Berlin - A vibrant, popular destination
Berlin is Germany’s capital and largest city. It has one of the most turbulent recent histories of any European city but has emerged vibrant and one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations.
The Berlin Wall was both the physical division between West Berlin and East Germany from 1961 to 1989 and one of the most important symbols of the Cold War. The Wall was erected in the dead of night and for 28 years kept East Germans from fleeing to the West. Its destruction, which was nearly as instantaneous as its creation, was celebrated around the world. It began as a simple fence but evolved over time into a complex deterrent system. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there was a 300-foot No-Man's-Land, an additional inner wall, soldiers patrolling with dogs, a raked ground that showed footprints, anti-vehicle trenches, electric fences, massive light systems, watchtowers, bunkers, and minefields. There were only a handful of official openings along the wall. The openings, called checkpoints, were for those with special permission to cross the border. The most famous of these was Checkpoint Charlie, located on the border between East and West Berlin at Friedrichstrasse. Checkpoint Charlie was the main access point for Allied personnel and Westerners to cross the border. Soon after the Berlin Wall was built, Checkpoint Charlie became an icon of the Cold War and was frequently featured in movies and books set during this time period.
Today the Berlin Wall Trail traces the course of the former GDR border fortifications encircling West Berlin, along a total of around 160 kilometers. In most sections, this hiking and bike trail runs along the former patrol road used by customs officers in West Berlin or along the border control road used by GDR border troops for their own patrols. Sections of historic interest, with traces or remains of the old Wall, alternate with stretches of natural beauty. Signs mark the course of the Berlin Wall Trail, and maps displayed at regular intervals help bikers and pedestrians find their bearings. Berlin History Mile stations and the info markers along the Berlin Wall Trail also provide information in several languages on the division of Germany and the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall. Photographs and short texts describe events that happened at the site in question and recall the political situation and everyday life in the divided city. The “Berlin Wall Orientation System” in the city center has maps and listening stations and gives visitors another way to discover traces of the Wall. People who died at the Berlin Wall are recalled at 29 different places along the route with short biographies. These info markers complement the historical memorial markers and crosses still found in what was once West Berlin. The Berlin Wall Trail is divided into 14 individual sections to help you plan a bike tour or a walk. Each section is between seven and 21 kilometers long, and you can reach the beginning and end of each route easily with public transportation. In general, bicycles are permitted on S-Bahn, subway, and regional trains.
Other top things to do:
Alexanderplatz and Fernsehturm TV Tower – Germany’s most famous square and 368m high observation tower for brilliant views of the city.
Brandenburg Gate – Berlin’s remaining city gate is one of the most well known landmarks. The gate was located in no mans land behind the Berlin Wall and was made famous when it was reopened on 22 December 1989. It is a sandstone construction dating from 1791 and supported by 12 Doric columns and is now the centerpiece of Pariser Platz.
East Side Gallery – This open air gallery features graffiti artwork. During the days as a divided city the western side of the wall sported most of its famous graffiti.
Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament is one of Berlin’s most historical landmarks. It now has a new dome and draws one of the biggest crowds in Berlin.