We finished our tour near the twin German Cathedral and the French Cathedrals. Can’t remember the name of the Platz, but as usual, the Square was huge. We wanted to find our way to Bernauer Strafze, as we’d been told by a stranger in the train station that was where they were preserving the wall, and No Man’s Land. Bernauer Strafze also had a Museum for documentation, which we did not manage to see, as we were short on time and I had to get back to the airport. I’m assuming that it would document all the requirements to enter West Berlin and vice versa.
Bernauer Strafze is not a touristy area. Even though it’s been cleaned up, there is still a grittiness about it. Though some preservation of the Wall is taking place, it’s primarily in a residential district. But it gave good insight into how terribly the Wall impact on the lives of ordinary people – how it split an entire community of people. On Bernauer Strafze, one side was West controlled, and on the other side was controlled by the East. There used to be buildings that lined the street on both sides, and a church. This was the local church.
When East Germany decided to put the Wall up, they went along the line of the walls of the apartment blocks and blocked up all the windows and doors that faced the street. Where buildings sat slightly back from the street, they built a temporary wall. Suddenly, half the local residents could not go to church, only the East Berliners could. This went on for several weeks, until all residents in the apartment blocks on the East Germany side of Bernauer Strafze were evicted. They then brought machines that demolished these apartment blocks from the back of it, so that all that was eventually left were the facades of the front of the apartment. Over time, this was removed and replaced with a more permanent wall. Initially, walls had barbed wires on the top. Later the East Germans realised that if people had come this far, they would be desperate enough to use the barbed wires to haul themselves over the wall. So, barbed wires were replaced by rounded concrete piping.
People were so desperate when they began blocking up the doors and windows that they jumped out of their apartment windows onto the pavement below. Because the pavement was West Berlin. Quite a few people died this way. No one knows quite how many people died trying to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin.
They also have preserved No Man’s Land, or the Dead Zone. Behind this is built another wall. What it means is that people had to cross 2 walls in order to escape. Once in No Man’s Land, you could be shot on sight. It was also mined with movement sensors, triggers, and guard-dogs. We were out sightseeing on a beautiful sunny day in Berlin. So it made it harder to imagine the stressful lives the East Berliners would have lived. I’m sure the residents on the West side of Bernauer Strafze would have felt a certain amount of stress since some of the apartment blocks were tall enough to look over the wall. I’m sure many had friends who lived only on the other side. There is a definite sadness about this place.
The church was left abandoned in No Man’s Land for many years, until it was completely demolished in 1985 – 4 years before the wall came down.
Berlin is an place of contrasts. It’s fascinating to see how a place rich in cultural traditions and history, becomes a military and mechanistic society, how hatred led to the destruction of races of people and war. Berlin is reunited and rebuilt and has its unique charm, and I absolutely enjoyed visiting the place. But it’s also bittersweet, since it’s a place where hatred, opinion, politics and power clashed in one city.