My visit to the Berlin Wall

berlin wall

Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!” (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!) – Walter Ulbricht

berlin escape plane

I went to Germany last year and our last stop before Frankfurt was Berlin. This is the birthplace of the (in)famous Berlin Wall. It was built in 1961 to separate the socialist East Germany from the democratic West Germany. Confusingly, the socialist East Germans called themselves the German Democratic Republic but in effect, the Berlin Wall split Berlin into two parts – East Berlin and West Berlin.

berlin hook escape text
Using a arrow with a fishing line to escape…

hook escape berlin
…with the original contraption here.

You can read more about the politics behind it in Wikipedia but for people on the ground, it just created two different versions of currywurst. smirk I’m kidding, it had a lot of watchtowers, death zones and creative people smuggling methods but nowadays, it’s just another tourist trap which you need to pay to have your photograph taken. It is however, a very interesting tourist trap.

checkpoint-charlie

I’ve also been to the Korean DMZ but the important difference between the two is that one of them has been brought down (no the DMZ is perfectly intact).

berlin wall art

The fall of the Berlin Wall has brought capitalism into full force – there’s a museum there that sells chunks of the Berlin Wall for up to 50 Euros (which comes complete with a certificate of authenticity). Picking up fragments of the Berlin Wall is illegal – it has to be done by the museum, no kidding, that’s democracy for you! ;)

berlin museum

I went to the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie – also known as Mauermuseum (The Wall Museum) – and surreptitiously took a couple of photographs. You’re not supposed to but then again it’s not enforced so I just took a couple of non-flash pictures.

car boot berlin

You can see the full extent of what it’s like to live there when the Berlin Wall was intact. People were smuggled from East Berlin to West Berlin through the checkpoint in the Berlin Wall (occasionally with bullets flying from behind as the US-backed West Berlin brought the refugees to safety).

suitcase escape

There were people packed in suitcases! This is a life-sized example and I can imagine how desperate the people were to escape to subject themselves to this. Some of these suitcases were hand-carried through (!!!) while some hidden between real luggage in the boot of a car. Keep in mind that if you get caught, you do not pass Go and you certainly don’t collect $200 dollars.

fake cans berlin

Banned illegal literature were also smuggled the other way (West Berlin to East Berlin) via canned goods, which were actually empty. This is the actual canning machine and cans used at that time – it was donated to the museum like the other exhibits.

fake bottom trunk

The most interesting thing about this museum is that they had all the actual suitcases, cars, and even planes that people used to circumvent the Berlin Wall!

hot air balloon

There’s even a successful attempt by hot air balloon (a homemade one stitched out of nylon to boot) which brought 2 families (8 people) over to West Germany in a 28 minute flight.

kayak escape

One dude even attempted to kayak through the patrolled waters. The “kayak” was made of inflatable material, with aluminium foil to er, foil radar, and the sail was built of hockey sticks! He succeeded.

berlin mini sub

Another interesting water escape was done with a home-made mini submarine. It’s the first of it’s kind in the world, an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline. The guy who built it was a 28 year old chemical worker who took a year to build the sub. Bernd Bottger was hired after he escaped via heavy seas and apparently a lot of the mini subs now is based on his design! You know, the propelling subs you see in James Bond films – this guy invented those with several patents to his name! There are sports/rescue models doing 6 mph and military ones nowadays hitting 11 mph using this design.

mini sub berlin

However, the thing that I found most amazing is a family of four that escaped with a totally wacky home made plane. This “plane” is made up of all sorts of junk – the father made a seat, hooked up a car engine (!) to a propeller, put a piece of plywood for his wife and two children, donned a helmet and wished for the best.

homemade plane

The “plane” is still in the museum.

homemade plane berlin

I bought two pieces of original Berlin Wall fragments with documents of authenticity. One of them is in my home in Sibu. It’s just pieces of rock but it comes with a blue certificate and a booklet about the Berlin Wall – perfect piece for coffee table or mantle.

berlin wall memorial

The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) is a much more interesting place to go – you can see the horrors of what actually happened (which is no joke, a lot of people died trying to sneak over and you can see how hard it is to actually make the crossing).

bulletproof car

However, in the spirit of democracy (and it’s partner commercialism) I also went to Checkpoint Charlie to get my photo taken. This is the only border crossing in the Berlin Wall which allows foreigners (diplomats like Americans) to cross. It’s now staffed by Germans in Allied uniform and what the online trip reports tell you is true.

berlin wall portrait

They don’t allow people to take photos without paying up first. They’ll use the huge American flags to cover the checkpoint and themselves if you attempt to take a photo. No kidding! However, for a small token payment they’ll be happy to give you a cap and pose with you. I paid 2 Euros for a photo op.

checkpoint charlie photo

A fellow traveler took this one for me. A lot of other people tried to take opportunistic photos and the two guards even covered *me* with the American flag (including themselves and the checkpoint) all the while shouting “No photos without payment” or something to that effect.

berlin wall line

It seriously took me 5 minutes just to get my photo taken coz they cover everything up whenever someone tries to take a photo so my friend had to get it during the lull (and they had to verify with me that she was indeed the person that was designated to take my photo).

american sector

All this for just a couple of Euros. That’s what the Berlin Wall has come to but it is a highly entertaining place – both blue cheese kitschy and drop dead somber at the same time. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Berlin! :)

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20 thoughts on “My visit to the Berlin Wall

    • Yeah, it’s a lot of fun! :)

      You’ll love it if you like historical events. I enjoyed Dresden the most though – it’s a beautiful place, the people there still harbor a little resentment against the Allies for the unnecessary firebombing of the entire city though, but it’s a nice and friendly place.

      I even stayed at the same hotel President Obama did!

    • I would highly recommend it! :)

      Germany is one of my favorite places in Europe due to it’s interesting and rather complex history and how they (kinda) overreact to it now with swastikas and Nazi salutes being illegal.

      It’s an interesting place, it’s like they’re *still* trying to make amends for something that happened a long time ago…and who’s to judge, the US did plenty of their own atrocities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki to name two).

    • Yeah, they do sell the fragments from the wall! :)

      I bought two of them – it’s a wonderful souvenir since only the museum is allowed to sell it (there are dodgy street vendors trying to sell it to tourists too but they don’t have the certificate of authenticity, the nice packaging, and the booklet about the Berlin Wall).

      You can’t pick them from the wall, that’s against the law since it’s a historical site with “standoff velvet ropes (except these are steel and outdoors)” much like art galleries in France. There’s still parts of the wall standing.

    • Haha! Yeah, that’s globalization for you! :)

      McDonald’s in Germany actually serves beer! I ate there just to have their McRib and a pint of beer from McDonald’s. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while – to drink beer at McDonald’s!

      I loved the Berlin Wall too but my favorite part has to be Dresden. It’s a beautiful place with a bit of a history (Allies firebombed it at a rather controversial timing, causing a lot of civilian deaths).

    • Nice! Yeah, there’s a lot of stories about the Berlin Wall! :)

      Some good, most bad, but real life stories nonetheless. You should go and visit since you’re already in Europe. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to travel when you’re there.

      I went to several places during my second trip to Europe – flying via Adam Air or EasyJet or using their train/bus system. I went as far as Georgia (the ex-USSR state). It was a lot of fun!

    • Thanks Mei! :)

      They’re Germans wearing Allied uniforms standing at Checkpoint Charlie. You can take a photo with them for Euro 2. It’s commercialized but I those people have to be compensated for their time standing there too. Haha!

      I took photos with them too, it took ages coz a lot of people didn’t want to donate and took opportunistic photos so they had to cover up and politely told me to wait until they were gone. Weird experience.

  1. I wish to go there someday! The historical story is wonderful! So many creative ways to escape and I remember when the wall was brought down on TV.

    • Yeah, you have to visit if you go to Germany! :)

      It’s one of the significant places in history. There’s a lot in Germany and Austria but the general consensus there is that most people would like to forget about the Third Reich. I found most Germans to be really nice although I read news reports saying the neo-Nazi movement is on the rise especially with youths.

      I saw that on television too! I was old enough to understand then, guess that shows my age. Haha!

  2. Oh boy! You damn lucky to have visited the Berlin Wall. My friend bought some small bricks from souvenir shops there. I doubt they were really pinched from the Berlin Wall…!!! LOL

    I love that museum you visited, interesting and different. I never fail to visit museums in any foreign country. It is like being able to connect deeper into their pasts.

    • Yup, I bought the pieces of Berlin Wall too! :)

      Only the museum sells the legitimate ones with certificate of authenticity though. I’ve seen street vendors selling it too but I hear it’s not the original ones e.g. not actually from Berlin Wall.

      I’ll rather pay the premium to get it from The Wall Museum. It’s expensive though – 50 Euros for a piece like a 50 cent coin!

      Me too! I love museums and stuff like these.

    • Hey thanks for the correction Stephen! :)

      Yup, I got confused and we actually went to the Berlin Wall Memorial where you can see the scale of what the wall was like too! I am planning to put that in another post so I just gave it a short mention here coz this is the more “commercialized” one while the other is more serious.

      Thanks for reading buddy! Cheers for all the links too, that’s a good way for people unfamiliar with Berlin Wall history to catch up on it!

  3. Oh, wow, we’re just talking about the Berlin Wall a couple of weeks ago in the World History class.

    Reading your post has definitely provided more context to what my lecturer mentioned. ^_^ The last I remembered about the Berlin Wall was that it was built somewhere during the Cold War and knocked down in 1989 during the German Unification. =)

    • Thanks Ciana! :)

      I remember vividly when it was knocked down – I was old enough to understand such things (with the help of my parents anyway, they explained what was happening, I think TV2 covered it live).

      The other thing I remember vividly was the first Gulf War (Bush Sr’s war) and the countdown on the TV each day. I knew that war was going to happen while my parents were hoping that Saddam would withdraw before that. I was 14 at that time.

      I would recommend visiting Dresden if you’re in Germany too (besides the usual Holocaust tours, Nuremberg and Austria). It’s the city that was firebombed after the Germany technically surrendered (that’s the sentiment of the locals, which is still very strong nowadays). I found that quite amazing, the amount of hurt that the city was firebombed, even after all these years, and this is from people *younger* than me e.g. our female guide in her early 20’s.

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