A backpacker’s guide to visiting the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall divided the German capital into East and West from 1961 to 1989, forming one of the most fiercely fortified borders in the world. It’s top of many backpackers’ sightseeing lists, but over a quarter of a century after the wall fell, you need to know where to look to find traces of it and insights into its impact on the city. The following places will give you a sense of the division and its legacy, and all of them can be accessed free of charge. So if you’re planning a hostel trip to Berlin this year, put these on your list. And if you’re feeling energetic, plan to cycle a stretch of the 160km Mauerweg (Wall Trail), which follows the path of the wall through the city, passing these locations on the way.
Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre
Bernauer Straße is home to the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre. The Memorial itself is a short stretch of the fortifications, including both inner and outer wall, watchtower and patrol road, maintained as it was in the 1980s. Around it is a kilometre-long open-air exhibition about the history of the street during the division, and the Documentation Centre, which contains a free exhibition. In the visitor centre you’ll find a bookshop and an introductory film screening about the history of the wall (also in English).
East Side Gallery
One of the most iconic sights in Berlin, the East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. It runs between Ostbahnhod and Warschauer Straße stations along the banks of the River Spree. In the 1990s a number of artists were invited to turn the stretch of the wall into the world’s largest open-air gallery, and the murals painted there have been restored a number of times since. It has also been used in recent years for temporary exhibitions reflecting on other divided cities around the world.
Located at Friedrichstaße station, the ‘Palace of Tears’ was the crossing point for travellers taking the train between East and West Berlin. The former departure hall at the station has now been turned into a free exhibition about the border crossing and how people coped with living in a dividing city. It also covers some of the dramatic escapes people made from East to West.
The Mauerpark runs north from Bernauer Straße alongside the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn stadium. Once a goods station, the former railway lines became part of the no-man’s land of the Berlin Wall during the years of division. A few traces remain, including the stretch of inner wall by the stadium now used by street-artists for practice, and the park has become one of the city’s most beloved green spaces with a weekly flea market and open-air karaoke sessions when the weather is fine.
Everyday Life in the GDR
A short walk from the Bernauer Straße memorial and Mauerpark is the Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery that was turned into a cultural centre in Prenzlauer Berg. Alongside the bars, restaurants and venues housed in the complex is a free museum called ‘Everyday Life in the GDR’, which gives you a sense of what it was like to live in East Berlin, behind the iron curtain.