The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany (A)

Overnight on August 13th 1961, a barrier went up to completely divide Allied West Berlin from Communist East Berlin and the GDR. Over the following years the Berlin Wall was increasingly fortified until it became one of the deadliest border-crossings in the World. Take this tour to explore the remnants of this historic barrier, and relive the tragic events of people attempting to cross the 'death-strip' to freedom.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Download 'GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities' app for IOS   Download 'GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities' app for Android

Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: The Berlin Wall
Guide Location: Germany » Berlin
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.0 Km or 3.1 Miles
Author: Andie Gilmour
Author Bio: Hi, my name is Andie. I am originally from England, but after visiting Berlin many times I decided to move here permanently with my partner and four cats. I do guided tours, take photographs of Berlin and Brandenburg, and also design and program websites. I am fascinated by local history, and have found more than enough to discover here in Berlin, which I would like to share with you.
Author Website:
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Friedrichstraße Station and the Palace of Tears
  • The White Crosses Memorial
  • Crosses on the Corner of Ebertstrasse
  • Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial
  • Statue 'The Caller'
  • The Brandenburg Gate
  • The Former Death Strip
  • Leipziger Platz
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • GDR Watchtower
  • The Wall at Niederkirchnerstraße
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • The Peter Fechter Memorial
Friedrichstraße Station and the Palace of Tears

1) Friedrichstraße Station and the Palace of Tears

Road and pedestrian access into West Berlin was relatively easy to control: just build a physical barrier along the border - the Berlin Wall - with limited crossing points.

The railway network was more problematic, especially at Friedrichstraße station, which was surrounded on three sides by West Berlin and had lines coming into it from there.

Friedrichstraße also had long-distance rail links with countries inside and outside the Communist Bloc that still had to flow. The East Germans couldn't build a wall across the railway tracks, so instead they put border controls around the station itself. Passengers from the Western sectors could disembark at Friedrichstraße station, but if they wanted to leave the station they had to go through border control.

Many did stay inside the station, where they could buy duty-free goods in the hall that now houses a supermarket and fast-food restaurants. Others had come to visit family in East Berlin, but whereas they could return West, their East Germans relatives had to remain behind.

Passengers were processed in a glass-and -steel building North of the station, connected to it by an underground tunnel. Many tearful farewells took place here, and the building became known sardonically as der Tränenpalast – the Palace of Tears.

Despite the strict security, the interrogation rooms, the holding cells, and the ever-present Stasi, a lot of people still managed to flee to the West through Friedrichstraße Station. Some used forged documents, or ones borrowed from sympathisers in the West. Others took legitimate trains to Communist countries with less well-guarded borders.
Image Courtesy of Beek100.
The White Crosses Memorial

2) The White Crosses Memorial

The fortified border ran close behind the Reichstag and joined with the River Spree. Where East met West, a memorial of seven white crosses stands on the riverbank.

The river along this stretch was owned by East Germany and was patrolled by armed guards. Many refugees tried to reach Western Berlin by swimming across it; some even made it. One person who unfortunately didn't was Günter Litfin, who was shot dead in the water a short distance from here by East German Transportation Police on 24th August 1961.

Günter Litfin was the first person to be killed trying to cross the border, and his name is recorded on one of the white crosses that stand here as a memorial to the victims of The Wall.

Across the river, in the ultra-modern government building Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, stand original sections of The Wall, each with a year and the number of people killed trying to cross in that year (258 victims in all).

A memorial of a different kind now stands near the white crosses on the North-East corner of the Reichstag building. Next to where the Berlin Wall ran, is a section of wall from a dockyard in Danzig. It was upon this wall that Lech Walesa climbed in order to organise a strike in 1980. From that protest arose the free trade union Solidarność, and so began a process of democratisation in the Soviet Bloc that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Image Courtesy of Beek100.
Crosses on the Corner of Ebertstrasse

3) Crosses on the Corner of Ebertstrasse

The White Cross memorial is duplicated across the road from the South of the Reichstag building, where one of the remembered victims also has a three-metre wooden cross dedicated to him.

That victim is Heinz Sokolowski, who was shot dead by border guards close to here on Dorotheenstraße on 25th November 1965. Sokolowski was born in Frankfurt Oder during the First World War, fought in the German army during the Second World War, was captured by the Soviets and taken to Russia where he was re-educated with anti-fascist ideology. He returned from captivity in 1946 and lived in Prenzlauer Berg in the Soviet Sector of Berlin. He worked for the Soviet occupation forces, but was arrested in 1953 and charged by a Soviet military tribunal for alleged espionage. He spent ten years in a Labour Camp in the USSR before being handed back to East Germany in 1963. He applied for an exit visa to the West, but was turned down, and was thereafter hounded by the Stasi, the East German secret police. His attempted flight to the West across the barbed-wire border behind the Reichstag building ended with fatal gun-shot wounds in the abdomen.

Another of the victims commemorated by a white cross is Chris Gueffroy. He was hit in the chest by ten shots whilst trying to cross the border, and died in the 'death-strip', on 6th February 1989. The Berlin Wall fell just nine months later.
Image Courtesy of Tilemahos Efthimiadis.
Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

4) Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

During the heavy fighting for the Battle of Berlin at the close of the Second World War, an estimated 70,000 people were killed in just ten days: 22,000 troops of the Soviet Red Army, 20,000 German soldiers, and at least 30,000 civilians. There are many grave-sites in and around Berlin, and the one in the Tiergarten is the resting place for over 2,000 Soviet soldiers.

The memorial was dedicated on 11th November 1945 in the presence of all four occupying powers. At the time it lay in wasteland, the Tiergarten having been incendiary-bombed to burnt tree-stumps and the Reichstag building reduced to rubble.

However, the memorial was located in the British Sector, and after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 an agreement had to be reached to provide access to the Memorial for a permanent Russian Guard of Honour. Accordingly, throughout The Cold War, Soviet soldiers were bussed in every day from East Berlin, sometimes through crowds protesting against the Wall outside the blocked-off Brandenburg Gate. The Guard of Honour, whose sentry buildings can still be seen behind the memorial, were themselves guarded by British soldiers.

The memorial and cemetery were finally handed over to a united Berlin in December 1990 as part of the agreement for the withdrawal of Soviet Troops.
Image Courtesy of David Arvidsson.
Statue 'The Caller'

5) Statue 'The Caller'

In the centre of avenue Straße des 17 Juni stands a bronze statue of a man with cupped hands around his mouth, as if shouting down the avenue at The Brandenburg Gate and East Berlin. The statue is called 'Der Rufer' or The Caller, by the Berlin-born artist Gerhard Marcks, and was erected in May 1989. An inscription around the plinth translates that the figure goes through the world crying 'Friede' : 'Peace, Peace, Peace'. This call, together with one for 'Freiheit' – freedom – was taken up by many East Germans during 1989 in demonstrations across the GDR. It was eventually realised by the opening of the borders on 9th November 1989 and the fall of The Wall.

This wide, long avenue originally connected Berlin with the outlying town of Charlottenburg and was called Charlottenburger Chaussee until 1953. Then it was renamed by West Berlin to mark the striking of workers on the construction of the Soviet show-piece Stalinallee on the 16th June 1953. This turned into a mass uprising throughout East Germany the next day, which was brutally suppressed by the Red Army and Volkspolizei who shot dead at least 55 protesters.

It was primarily the disparity of wages and working conditions between East and West Berlin that led to the closing of the borders overnight on 12th August 1961. Up until that date, approximately 20% of East Germans had left the Eastern Bloc.
The Brandenburg Gate

6) The Brandenburg Gate

The Western Gate in Berlin's city walls has been a famous symbol of Berlin since it was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm 2nd of Prussia in the late eighteenth century. During the Cold War it was entirely closed off and the Berlin Wall ran in a semi-circle in front of it on the Western Side. Pariser Platz on the Eastern side became part of the Death Strip and was only used by GDR Border Guards and Soviet troops.

The Gate became a focus for protests against a divided Germany. As the then governing West Berlin mayor Richard von Weizsäcker described it in the 1980's 'The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed'.

When US President JF Kennedy visited the Gate in 1963, the Soviets drew a curtain of red banners across its archways to prevent the eyes of the Western World looking into the East.

On 12th June 1987 another US President, Ronald Reagen, gave a speech in front of the Gate in which he implored the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev to come here to this gate:

'Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'

The course of the outer wall of the border fortifications is now marked with a double row of cobblestones in front of the Gate, which continue up Ebertstraße and for most of the rest of this tour.
Image Courtesy of Sven Gross-Selbeck.
The Former Death Strip

7) The Former Death Strip

The 2,711 concrete slabs that make up 'The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe', inaugurated in 2005, were erected on wasteland that was once the death-strip between the outer and inner Berlin Wall. As such it gives a feeling for the width of the border fortifications at this point. All the land between the double-cobblestones running up the middle of Ebertstraße to the buildings rising beyond the memorial was an area where to step was to risk arrest, or being shot at.

In the beginning, the border was defended with a barrier of breeze-blocks and barbed wire, but over the years the fortifications became more sophisticated and more deadly.

By the 1980's the outer wall, facing West Berlin, was 12ft high and topped with a concrete pipe to deter attempts at climbing over or the use of grappling hooks. Before anyone even reached it, they had to negotiate a 10ft high inner wall, steel spike mats, a barbed-wire signal fence, tank traps and anti-vehicle trenches, a continuous strip of smoothed sand to show up footprints, motion-detecting automatically firing machine guns, and regular patrols of guards with dogs. At frequent intervals there were also watchtowers manned around the clock by armed soldiers with binoculars and searchlights.

This barrier extended around the entire 96 mile border with West Berlin and along railway tracks and service roads running from The West.
Image Courtesy of Bill Cunningham.
Leipziger Platz

8) Leipziger Platz

The elegent octagonal form of Leipziger Platz was laid out according to the wishes of Friedrich Wilhelm 1st of Prussia in 1732 and put to ceremonial and residential use. It was reduced to ruins by the street-fighting and bombardments during the Battle of Berlin, and any remaining buildings were torn down by the Soviets for border installations.

The row of double-cobblestones bisecting the square mark the course of the inner, East German, side of the border. A few sections of the wall are preserved here, though the graffiti was added after re-unification: whilst the outer wall was colourfully and sometimes humorously decorated by graffiti artists during The Cold War, the Eastern side was grey and untouched.

Another three sections of the wall from here were donated to the United Nations, where they were installed outside the UN building in New York.

Leipziger Platz has now been reconstructed to its original harmonious form, albeit with modern architecture, but the former line of The Wall demonstrates how rigorously the East Germans stuck to the Soviet Sector border agreed at the Yalta Conference, with total disregard for historical precedents.

The parallel outer wall ran through nearby Potsdamer Platz, and again you get a feel for the width of the barren hinterland that ran between the two barriers.
Image Courtesy of Gianni D'Anna.
Potsdamer Platz

9) Potsdamer Platz

By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Potsdamer Platz was one of the busiest squares in Europe, lined with hotels, department stores, and restaurants. A monument from that time, when trams, horse-drawn buses, and newly invented automobiles bustled here, is a replica of the first traffic lights erected in Europe.

By the end of the Second World War the square was almost totally destroyed, and the wasteland became the converging point of the British, American and Soviet sectors. Any remaining buildings were razed, and luminous white paint marked out the sector borders, later to be replaced with barbed wire and then The Wall.

With the building of The Wall, the only people to visit this desolate area were curious visitors from the West, who came by the bus-load to buy souvenirs and climb a platform to peer over into the East. They included US Senator JF Kennedy in 1962, Queen Elizabeth II in 1965, US President Jimmy Carter in 1973, and US President George Bush senior in 1983.

Nowadays Potsdamer Platz has been rebuilt with modern architecture, but then as now vendors sell mementos of The Wall, and you can even have your passport stamped with an authentic seal of one of the former occupying forces.
Image Courtesy of Jorge Franganillo.
GDR Watchtower

10) GDR Watchtower

This watchtower dating from 1969 is now dwarfed by modern new buildings and has been moved eight metres to the East to accommodate their construction.

It once stood on the edge of the death-strip watching for people approaching the Eastern side of the border. These 'panorama observation towers' were also used to monitor high-security institutions like the Stasi (State Security) prison in Hohenschönhausen and the Stasi office in Weissensee.

An iron ladder within the shaft reaches up to the octagonal observation area at the top that was designed to give 360 degrees of view. However, its narrow access shaft and top-heavy design meant the 'panorama towers' were eventually replaced with more spacious, square-shaped observation towers.

Of the former 302 guard and observation towers that once stood along The Berlin Wall, only this and three square-shaped towers remain. They are now all protected historic monuments.
The Wall at Niederkirchnerstraße

11) The Wall at Niederkirchnerstraße

A 200 metre stretch of The Berlin Wall still stands along Niederkirchnerstraße beside the Topography of Terror exhibition. It has been damaged by 'wall-peckers', souvenir hunters chiseling away pieces of the concrete, and is now protected by a fence.

The border strip here was very narrow - just the width of the street - and the government buildings on the North side were incorporated into the inner wall.

The Berlin Wall was referred to by the GDR government as an Anti-fascist Protection Wall, playing on the East German's fears of a return of the horrors of the Nazi era. The nature of those horrors are fittingly documented in the Topography of Terror exhibition here, which stands on the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters and prison. Hermann Göring's Air Ministry building still looms over the street on the North side.

The Secretary for Security Matters in 1961, responsible for building The Wall, was Erich Honecker. He later served as the Head of State of the GDR from 1976 until its dissolution. As late as January 1989 he stated that “The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not yet removed.”

After unification Honecker was put on trial for initiating the shoot-to-kill policy at The Wall that murdered 192 East Germans. He escaped prosecution due to ill-health, and died in Chile in 1993.
Image Courtesy of Sjaak Kempe.
Checkpoint Charlie

12) Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie (named from the NATO phonetic alphabet for the letter C) was the only road crossing for foreigners and Allied Forces personnel on foot or in a vehicle between the Eastern and Western sectors. It came to world prominence in October 1961 when a stand-off between Soviet and American tanks nearly sparked off a Third World War. The incident began trivially enough on 22 October 1961 (just two months after construction of the wall) with a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a senior U.S. diplomat and his wife passing through to East Berlin to attend the theatre. Events escalated out of all proportion and both the Soviet and the Allies massively increased their military forces and armoury. By 27 October ten armed Soviet tanks faced ten armed American ones a hundred metres away across the border crossing. Around the world, troops on both sides of the Cold War were put on alert, weapons were mobilised, and nuclear warheads primed. After sixteen hours of heightened tension, when it seemed a shoot-out could break out at any moment, the first Soviet tank started up its engine and withdrew five metres. The tension was relieved, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. To get an idea of what the Checkpoint grew to look like, and to learn about escape attempts across the border, a visit to the museum 'Haus am Checkpoint Charlie' is thoroughly recommended.
Image Courtesy of Clément Belleudy.
The Peter Fechter Memorial

13) The Peter Fechter Memorial

On Zimmerstraße stands a memorial to the shooting of young building worker Peter Fechter on 17th August 1962.

Just a year after the wall was built, Fechter tried to flee the GDR together with his friend Helmut Kulbeik.

They hid in a carpenter's workshop next to the wall on Zimmerstraße and dropped down into the strip between the inner fence and outer wall from an overlooking window. They then attempted to dash across the 'death strip' before the border guards noticed, and climb the two metre wall topped with barbed wire into West Berlin.

As they climbed the wall, the GDR border guards opened fire. Kulbeik managed to scramble over the wall to safety, but Fechter took a bullet in his pelvis and fell back onto the Eastern side, screaming in agony.

Whilst hundreds of horrified onlookers on the Western side called in vain for someone to help him, neither GDR or FRG guards attempted to give him medical assistance, both sides apparently fearing to leave their posts or to enter the forbidden zone.

After an hour, Fechter eventually died a slow death through internal and external bleeding and his body was finally retrieved by East German guards. The event caused outrage throughout the world, and a spontaneous demonstration on the Western side shouted 'Murderers!' at border guards on both sides.

The memorial says '… er wollte nur die Freiheit.' - he wanted only freedom.
Image Courtesy of Oren Rozen.

Walking Tours in Berlin, Germany

Create Your Own Walk in Berlin

Create Your Own Walk in Berlin

Creating your own self-guided walk in Berlin is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Museum Island Walking Tour

Museum Island Walking Tour

One of Berlin’s most visited attractions, the Museum Island ("Museumsinsel") complex was established by order of King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841 and houses several world-famous museums kept in close vicinity of each other. The island itself is spectacular for a walk, with wonderful architecture, statues, gardens and trees, so enjoy the atmosphere and make at least a day...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Berlin Food Walking Tour

Berlin Food Walking Tour

While Berlin may not be considered a typical foodie destination yet, recent years saw a growing number of decent places to eat, serving both German and international cuisine. At some point, the city has even earned itself the title of a vegetarian capital of the world, contrary to what one may have expected. Amid all this renaissance in creativity and culture, coupled with the influx of the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Third Reich Walking Tour

Third Reich Walking Tour

The “Third Reich” and “Nazi Germany” are the common English names for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when it was a totalitarian state led by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. For any visitor to Berlin, the Nazi surrender that ended World War II is still a point of interest, but matching locations to those moments of history can be a challenge. On this special...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Tiergarten Walking Tour

Tiergarten Walking Tour

Known for the huge park of the same name, which once was a royal hunting ground, the central district of Tiergarten (German for “Animal Garden”) is home to the Berlin Zoo, the Victory Column with its winged statue and the lively, lakeside Café am Neuen See.

Begin your exploration at Postdamer Platz, the historic central square of Berlin, once regarded in the same way as Piccadilly Circus...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Berlin Introduction Walking Tour

Berlin Introduction Walking Tour

Known for its turbulent past, today's German capital is a global city for international affairs, creative industries, popular media and diverse cultural tourism. The first written records of settlements in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late 12th century, when the region came under German rule as part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, founded by Albert the Bear in 1157. Berlin...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Berlin's Historical Churches Walking Tour

Berlin's Historical Churches Walking Tour

Berlin boasts a diversity of important religious sights. Among the most acclaimed are the places of worship centuries old, such as the beautiful Neo-Classical style Nikolaikirche or the red-brick Gothic style Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), both dating back to the 1200s. Aside from being home to the best organ music in town, Marienkirche’s hall still contains numerous beautiful features and...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Best Cafés and Coffee Houses of Berlin

Best Cafés and Coffee Houses of Berlin

Cafes have a certain refinery and elegance that pubs lack; there is a mellowness that is rarely found in bars and clubs, and an ease and tranquillity that is not to be found in restaurants with their steaming kitchens, heavy plates, clattering cutlery, constant complaints and corrections and,...
Best Bars in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Best Bars in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Kreuzberg and "Kreuzkölln" - the area where Kreuzberg and Neukölln meet, mostly along the canal in east Kreuzberg and north of Sonnenallée in Neukölln - has a constantly and rapidly evolving bar culture that makes it one of the trendiest alternative evening and nightlife spots in...
Best Cafes in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Best Cafes in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Traditionally, you may expect the cafes around Kottbusser Tor and throughout Kreuzberg to be dominated by ethnic Turks, particularly men, in rooms that do much to resemble the cafes of Istanbul. More recently, however, the ethnically Turkish and Arab communities that have typically inhabited...
A Self-Guided Food Walk in Berlin

A Self-Guided Food Walk in Berlin

Repeatedly scarred throughout its long and often depressing past, today's Berlin has made a comeback as a major bohemian hub which lures artists and creatively-minded folk from all over the globe in their droves. It may well not be considered a typical foodie destination yet, but in recent...
Berlin Mementos: 18 Souvenir Shopping Ideas for Travelers

Berlin Mementos: 18 Souvenir Shopping Ideas for Travelers

Too many people and for very different reasons strove to set their foot in Berlin over the course of the 20th century. Today, the city proves just as luring a destination for numerous travelers who want to come and enjoy themselves in this fascinating European capital and, perhaps, bring home...
Best Food in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Best Food in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Kreuzberg is known for having great cheap, street food, particularly of the Middle Eastern variety. On almost every corner you can find a kebab or falafel shop, although the trick is knowing which to choose! While you can typically get a good, tasty wrap for €2.50-4, the quality, quantity and...