Cold War Berlin

Berlin has been heavily influenced in appearance and function by the post-war period and the ensuing Cold War. Divided by the Berlin Wall, its Eastern half was subject to a strict dictatorship. It was this un-free half of the city where I was born and grew up. Ransomed by the West German government after my unsuccessful attempt at escape I was able to study in West Berlin, where I was fortunate enough to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having lived on both sides of the Iron Curtain, I am now very happy to be able to show you around my home town in its united form.

"When the Berlin Wall was not a memorial" ? the course of the former death strip on the Bernauer Straße

This tour takes you along the course of the former Berlin Wall, where you will find out how the Wall was built, changed and which traces it has left. Hear about the many escape attempts, the victims of the Wall and life in the divided city. I can also tell you about my own failed attempt to leave the GDR. Today, the Chapel of Reconciliation commemorates the victims of the Wall; original pieces of the Berlin Wall and the border system are displayed in the Wall Memorial.

From Wall to Wall with the M10

This tour proceeds along the Tram line M10 taking you from the S Bahn station Nordbahnhof through Berlin town centre, up to the Prenzlauer Berg and into Friedrichshain. Passing the Berlin Wall Memorial, we can gain an impression of the Helmholtz and Kollwitz quarters and view the memorial statue to Ernst Thälmann (leader of the German Communist Party in the 1930s), the last remaining monumental sculpture from the GDR. Stopping at the Arnswalder Platz to consider its fountain, we will walk along Paul-Heyse-Straße and look at the (now disappeared) Friesen Stadium, in which the World Festival of Youth and Students took place and which has now become part of a park. Passing the Frankfurt Gate, we will pause to consider the architecture of the former Stalin Avenue (Stalinallee) where the by now famous rising of 17 June 1953 began. The Tram line M10 ends close to the East-Side Gallery and the Oberbaumbrücke.

From the would-be international exhibition to the Soviet memorial

Of the three memorials in Berlin commemorating the Soviet war dead, the largest and grandest is to be found in Treptower Park. With a triumphal arch, a marble sarcophagus and a 12 m high statue of a Soviet soldier standing on a burial mound cradling a child, visitors cannot fail to be impressed. Over 5000 Soviet war dead are buried here.

The Treptower Park holds even more surprises. Once used as a runway for a spectacular escape from East Berlin via microlight, only the presence of the Archenhold Sternwarte premises reminds visitors of the industrial exhibition that was once held in this area.

Myself, prison and the Rummelsburg bay

In the mid-19th century, this area struggled to find 100 inhabitants ? today there are more than 2000 flats. A varied landscape of land-use (palm kernel oil reservoirs, an ice factory, a shot tower, an orphans? home for boys, the Medaillonplatz, a Prussian work house and a prison) gives testimony to the changes underwent in this area. The Prussian work house was initially used as a home for those on the fringes of society; after 1951 it was used as a prison. After a number of failed escape attempts, I spent a number of months in House I of the remand prison in Rummelsburg in the summer and autumn of 1984. The tiny cell which I shared with five other prisoners is no longer to be found: the building was converted into flats in 2007.

GDR ? the centres of power

The GDR was governed with an iron fist from the centre of Berlin. Nestling amongst the rubble of Berlin, the former Ministry of Aviation (itself one of the few government buildings to survive the Allied air war unscathed), housed almost the entire GDR government in the first days of the regime. The re-building of Berlin as the capital of the new Socialist state saw the erection of a number of monumental buildings: the Television Tower, high-rise flats, the Building of the State Council, the Palasthotel and the GDR Foreign Ministry. The former Central Bank was converted to the HQ of the Socialist Unity Party, whilst the former Royal Palace on Unter den Linden was demolished to make way for the Palace of the Republic. The Marx Engels Forum with a statue of the two men rounded off this exercise in Socialist town planning.

The Stasi Museum and Central Remand Prison

The Ministry of State Security was one of the most powerful ministries in the GDR. Understanding its role as the ?Sword and Shield of the Party,? the Stasi shored up the absolute power of the Party. Using spies, surveillance, persecution and working to destroy whole lives and existences, the Stasi sought to silence its opponents and intimidate the citizens of the GDR. This all required a lot of administrative space and very large buildings and the Stasi requisitioned entire areas of Berlin to house its security apparatus. The former Stasi HQ in the area around the Normannenstraße, Magdalenenstraße and Ruschestraße today houses a museum. In addition to this, a district of Hohenschönhausen was sealed off to the public; the number of Stasi organizations set up in this military site including the MfS Central Remand Prison. Top Secret, this area appeared as a blank space on all maps of the city. Today, a memorial has been established on the site of the former remand prison.


The beginning of the 1950s saw the monumental extension of the Frankfurter Allee (Frankfurt Avenue), to become the ?first Socialist boulevard.? Built in a monumental style referred to popularly as Monumental Chocolate Box style, the new boulevard was dedicated to the Great Father Joseph Stalin. Called Stalinallee (Stalin Avenue) it was dominated by a truly massive statue of the Great Man Himself, a cinema, the Café Moskau and the Mokka-Milch-Eisbar, a chic ice-cream parlour. That some of the road was built in a rush can be seen by the need in 1971 to demolish the German Sport Hall and a number of points of damage on the rear of the houses. Note the rear: when the National People's Army marched along the pompous street, the reality of Socialism was to be hidden from the watching television cameras. Renamed after Karl-Marx, the avenue remains impressive and is well worth a visit.

Remains of the Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall at Niederkirchner Strasse (in front of the Gropius building)

Invalid's Cementry

Watchtower Erna-Berger Straße