Mangoes Travel – Berlin, Germany
Walking The Wall with Context Travel
For my first visit to Berlin, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the years of life changing history, to the beautiful and historic buildings, to the wild nightlife which I’d heard so much about through friends inter-railing so many years before.
Earlier this month, we visited the capital of Germany to experience the history, landmarks and the new show at the Friedrichstadt-Palast with the one and only Philip Treacy at the helm as design director – all from our base at the elegant Regent Berlin hotel.
As part of our trip, we worked with Context Travel who offer engaging tours with local experts, especially designed for curious travellers. Led by the lovely and charming Aaron Birchenough – originally from the UK and a qualified archaeologist – he guided us on the Berlin Wall Tour.
The tour traces the footprint of the wall through the city’s centre, unravelling the complex forces that shaped Berlin’s history. I hadn’t discussed the Wall since learning about World War II back in secondary school and Aaron really brought it back to life for us.
From the meaning behind the Wall’s construction, the realities of life in a divided city, the dramatic events of its fall and the rather varied success stories of people who managed to cross the wall, the tour was insightful, creative and eye opening to say the least.
Here are my top 5 facts from the tour:
- The Berlin Wall was actually two walls – the 27-mile portion of the barrier separating East and West Berlin was made up of two concrete walls. In between the two walls was the ‘death strip’ – up to 160 yards wide, the strip contained watchtowers, anti-vehicle trenches, dogs, trip-wire machines and floodlights.
- Some estimates claim that over 5,000 people managed to escaped by going under and over the wall – hiding in secret compartments in cars, digging secret tunnels under the wall and even East German soldiers going against their duties and taking the leap of freedom to West Berlin. My favourite story was of Conrad Schumann, who did exactly this, who was pictured by a photographer in West Berlin at the exact moment he decided to risk his life.
- The longest surviving part of the Berlin Wall is the East Side Gallery which is 1,316km long and the longest open-air gallery in the world. Designed and painted by 118 artists from 21 countries, the East Side Gallery is a must for visitors to the city
- The Wall was built to keep people in, rather than keeping people out – between 1949 and 1961, nearly 3 million people travelled from East Germany to West Germany, with almost everyone travelling through Berlin. Every day, thousands of people in Berlin crossed the border to head to work, to do their shopping or to visit family. Two months before the Wall went up, 67,000 Berliners moved West. When the German Democratic Republic closed the border between East and West Berlin on 3 August 1961, a quick wall was built overnight which immediately stopped the flow of Germans escaping to live and work in the West.
- You can own a little bit of the Wall – it took almost a year for East and West Germany to be reunified. During this time, Berliners chipped and took away parts of the concrete wall for souvenirs. Anyone can now buy a piece of the wall, it’s even on Ebay!
When visiting Berlin, make sure to stay at the beautiful Regent Berlin – a serene escape in a wonderful location, just a stone’s throw away from Berlin’s major sites including the famous Gendarmenmarkt, Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate and the UNESCO-heritage Museum Island, all within a short walk.