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Culture

Where's the Berlin Wall?

This Tuesday marks the 41st anniversary of the Berlin Wall's construction. In the past year the city has rushed to preserve the remaining remants of the Cold War symbol for the sake of history and curious tourists.

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Go for it! - zealous attempts to demolish the hated wall on November 12, 1989

The scene rarely varies.

A busload of tourists with cameras slung around their necks are emptied near the famous "wall museum" Checkpoint Charlie in East Berlin. Amid the excited babble of voices and whirring of cameras, the question "so where is the wall?" is bound to be heard.

Almost 41 years after the wall was built and 13 years after it was hacked and demolished to roars of hearty approval, nothing appears more fascinating to visitors to Berlin than to see for themselves the wall that once sliced the city.

So, where's the wall?

Peter Wess of the city sightseeing company, "Berlin Starting Point" told DW-WORLD that "there’s a huge interest for the Berlin Wall especially among tourists from English-speaking countries and in particular the Americans.

"They aren’t too interested in Prussian history, but rather German history of the 20th century and the wall is one of the most important themes," he said.

But tourists to Berlin need to have a good imagination to try and visually reconstruct the 43.1 kilometere concrete structure that once ran through the German capital and divided a people.

All that’s visible today is a double row of cobblestones in some parts of downtown Berlin to mark the original route of the wall, a few memorials and plaques and truncated scraps of graffiti-splattered wall.

Did you know?

The Bernauerstrasse, that marks the boundary between the districts, Mitte that was formerly the Soviet sector and Wedding that belonged to the French sector, was a closed guarded border and the scene of several escape attempts from the east to the west. Today it houses the Memorial of Division, which includes a 70 metre section of the original wall and a documentation centre on the wall.

Similarly not far off, the Invalidenfriedhof cemetery also houses some stretches of the wall as well as a look-out tower. A large number of graves in the cemetery were moved during the Cold war to make way for watchtowers and a tarmacked strip.

Peter Wess says that another important part of the original Berlin Wall is the 200-metre-long stretch in the Niederkirchnerstrasse that once marked the border between the eastern district of Mitte and the western district of Kreuzberg. This bit of the wall has now been preserved as the northern-most tip of an exhibition at the site of the former Gestapo headquarters called the "Topography of Terror." Both wall and exhibition serve to document the inhumanity mankind is capable of.

Better known remnants of the wall

A popular destination for wall detectives and one that finds mention in every available city guide on Berlin is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum on Friedrichstrasse.

Once a pre-fabricated monitoring tower erected by the Allies in the American sector after the erection of the Berlin Wall, it today houses a museum on the history of the wall and exhibitions on human rights. The souvenir shop here also sells pieces of the wall, a hot-selling item among tourists.

To the west of the museum lies the East Side Gallery in the Mühlenstrasse, the largest surviving chunk of the wall. It is a full 1,300-metres-long and also a massive open-air art gallery. After the wall was opened in 1989, hundreds of artists from all over the world transformed the plain eastern side of the wall into a drawing-board for their art. The result is a spectacular display of colour and shapes on what was once grey concrete.

Die Berliner Mauer

East Side Gallery

City wakes up to the potential of the wall

Realising the tourist magnet that the last bits of the wall had become, city authorities last year placed them under the monument protection act and thus took responsibility for their preservation and restoration.

Petra Rohland, spokeswoman for the Senate Administration for City Development told DW-WORLD that "we’re trying to integrate the last remains of the Berlin Wall in the city profile – as an admonishment as well as proof of a living history.

She admits that the city's coffers are empty, so there can't be any "luxurious restoration". But she says that the interest in the Berlin Wall world-wide is so overwhelming that "there are always some takers for shouldering the costs".

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