In 1961, the communist authorities decided to build a wall to stop the westward exodus of the population living in eastern Berlin (under Soviet control). Barbed wire was installed on the night of August 12-13, and in the weeks that followed, construction of a 140-kilometre-long concrete wall began.
No man’s land
In June 1962, a second fence was erected, parallel to the wall. A distance of about 100 meters separated these two barriers, leaving an empty space called No man’s land. To prevent people from crossing it, guard towers overlooking the wall were built. These and parts of the wall are now on display in various museums (here at the Allied Museum) dedicated to this period.
Today, around West Berlin, cobblestones still show where the wall was erected.
Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin. It is also the only border crossing through which foreigners could pass.
A symbol of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was built from 1789 to 1791 by Carl Gotthard Langhans. During the Second World War, it suffered a lot of damage and had to be renovated, from 1956 to 1957. After the erection of the Berlin Wall, the gate was in No man’s land and remained a prisoner there for more than 28 years.
The Neue Wache was built from 1816 to 1818 by the Prussian king Frederick William III to house the royal guard. In 1993, the building became the Grand Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the victims of war and tyranny.
Inside the Neue Wache, under a skylight, one can admire a reproduction of The Mother and Her Dead Son, a sculpture by the artist Kollwitz.
The Reichstag Palace was completed in 1894 to house the first Parliament of the German Empire. It was burned down in 1933 and remained in ruins until its reconstruction, which ran from 1961 to 1964. In 1991, a few months after the reunification of Germany, it was decided to move the seat of Parliament, the Bundestag, from Bonn (provisional capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, from 1949 to 1991) to Berlin. The Reichstag Palace was renovated and the dome rebuilt in glass.
The Church of Remembrance
The Church of Remembrance of Emperor William (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ged-chtniskirche) was built from 1891 to 1895. Although severely damaged during the Second World War, it was preserved to recall the horrors of the conflict.
In June 1948, after the Soviet Union imposed a land and river blockade, it became very difficult for West Berlin to source goods, and an airlift was established until 1949. Tempelhof Airport, the third largest building in the world in terms of floor area, played a central role before being closed in October 2008.
Located in the centre of Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt Square is lined with French and German cathedrals. It is one of the most beautiful squares in the capital.