We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and went to drop our bags at the station until our night train. We headed back into the centre determined to see some more of this lovely city and learn some more of its history.
First we headed for ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ which was one of the most important crossing points between East and West Berlin and was nicknamed such by the Americans (’Charlie’ is from the NATO phonetic alphabet as this was the 3rd major checkpoint). We didn’t go into the museum as it was very overpriced but there was ample information for free on the billboards along the pavement.
The wall was built around West Berlin which was controlled by the Allied troops (US, UK and France). The East of Berlin and the rest of Eastern Germany were controlled by the Soviets. These two ’sides’ represented the victorious parties of WWII and left West Berlin and a kind of island in East Germany with limited passage to the West.
The Soviets favoured communism whilst the Allies wanted to promote democracy. Hence Germany and Berlin were literally split in two. The wall divided streets, neighbourhoods, friends and families. The Soviets made several attempts to force the Allies to give up West Berlin by erecting the wall and militarising it with guardtowers and the so-called death strip.
Over 100 people died trying to cross from the poor and communist East to the West side of the city employing various elaborate methods to trick the Soviet guards. If they were caught they would be arrested or shot. Guards would get pay bonuses for killing escaping civilians. The wall came down in 1989 as the Cold War came to an end and Berlin was then reunited.
The longest remaining stretch of the wall lies outside the ‘Topography of Terror’. This site is supposed to be a museum to commemorate the headquarters of the SS and Gestapo. The museum however is a temporary open-air exhibition due to an epic 15-year political and financial cock-up worthy of a UK government project. The fact that the museum is ‘temporary’ detracts from its effectiveness in demonstrating what the building, detroyed after the war, would have been like. It was interesting but not as good as the similar museum in Budapest.
Dinner was in an Australian Bar in Potsdamerplatz and later we headed for the station to catch our overnight train to Brussels.