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Still a Few Bricks in the Wall

August 13 marks the 42nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. But these days visitors to Germany's capital may be hard-pressed to locate remnants of the formerly divided city's most famous sight.


Finding the Berlin Wall isn't as easy as it once was.

Tourists in Paris visit the Eiffel Tower, Prague's guests cross the Charles Bridge and in Berlin vacationers go to the Wall.

If they can find it.

For almost 30 years it was Berlin's most famous landmark, but now the "anti-Fascist protective barrier," as it was called in communist East Germany, isn't easy to locate.

Visitors still anxious to explore one of the symbols of the Cold War aren't entirely out of luck. Though most of the 155-kilometers (96 miles) of concrete wall and fences were dismantled years ago, bits and pieces of the border construction encircling West Berlin are still on view.

The most realistic -- and least visited -- place to find remains of the Wall is Bernauer Strasse on the border between the Mitte (east) and Wedding (west) districts. It was here that East Berliners started trying to jump out of the windows of apartment buildings into the west on August 13, 1961, as the Wall was being built.

Recreating the death strip

Touristen an der Berliner Mauer

The Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse

At Bernauer Strasse you see that the Wall actually came in twos. From the eastern side of the Wall Memorial you can peek through gaps in the original concrete plates that made up the structure and get a vague sense of the oppressiveness of the Wall. Instead of a view of the west you see a wasteland of weeds and lampposts and behind them another concrete sheath, the second wall that was erected right next to West Berlin territory.

For an extensive view of the former death strip climb up the recently opened tower at the nearby Berlin Wall Documentation Center to the viewing platform. The Documentation Center tells the history of the Wall, and the adjacent Chapel of Reconciliation recalls the Protestant church that was off-limits to the public after the Wall was built on either side of it. The disused church was torn down 24 years later.

Checkpoint Charlie

Die Berliner Mauer

The first guard house at Checkpoint Charlie is erected.

More wall -- this time just one layer -- can be found on the cobblestone Niederkirchner Strasse, just down the street from Berlin's Senate building and the former border crossing Checkpoint Charlie. The fall of the Wall in November 1989 looks like it was just yesterday here, where the concrete plates are covered in graffiti and the metal girders gape from holes chipped in the fortification.

Flanked by replicas of the guard houses that once stood at the border crossing where the American sector of Berlin ended and the Soviet sector began, the Museum Haus on Checkpoint Charlie also features a permanent exhibition on the Wall, including many of the original contraptions used by the more than 5,000 people who managed to escape over or under it.

Die Berliner Mauer

Strollers pass the East Side Gallery.

The East Side Gallery in the Friedrichshain district of the city gives you the Wall in color. After East Germany collapsed artists covered the once untouchable kilometer-long stretch on Mühlenstrasse with paintings. Now they are flaking and gradually disintegrating, despite the efforts of artists to keep them up, and their future remains uncertain.

On Puschkinallee in the district of Treptow you can go inside the only watchtower open to the public. In 1990 young artists established the Museum of Forbidden Art there and saved the four-story tower from demolition twice. Now the building is under historical protection.

And if you're feeling a sporty, rent a bike and take the Berlin Wall bike path. You can trace the route, but you're not likely to see many remains of the Wall on the way. Only a fourth of the expanse cut through the built-up city, so expect to meander through the surrounding countryside for most of the time and get a first-rate sense of where the locals -- whether from east or west – spent and continue to spend their summers, at the lakes.

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