I’m about to piss off a lot of people. I already know I am, and I’ve accepted that. This was originally going to be a post about our favorite things to do in Berlin, but it turned into a rant about one landmark and a love affair with its counterpart. So, I’ve deleted everything else, and we’re just going to talk about the Berlin Wall.
Forget the East Side Gallery. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t see it listed on a blog. If you live in the area or if you have a lot of time to spend in Berlin, check it out. Otherwise, drop it. It’s touristy and kitschy and it’s been restored (not in a good way). While I am a fan and a student of the arts, but know that art is very subjective, I can confidently say that a lot of the art there really isn’t that good, despite its meaning. (I actually enjoyed looking at the graffiti on the backside of the gallery about 1000x more than looking at the gallery itself.) And if you’re me, you’ll be seriously angered that the artists who did participate in the restoration plastered their phone numbers and email addresses and websites on the artwork. I understand it’s the digital age, but all that does is contribute to the kitschiness of the whole thing. Not to mention the fact that some of the artists had to sue the city in 2011 after their works were reproduced/repainted without their permission.
Maybe I’m going overboard or my attitude was adversely affected by the bad weather when I was there. But I cannot lie: I utterly hate the East Side Gallery.
I know that’s a lot of ranting, but that’s just the tip of my anger about that place. I understand the history and the significance of it. I totally get it. I get what it stands for and why it’s so important. I can respect its legacy, and I can respect the artwork from a historical standpoint. But I cannot support its current state. Hate me all you want, but honesty’s gotta count for something, right?
And, if you want to see murals and graffiti and artwork, all you have to do is be in Berlin. Berlin is a city of murals and graffiti and artwork. You don’t have to get sucked into tourist sights if you want to see that. Just look around. I don’t even have to leave my flat to see those things. No one does. That’s the beauty of Berlin. Well, East Berlin, anyway. Can’t say I spend much time in the west.
Anyway, I’m really just trying to convince you to go to what I hope will never be a massive tourist destination, even though I know it’s going to be overrun in the coming years. That is, the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Only completed in late 2011, the Berlin Wall Memorial is what I consider to be a true representation of the history of the Berlin Wall. It is an incredible park that stretches down Bernauer Straße in the Wedding district, just west of Prenzlauer Berg and north of Mitte. It’s roughly set between the Nordbahnhof station on the west end and the beginning of Eberswalder Straße on the northeast end. The memorial park is basically a self-contained walking tour, complete with photos, printed stories, audio stories, maps, entrances to tunnels dug during the walls existence, the Chapel of Reconciliation, an actual guard tower, an observation deck, a visitor’s center and bookstore, and of course, sections of the wall that are still standing. Everything is beautifully presented and well-manicured, and there are even some murals and photo timelines painted on the walls of apartment buildings that border the park.
This part of the wall actually ran through a residential area of apartment buildings, and it was literally the frontline for friends and families who were split up by the wall. It is where many tunnels were dug and a huge amount of escape attempts took place. When the wall was first built, people could actually jump from apartments to the other side of the wall. How crazy is that? The authorities got wise to it, and started evicting people from buildings along the wall, bricking up windows, and eventually widening the area into a no man’s land. It is a unique story about the people of Bernauer Straße, but it represents everything and anything that was ever related to the struggle for freedom and the Berlin Wall as a whole.
It’s one of those places that is powerful, enjoyable, sad, thought-provoking, and amazingly understated for what will be a major tourist destination. It’s an outdoor museum, is what it is. And it is so. Freaking. Fascinating.
I’m actually still mad at myself that I didn’t know about it when my parents visited in mid-2011. I could have sworn I had seen something on the tram one day, so I dug around on the internet when a friend came to visit only a couple weeks after my parents had left. I found it, and we went. And loved it.
I actually argued with myself about even posting this. Not too long from now, when it’s in all of the guidebooks (if it’s not already) and on every website, it’s going to be overrun in the summer months. But, I know that me not mentioning it is not going to save it from becoming what it will, and I know that it is so good that it cannot be missed. I also got sick of seeing post after post after blog post on about the East Side Gallery. Everyone should see the Berlin Wall Memorial. If you only have so much time here: Forget the Brandenburg Gate, forget the East Side Gallery, forget all those stuffy museums, forget the Reichstag. This is where you need to go.