Sample Life in the GDR
On August 13, 1961 work began on the Berlin Wall, a controversial barricade that divided a city and imprisoned a nation. The wall fell in 1989, but the Cold War has not been completely forgotten in the German capital. Sample what life was like in the former German Democratic Republic by visiting these fascinating attractions.
Gesundbrunnen underground station, Brunnenstraße
Go beneath the city streets on a subterranean adventure through Berlin’s dark past. One of the most fascinating yet starkly frightening tours offered by the volunteers at Berliner Unterwelten explores a Cold War nuclear attack bunker built into Pankstrasse underground station. This multi-purpose facility, created in 1977, served not only as a stop for commuters, but in an emergency it could shelter over 3,330 people for up to two weeks. It has only recently been decommissioned and remains completely intact, right down to the generous stock of body bags.
Open all year.
Cost: Adults 10 Euro, children 6 Euro
Hit the streets in the original socialist ‘people’s car’. Rolling past Berlin’s major landmarks you drive your own Trabant, which will seat up to four people. Despite the tiny two-stroke engine, tricky revolver-style gearshift and sluggish reputation, the cars are remarkable nippy and, once you have worked out the various niggles and nuances, great fun to drive. Trabi Safari offers two hour-long convoy-style tours – Berlin Classic and Wild East – and commentary is relayed by radio from a guide in the lead car.
Open all year, 10am-6pm
Cost: From 30 Euros per person
East Side Gallery
While graffiti blights much of what remains of the Berlin Wall, at the East Side Gallery over 100 massive murals adorn a 1.3km long section of the barricade, creating the largest open-air art exhibition in the world. Artists from across the globe offer their individual take on socialism and the events of 1989. It is an inspiring but often perplexing blend of utopianism, satire, caricature and realism.
Open all year
Appealing to adults and children, the hands-on exhibits offer a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the average East German family. Housed in a bunker-like complex opposite Berlin Cathedral – and just a stone’s throw from the site of the former Palace of the Republic – visitors can enjoy a Trabant ride through a concrete-slab housing estate, flick through the limited range of TV channels in an authentic GDR living room and soak up the sun on a typical socialist break to a nudist beach.
Open all year, 10am-8pm
Cost: Adults 6 Euro, children 4 Euro
Walk the Wall
The Berlin Wall may have been pulled down in 1989, but fragments remain throughout the city and one of the best ways to discover them is on foot. The Berlin Wall Trail is 163km in length. If that sounds like too much of a hike, pick up Mauer Guide’s multi-media handset at central underground stations and make a GPS-guided beeline for 20 key sites including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Kieler Strabe watchtower and a lengthy stretch of wall at Niederkirchner Strabe, adjacent to the much feared former Secret State Police HQ.
Open all year, 10am-6pm
Cost: 8 Euros
Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall was more than simply a wall. A multi-layered system of watchtowers, barricades and fortifications – including carpets of steel spikes known as ‘Stalin’s lawn’ – was constructed within a frontier known as the ‘death strip’. At the Berlin Wall Memorial, part of this dreaded no man’s land has been preserved, bringing sharply into focus the true challenge facing East Germans determined to escape to the west. Over 130 people are known to have died attempting to cross the frontier between 1961 and 1989, although the actual number is thought to be much higher.
Open all year, Tues-Sun, 9.30am-6pm