When you think of Berlin, visions of "the Wall" immediately come to mind. There's so much WWII and cold war history in this town, it's an awe-inspiring experience just to be here. One of the first things you notice when entering Berlin for the first time is the number of cranes you see across the skyline. This city suffered such tremendous damage from wars that it is still trying to rebuild.
We only allocated a few hours to get a flavor for Berlin and to check out the Wall, so we didn't have too many stories to tell here. But it's worth a longer visit on our next trip. I can still remember the day when the Wall came down in 1989. I remember seeing on TV the sheer joy and jubilation on the tear-streaked faces of Berliners as they climbed on top of the Wall and tore at it with bare hands. I can remember one dude standing on top of the Wall and raising his arms in victory with a piece of the Wall in each hand. After decades of repression and frustration, who can blame him? It was just a powerful and unforgettable scene.
In search of the remains of the Wall, we came across a temporary display named "the Topography of Terror" set up on the former site of the SS headquarters, which has long since been leveled. The canopy covers what's left of the building foundations, and documentary photos and displays hang from the remains of the brickwork. Here Scott, Robert, and Katie are pensively pondering the historical significance of this display. (Actually, they're probably wondering what's for lunch, since the whole display was in German, and we couldn't understand it.)
This is the famous "Checkpoint Charlie" where a road connected the East and West sides. The plaque you see warning people they are leaving the American Sector has been used in numerous cold war films.
Right next to Checkpoint Charlie, there's a museum (conveniently named Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) dedicated to the strife of Berliners as they tried to escape persecution and risked their lives to get across, over, under, around, or through the Wall. Here's one man's solution. Weld one-inch thick steel plates into a car and just drive through! (Visions of the movie Gauntlet come to mind.) You can see the bullet holes on the plates where the windshield would be.
Success! We finally found the Wall. Looks peaceful now with the trees and the setting sun, but it must have been quite the sight 10 years ago. This is the Western side, which is actually south at this particular spot. Actually this area would have been the beginning of the no-man's land between the wall and the American Sector.
Katie, Scott, and I standing up against the Wall on the Eastern side. I kept trying to conjure up in my mind what it would have felt like staring at this side of the Wall 10 years ago as a Berliner, knowing freedom is just a few hundred feet on the other side...