BERLIN: The Wall Up Close

The Berlin Wall is gone … mostly. You find segments still standing in several places. In reality, it’s a permanent scar on the city and the psyches of its longtime residents. The wall has fallen, but the divisions between East and West are deep and long-lasting. My host told me his parents, who live in East Berlin, won’t even vacation in western Germany. They don’t feel comfortable among “western” Germans.

Turning east out of the light-rail station on Bornholmerstrasse, you come immediately to the spot where 20,000 East Germans crossed to the West on November 9, 1989. The main feature of this memorial is this wall segment, about three football fields long, which runs along the eastern edge of the tracks.
The memorial includes these huge photos of what happened that Thursday night. In a news conference that day, a spokesman for the East German central committee unintentionally announced that citizens could travel to West Germany immediately. Google the story. It’s worth it.
Here’s what it looked like.
Here’s how they felt about it.
The wall is not very thick, if it really was intended to keep Western forces from assaulting the East. But it was L-shaped at the bottom and thus deceptively strong. The base of the L was several inches thick and extended several feet into the eastern zone, sometimes underground. It would have been difficult for a truck or even a light tank to knock it down
This stretch of the wall stands below the south end of the bridge I cross to go home from the light-rail station. The wall seems to go straight toward the TV tower in Alexanderplatz, the iconic symbol of East Germany. Looking down on that segment reminds me that my room on Bornholmerstrasse lies about three blocks inside what was the communist East.
On my way home from school, I came to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse, which contains the last piece of the wall with the preserved grounds behind it. Here the division is conveyed by a strip on the ground where the wall ran and poles that show how high the wall was. The poles allow a visitor to pass through with some difficulty.

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