A House Destroyed by the Berlin Wall and Other Things to See at the Berlin Wall Memorial
When visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial during my time in Berlin, the thing that stuck out most to me wasn’t in fact the remains of the wall, but a home. An apartment building in fact. Apartment Bernauer Straße 10a.
While walking around the Berlin Wall Memorial, you’ll read numerous accounts of escape. So quickly was the Berlin Wall set up that the government didn’t even have time to clear out the houses that were right on the street of Bernauer Straße, which ran right next to the border. Bernauer Straße 10a was one such residential building and you can see the remains of it today when touring the Berlin Wall Memorial.
You’ll read about how the residents of Bernauer Straße had the best chance for escape in the beginning after they were moved into upper levels of the buildings while the doors and windows down below were blockaded.
Forced evacuations started once the SED (the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) realized residents were jumping from their upper level windows to escape into West Berlin. After the residents were forced to move those windows were also closed up. In the remains you’ll come across while visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial, you can still see remnants of the lower window openings that were bricked up in 1961.
As I stared at the remains of Bernauer Straße 10a, the residential building that has come to signify all the buildings that were forced to be evacuated along Bernauer Straße, I tried to imagine suddenly being told to leave my home, a home that straddled two worlds with friends and family in both. If I still had the time before the force evacuations and boarded up windows and doors were implemented, did I flee to the west and leave behind any hope of returning to my home (a hope that would prove to be a futile one for those that lived on Bernauer Straße) and losing contact with those I loved in the east? Or did I stay in the east, technically my home even though I had crossed the border swiftly and frequently just days earlier, and hope for fast peace?
As is well known, peace and unity didn’t come to Berlin for a long time. Not until November 9, 1989 when the wall came down. A day so profound that I still remember it despite being barely eight years old.
For former residents of Bernauer Straße, the downfall of the wall didn’t mean they could return home though, for their former border home was part of the wall now. In 1965, most of the apartments were torn down except for the basement level and wall strip was laid over the top. Some building fronts remained, standing in front of the wall like a sad attempt at a mask of what was going on in East Berlin. These remaining hollow facades were torn down in 1980, making way for a new, more fortified wall.
Walking around these remains gives levity to the history of the city. Berlin is now so vibrant and cosmopolitan, with new skyscrapers and apartment buildings, that it’s almost easy to forget about the destruction and the divide that once dominated the city. Lost homes, but a hopeful future.
Visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall Memorial is a large public area that has a walking path leading you through the area where the Berlin Wall stood and has different learning stations that tell the moving stories of families separated by the Wall, tragic and successful escape attempts, and the details of when and how the Berlin Wall came to be. Remnants of the Wall can still be seen and even touched. In addition to learning more about the buildings of Bernauer Straße, you can also learn about the tunnels dug underneath the wall from East Berlin in an attempt to escape to West Berlin plus visit the Berlin Wall Documentation Center.
The Berlin Wall Documentation Center is a monumental building that has multiple levels and a viewing platform on top to see the remains of the Wall stretching down Bernauer Straße. In the Berlin Wall Documentation Center, you’ll tour multiple levels of the structure, one of which has a museum which details out what it was like to live in East Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall.
Berlin Wall Memorial Quick Tips
Address: Bernauer Straße 111
Metro Stop: U Bernauer Str.
One Day Tip: Even if you skip the museum in the Berlin Wall Documentation Center, a jaunt to the top is worth it for a bird’s eye view of where the Berlin Wall was; it gives you a great feel for the scope of the wall when it was constructed.