watchtower near Potsdamer Platz. Follow a 200 metre stretch of the original Wall past
A provocative, personal blog on all that thrills, delights, haunts and infuriates the award-winning author Rory MacLean in the German capital, his new home.