History Comes Full Circle
Berlin Before and After the Wall
Berlin is celebrating another historical landmark on Monday. February 5 marks 28 years, two months and 26 days since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is the exact same amount of time as it once stood.
The Berlin Wall was built on Aug. 13, 1961, and it fell on Nov. 9, 1989. This week's anniversary brings those events full circle. It's been said before that people who lose an appendage can later experience phantom pain, but it's hard to imagine too many people missing the Berlin Wall in such a way. At the same time, it's unlikely the city will ever forget entirely the wounds created by Berlin's long division into communist East and democratic West Berlin, even though the border scars have healed, the districts have grown together and most segments of the wall and its watch towers have vanished.
It's worth taking a look at how Berlin has changed in those years. The sliders below provide before and after images of sites located where the Berlin Wall used to run.
Painted freedom: For years, visitors to the street Waldemarstrasse could only see the tip of Berlin's St. Michael Church. Artist Yadegar Asisi, who would go on to become a famous painter of sweeping panoramic images in Germany, found a creative way to rectify the problem in 1986 by painting the bits that couldn't be seen on the West Berlin side of the wall. Today, the original view has been restored.
From death strip to green strip: Then as now, the German flag fluttered in the wind from the Reichstag, now home to Germany's parliament. But both the view and the building have changed dramatically in the intervening years.
A hole in the wall: On Nov. 11, 1989, thousands of East Berlin residents flooded through a hole in the Wall that had been torn by a bulldozer on Eberswalder Strasse in the city's Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. Today, it just feels like a normal neighborhood.
Crossing the bridge: Glienicker Bridge, which once divided the western edge of West Berlin from Potsdam in East Germany, was famous for its use as the site of spy swaps. Almost three decades later, however, it has become a completely normal bridge, albeit one with a lot of history.
Cut off: Residents of East Berlin stroll along Eberswalder Strasse at the intersection of Oderberger Strasse directly next to the Berlin Wall in this photograph dating from 1968. In this image, the perspective is seen from the western side on Bernauer Strasse. Today, there are few traces left at this spot of the former division.
Gone, but not forgotten: The East German government demolished the tower of the Chapel of Reconciliation in January 1985. Located as it was within the wall's so-called death strip, the East German regime considered it a nuisance that got in the way of monitoring the wall. After reunification, a memorial to the church was built on the site.
Berlin's biggest party -- ever: The photos from the party that took shape in the night and days that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 will always be remembered. People from both sides of the wall converged and embraced at the Brandenburg Gate. A decade later, the wall was gone and cars could drive through the portal, but the Brandenburg Gate still looked worse for the wear. It would later be renovated and completely closed to automobile traffic.
Checkpoint Charlie: The legendary Cold War border crossing between the former American and Soviet sectors is still recognizable 28 years later and serves as a tourist magnet.
Anger: The Berlin Wall as seen near Potsdamer Platz square in 1984. The graffiti, painted on the West Berlin side of the wall, reads: "The Federal Republic of Germany, a criminal nation." But the word "Liebe," or love, can also been seen. Decades later, heads have cooled.
Warnings have been replaced by advertising: The former border crossing at Heinrich-Heine-Strasse also looks like a totally normal street today. During Cold War times, it was the crossing used to process goods and mail being delivered between the two sides of the city. The checkpoint became famous for several escape attempts from East Germany that took tragic turns. One took place in April 1962, when two men successfully drove a truck through the barrier. But the vehicle's driver died on the spot after being shot by border guards.
Getting a taste of the West: On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, citizens of East Germany crossed into the West at the checkpoint in Invalidenstrasse, after the once heavily guarded border was suddenly opened. Today it isn't crowds of enthusiastic people that get backed up here -- it's traffic jams.
A monument to Berlin: The Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Berlin and its division, photographed here in 1987 and 2014.
A view of the class enemy: Checkpoint Charlie, photographed in 1982 and some 20 years after the fall of the wall.
From no man's land to everyman's land: Cars drive streets today that were once inside the deadly no-man's land of the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate. The older photo was taken just before the fall of the wall. The new one was taken from the same perspective in 2014.
The photographs may suggest the opposite, but the Berlin Wall hasn't disappeared entirely in the German capital. Very small bits of it can still be found. But many historians and champions of protecting historical monuments argue that the bulldozers arrived too quickly in 1989 and that not enough of the former Berlin Wall was preserved as a reminder of the Cold War, one of the defining eras of German history.