Erected on the night of 13 August 1961, the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart (as it was officially referred to by the East German government) or Wall of Shame (as it was called in the West) ran 97 miles around the three western sectors of Berlin and 27 miles directly through the city’s center. The imposing concrete barrier and its infamous “death strip” soon came to represent the most ominous symbol of the ideological and physical divide between Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc, artificially severing one culture into two—and literally cleaving the city of Berlin—for over a quarter century before finally crumbling in the days, weeks and months following 9 November 1989.
Led by an expert in 20th century history, this 3-hour walk unravels the complex social, cultural and political history of the Berlin Wall by tracing a section of its former route through the city’s center. In doing so, we will investigate the post-war background of the Wall’s construction, the physical realities of life in the city that it divided, and the implications of its fall for a reunified Berlin. Our main goal will be to understand the Wall for what it was: not merely a concrete barrier but also a controlled series of empty spaces and activities (searches, patrols, observations and checkpoints) that came to signify all the consequences of the division of Berlin and of Europe.
Beginning at the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse, the site of some of the earliest and most dramatic escape attempts from the communist GDR, we will stop at numerous exhibitions, memorials, artworks and historical locations in order to get a sense of the scale and nature of the city’s division. We will see how the Wall was constructed and expanded, the ways in which it was used as an ideological symbol by Cold War powers, and ultimately how and why it fell. Finally, we will discuss the irony that Berlin is now largely associated with a structure that no longer exists.
The fate of the Wall since 1989 and the debates about place and identity to which it has given rise dramatize the larger issues of national identity in a newly unified Germany. As we pass the many memorializing sites along our itinerary—the “ghost stations” exhibit at Nordbahnhof and others—we will ask fundamental questions about the tension in Germany’s troubled history between destruction and forgetting, on one hand, and preservation and remembering, on the other. That is: should this history be erased completely from the city’s map or etched indelibly into the city's memory? Nowhere is this debate more evident than along the route of the Berlin Wall, its physical concrete no longer visible but its social, cultural and political repercussions apparent everywhere.
For help on planning your trip see our guide on how to tour the Berlin Wall.
|Duration: 3 hours|
|Venues: Berlin Wall Memorial|
|Incidentals: Public transport ticket- $3|
Christina is an East Berliner who was born in the GDR, a socialist republic that no longer exists. She danced on the Wall in 1989, observed the restructuring of Germany and the frantic urban transformation of Berlin, and parallel to her studies, lived in some subcultural scenes during the city's cultural boom of the 1990s. At the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) she earned an MA in cultural sciences with a focus on cultural history and comparative social sciences, particularly the ideology-based history of the twentieth century. Her dissertation was on a more contemporary subject of "The Economic Impact of the Contemporary Art Scene on the city of Berlin." She now works as an arts administrator, manages urban development initiatives, and since 2006 routinely walks guests through the eclectic and varied political, cultural, and architectural histories of the German capital and beyond.
Ilona is an art historian with a focus on contemporary art, art collecting, and the role of art in urban society. She holds an MA in art history from the University of Warsaw and has worked in a variety of modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. She assisted with the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw architectural competition, and is a founder of Collect Berlin. Ilona also has a deep interest in urban planning and architecture, and has led numerous tours and lecture events on Berlin architecture. A native of Poland, she has lived in Berlin for many years.
Heribert Von Reiche
Heribert is a native Berliner whose family history can be traced as far back as the founding of the city. An expert in urban history, for more than twenty years he has been guiding interested crowds through the German capital and the surrounding Mark Brandenburg, letting the stone witnesses of passing time tell their stories while he enthusiastically revives old lifestyles and tastes. He studied sociology, history, and cultural anthropology at the Freie Universität Berlin. His professional experience is varied and far-ranging, including working as a freelance trainer for communication and intercultural education since 1982, and guiding tours since 1986. In the West Berlin borough of Wannsee he runs with his wife two fine cafés (including at the Max Liebermann Villa Museum) and a gourmet delicatessen, and he is well-versed in fine cuisine. With an anecdote for just about every historical detail, Heribert is the consummate companion for any and all learning adventures in this city.
Raised in New York City, Jan graduated from Williams College in 1985 with honors in the history of ideas and later went to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design to receive his MA in architecture in 1990. He has worked as an architect in Berlin since 1994. He has been a regular contributor to a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, the Harvard Design Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, Places Magazine, and the Architectural Record, writing chiefly about European architecture and urbanism. He teaches urban studies and sustainability at the IES Berlin Metropolitan Studies Program, and has served as an invited guest critic or lecturer at the Technische Universität in Berlin, the University of Warsaw Architecture School, and the Architectural Association in London. Jan is the Academic Director of the Northeastern University School of Architecture Berlin Program, where he also teaches two required seminars.
Robert grew up in East Berlin during the 1980s and went on to study at the University of Florence, Italy. He received his PhD in cultural studies from Humboldt University of Berlin where his dissertation focused on sexual violence in the Nazi concentration camps. He recently worked as a researcher for the BBC and as a historian for the Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück concentration camp memorials. His interests range from the history of art and architecture to modern European history and WWII. Robert worked for Hampshire College and has given guest lectures at both Boston University and Brown University. He has been working as a tour guide for more than ten years.
Tania is an Italian-born journalist and travel writer who has published a city guidebook and several articles on Berlin and Tuscany. She has an MA in social geography and wrote her thesis on the development of East Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition to her work as a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, Tania works as a pedagogical consultant at the DDR Museum, leading international school groups through the collection and preparing workshops and special classes related to various aspects of twentieth-century German history. She holds a similar collaboration with the Pergamon Museum and finds great joy in helping people understand Berlin, a city that rethinks itself every day.
Rasmus holds an MA in Rhetoric and German culture with an emphasis on citizenship, empowerment, and depictions of the metropolis in literature from the University of Copenhagen and the Free University in Berlin. He wrote his thesis on the struggle for and against major construction projects in Germany, specifically Stuttgart 21. Rasmus worked four years at the Danish Architectural Center in Copenhagen designing and leading guided tours with an emphasis on modern architecture and the possibilities to engage in the built environment. More recently he has been working as a docent at the Food Academy in Copenhagen, teaching storytelling and exploring the influence of food on our social life and society. He currently works with students visiting Berlin to provide unique learning experiences, with a focus on food culture, street art, architecture.