The Berlin Wall is a stark reminder of how the world was physically divided just over thirty years ago. While much was joyfully torn down, this 140km barrier still looms large in the past, present and future of not just Berlin, but the global political landscape. It is unmissable during any visit to the German capital.
Despite the clubs and the music and the Spree and the Döner, many visitors come to Berlin with one thing on their mind: the Wall. This reinforced concrete symbol of the Cold War still resonates as an eerie reminder of how both families and communities and entire cities and planets can be divided by ideology. Construction began before dawn on August 13, 1961, creating a wall that would divide Berlin and stop a drain of people coming from East to West. Then came the death zones, daring escapes and David Hasselhoff concerts, the Wall finally being torn down on November 9, 1989. While much of the Berlin Wall was destroyed or ended up in fragments in souvenir key rings, there are still key places to witness it and learn about one of the world’s most infamous dividing lines. Here are five of the best tours to discover the Berlin Wall:
Berlin Wall & Cold War Bike Tour
Being a very flat city with barely a section of road without a bicycle lane of some sort, many would argue that Berlin is a place best explored on two wheels. There are plenty of bike hire companies and tours but one of the best comes from Berlin on Bike, covering approximately 15 kilometers in 3.5 hours. What this tour does best is giving a knowledgeable overview of some of the Berlin Wall’s most important sites in the city’s Northeast, including tales of successful and fatal escape attempts in and around Mauerpark and Bernauerstraße, all the way to the Brandenburg Gate. For anyone with only a weekend in the German capital this enthusiastic tour gives a real insight without taking a whole day out of the schedule – the consistent five star ratings say it all. From € 32 per person.
Berlin Reunited and Revived!
With a city like Berlin it’s all too easy to focus on the past. War and separation exist like scars on the German capital but constant upheaval and change are very much a problem for the present too. Berlin’s party scene, cheap rent and unique 24hr laid back lifestyle has attracted people in their droves over the last decade or two and with it rapid gentrification and a skyline packed with cranes and hastily erected new apartment blocks. Berlin Reunited and Revived! is pretty unusual in that it attempts to make sense of the city’s transition from a derelict landscape to thriving culture and music hub to a hotspot of upwardly mobile professionals looking to cash in on booming property prices. This English-speaking tour guides visitors through the alternative districts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, to see first hand the areas where long-time residents are battling rising rents, and visits the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall and the longest open-air gallery in the world. On the way will be discussion on the origins and political overtones of Berlin’s famous street art scene. For anyone who wants to delve a bit deeper into the effects of the Berlin Wall’s division and later reunion this tour is a captivating and thought-provoking three hours. From € 299 per group up to 20.
Trabi Safari Berlin: The Wall Ride
Berlin locals may roll their eyes at the sight of a convoy of brightly-painted Trabants weaving through the streets, two-stroke engines screaming like ball bearings in a food processor, but as a way of seeing the capital this tour still takes some beating. The Trabant, or racing cardboard as it’s affectionately known, is as much a symbol of the divided city as the Wall itself and for many years the 135-minute Wall Ride has offered a unique alternative to bus or walking tours. Almost as comical as the car itself is the fact that it’s so easy to get going. After a quick guide through the intricacies of the crunchy four-speed gearbox and local traffic rules, jump into one of the variety of Trabants – convertibles and station wagons included – and it’s off for a unique view of the key sights of the Berlin Wall. The convoy of Trabants passes the East Side Gallery, the death strip, and crosses through Checkpoint Charlie, where passport checks took place on a daily basis for almost 30 years in the divided city. Everything is included in one price, from live radio commentary in each car, to free gas and a special Trabi driver’s license for every new driver. From €99 per person.
Third Reich and Berlin Wall History
While the Berlin Wall is a symbol of the Cold War of the latter part of the 20th Century, its origins lie in the Third Reich and WW2. This tour covers a lot of ground as it whips through Berlin by bike taking in Checkpoint Charlie, Mauerpark, Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin and other important landmarks in Berlin’s recent history, as well as darker location such as the Topography of Terror and the Fuhrerbunker. What it promises is to go deeper than other touristy tours of Berlin and The Wall, with a well-versed local guide giving more insight into what the infamous border tried to achieve. It also visits slightly lesser-known spots in the city’s recent history such as the Humboldthain Flak Tower, designed to defend Berlin from enemy aircraft, now with almost unrivaled views of the city. For anyone looking to piece together the impact that the Nazi period and construction of the Berlin wall has left on Germany’s capital, this is the tour for you. From €32.00.
Berlin Wall and the Cold War Walking Tour
This tour is perfect for anyone not keen on taking a bike (or a rattling Trabi for that matter). Combining walking with public transport (don’t forget a valid AB public transport day ticket), it fits in a lot in its four hour duration, focusing on the hubris of both sides of the Wall as East and West battled for superiority. The key sights are Bornholmer Strasse – the first border point to open in 1989 – and the East Side Gallery, but also Karl-Marx-Allee, aka Stalinallee, with wedding-cake architecture designed to illustrate Communist might during the Cold War. Another lesser-visited place that many tours miss out on is included: Gethsemane Church in Prenzlauer Berg, where brave East German civil rights activists gathered in the late eighties to protest against the regime. This is a good quality tour aimed at those who’d like more than a cursory glance at the history of Berlin. From € 269 per group up to 10.