November 9, 2019, marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Throughout the year, and likely beyond, commemorative events will be held throughout the city to reflect on what Visit Berlin calls going “from walled city to world city.” Plans include a full festival and concert at the Brandenburg Gate.
If you’re heading to the festivities, or to visit what remains of the wall in general, there are several things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure an engaging and respectful visit. First of all, the Berlin Wall today is not one site but a series of historical sites including the East Side Gallery, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and Checkpoint Charlie. Further remains of the wall can also be found at the Old St. Hedwig Cemetery, the Bornholmer Straße border crossing and other parks, cemeteries and sites. Fun fact: the most recently discovered stretch of the Berlin Wall was uncovered in only 2018! The wall was covered in overgrown shrubbery in a residential area of northwest Berlin.
Here are some tips for tourists making the trek:
1. Mind your poses
Looking for photo ops? The East Side Gallery is quite Instagrammable, with colourful street art to act as backdrops. While it is made up of fun colours, it’s important to keep in mind that this is also a site of difficult history — and recent history at that. Keep poses respectful — or better, just take photos of the art itself. Photos are permitted at the memorial site as well, but this is less a place to pose and definitely best suited to images where the relics stand alone. Some seem inclined to pose at the wall in ways that suggest they are trapped, separated, or escaping — this is inadvisable. There’s nothing wrong with taking a respectful photo during your visit, but it’s important not to mock the history of suffering at this site.
2. Watch where you snack
Eating and drinking are prohibited in the Documentation Center and lookout tower of the Berlin Wall Memorial. Feel free to bring a bite to eat and enjoy it outside, or stop by the café next to the centre, but snacking inside is not permitted. The centre is full of interesting information, but probably won’t run you more than an hour, so it should be easy enough to plan around this rule.
3. Hands off
If you visit the Berlin Wall Memorial, you may come across candles and flowers left as tribute to those lost. Explore the photo wall carefully without touching these gifts.
4. Keep voices low inside the Chapel of Reconciliation
The Chapel of Reconciliation stands where the Reconciliation Church once did. Once inaccessible, due to being within the death strip, you are now able to visit the chapel. You’ll find the original altar preserved, as well as the original bells. The Book of Wall Victims, found on the new alter, tells the stories of the 136 lives lost, for which prayer services are held at noon Tuesday to Friday. Signs inside the building itself will remind you to please be quiet during your visit as a sign of respect.
6. Know what to expect when you visit Checkpoint Charlie
Important to remember: Checkpoint Charlie is a replica, not a preserved piece of history. That said, it’s quite realistic and is known to stir up emotions. Tip: early morning and later evening visits will come with smaller crowds.