Travel

5 free things: Cold War legacy in Berlin

A woman inspects original remains of the historical Gestapo and SS buildings at the documentation center Topography of Terror in Berlin.
A woman inspects original remains of the historical Gestapo and SS buildings at the documentation center Topography of Terror in Berlin. AP

In January 1989, then-East German leader Erich Honecker declared that the Berlin Wall could stand for another century. Less than 10 months later the border was open, and soon Berliners were in a hurry to tear down the 96-mile barrier. However, there’s still plenty to see of the Cold War past and many of the historical sites are free.

▪ Where the wall still stands. The Wall’s longest surviving stretch is the East Side Gallery, stretching for more than a quarter mile along the Spree river. Artists covered it in colorful murals after the border opened, adorning it with images such as a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall and a fraternal communist kiss between Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. They repainted the murals in 2009.

A stretch of the barrier stands at the Berlin Wall Memorial (www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/)on Bernauer Strasse, which gives a good impression of how deep a scar the Wall cut through the city.

▪ Layers of history. A third remaining stretch of the Wall runs along the edge of the Topography of Terror memorial site (www.topographie.de/en/), which includes the ruins of buildings where the Gestapo secret police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office ran Adolf Hitler’s police state from 1933 to 1945.

▪ Where spies were swapped. The Glienicke Bridge, on Berlin’s forested southwestern edge, was the setting for a few of the Cold War’s most spectacular spy swaps. In 1962, U.S. spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged there for a Soviet spy known as Rudolf Abel. In 1986, prominent Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky walked across the bridge to freedom. The border was in the middle of the bridge, still painted different shades of green on the two sides of the divide.

The bridge spans the channel between two lakes. From the bridge, you can walk or cycle along the Berlin Wall Trail (www.berlin.de/mauer/mauerweg/index/index.en.php).

▪ Western and Eastern allies. The Allied Museum (www.alliiertenmuseum.de/en/home.html), in the western Dahlem district, focuses on the history of the Western allies’ role in Berlin from 1945 until their last troops withdrew in 1994. The original Checkpoint Charlie border guardhouse stands outside the museum.

Across town in the Karlshorst district, the German-Russian Museum (www.museum-karlshorst.de/en.html) concentrates on the history and consequences of Nazi Germany’s war against the Soviet Union.

▪ Soviet war memorials. World War II left 26.6 million Soviet soldiers and civilians dead, by the official Russian count, and the Soviet Union built three memorials in post-war Berlin. The biggest and most spectacular memorial stands in Treptow, in former East Berlin. Memorial slabs depicting the course of the war, adorned with quotes from Soviet leader Josef Stalin, lead up to a mausoleum topped by the figure of a soldier standing on a shattered swastika.

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