Berlin Wall Memorial Guide
This post is a guide to the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer), with tips on how to get here, planning your visit, as well as a self-guided tour of this large memorial.
Stretching over 1.4 kilometers (roughly 1 mile) of the Berlin Wall’s foundations, this entirely free memorial is the first stop anyone interested in Berlin’s separated past should visit, boasting a variety of fascinating exhibitions along with an opportunity to experience the Wall as it would have felt from those living on both sides of Bernauer Strasse (and Berlin).
This moving memorial honors the victims of the GDR regime. It also explains the many ways that its citizens tried to escape, including tunnels, and particularly for Bernauer Strasse, jumping from windows and roofs.
The memorial also explains the varied methods that the GDR regime cruelly used to keep its citizens from escaping.
The memorial is also the location of one of the most famous escape attempts, which was captured for posterity when a photographer zoomed in on a young East German Soldier named Conrad Shuman as he lept over barbed wire and into the freedom of West Berlin.
In comparison to the East Side Gallery, the Berlin Wall Memorial is far more educational, and for most visitors, far more interesting. With its documentation center, lookout tower, preserved death strip and content stations, this memorial provides more details and context than the singular (though long) piece of the wall.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
The memorial consists of 3 main parts, a visitor center, a large outdoor exhibit, and a documentation center with a lookout tower. The outdoor exhibit is the largest part and it is divided into 4 sections. We detail all of the exterior components in our main features section.
We recommend starting your visit at the Nordbanhof S-Bahn Station. This is where the Berlin Wall Memorial starts and where the visitor center is located. There is an exhibit inside of the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn Station titled “Ghost Stations”.
Admission is free and you do not need a ticket to visit any parts of the Memorial.
Both the visitor and documentation centers offer free toilets and there is a small cafe located next to the Documentation Center.
The visitor center has a help desk, a small bookshop, an introductory film, and interactive guides that cover all Berlin Wall sights throughout the city.
There is no security check, but eating and drinking are prohibited in the Documentation Center. When stepping inside the Church of Reconciliation you are also asked by signs to be quiet and respectful.
Hours of Operation
- Daily from 8:00 am until 22:00 (10 pm)
Visitor and Documentation Centers
- Tues – Sun from 6:00 am until 18:00 (6 pm)
- Closed on Mondays
Nordbahnhof S-Bahn Station (Ghost Station Exhibit)
- Daily from 4:00 am until 1:00 am (the next day)
Best Times To Visit
Online reviews contain scant mentions of overcrowding or queuing and we rarely notice any overcrowding when our tours come through. You should consider avoiding Mondays, particularly if you would like the entire experience.
Another issue that visitors should be wary of is the weather as most of the memorial is outdoors (all of it, if you visit on a Monday). With that said, some visitors may appreciate an authentically dark, rainy day to think about a scary, recent chapter in Berlin’s history.
How Long Does a Visit Take?
Even a casual walk from end to end of the main outdoor exhibit can last at least 1 hour, excluding a visit to the visitor and documentation centers, but missing out on the documentation centers exhibitions and viewing gallery (which are discussed in the What To Expect section) leaves the experience somewhat incomplete.
If one wishes to experience both the open-air gallery and the documentation center, then a visit may easily stretch to 2 hours in length.
How To Get To The Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall Memorial is located on Bernauer Strasse between the S-Bahn Nordbanhof Station and the Bernauer Strasse U-Bahn Station, 2 stops north of Friedrich Strasse Station on the S-Bahn.
However you choose to come, we recommend using this Google Map link for directions to the visitor center.
Nordbahnhof is an ideal station to start at due to its historical significance; it had exits in both West and East Berlin, and thus became one of Berlin’s ghost stations, about which it now contains an interesting exhibition.
It is served by the S-Bahn (S1, S2, S25 & S26), trams (M10, M8, 12) and buses (247, N40).
If traveling by S-Bahn, just follow the signs for the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer), though we recommend spending some time at the exhibit on the ghost stations.
If you want further explanations for tackling berlin’s public transportation system, check out our post about Navigating Berlin’s public transportation system.
WHAT YOU WILL SEE AND EXPERIENCE
In this section, we summarize what you will see and experience if you complete a walk of the memorial. The outdoor memorial is split up into 4 main sections (A,B,C,D). Each section has its own particular focus, but the content certainly overlaps from one section to another.
- Area A – The Wall and Death Strip
- Area B – Destruction of the City
- Area C – Building the Wall
- Area D – Everyday Life at the Wall
Area A – The Wall and Death Strip
If you don’t have enough time to give this memorial your full attention, then Area A is where you should come. Titled “the Wall and Death Strip”, the overall focus of this section covers how the wall operated, how it changed the physical landscape as well as its brutality.
This area has 4 subject stations, small areas where you have audio, visual, text displays with stories, interviews, and eyewitness accounts.
The first station called “the Wall and Border Strip” This station covers why and how the Wall was built and reinforced. It’s in this area that you can start to envision the scale and scope of the border defense. Present in this area is both the outer and inner walls. You are walking on the death strip.
Station 2 is called “Blocking off Bergstrasse“. It’s in this area that you will see the excavated remains of the part of Bergstrasse that was sacrificed to the Wall. The Wall would ultimately create 300 dead-ends streets, cutting off communities and families from one another.
The 3rd station is titled “The Wall at Sophia Parish Cemetery“. Bergstrasse ran alongside the Sophia Parish Cemetery. Today, the cemetery ends on the other side of the inner wall, but it used to reach Bernauer Strasse. Many graves and tombs were uprooted and relocated deeper in the cemetery. Here is an audio clip with images.
The last station in Area A, “Window of Remembrance“, is arguably the most powerful. There are no audio, visual, or text clips here. The wall contains photos of 130 individuals who had died at the Wall. Most were killed attempting to escape East Berlin, but some were accidents, such as an 8-year old boy from West Berlin who fell into the Spree and drowned.
Each picture is accompanied by a name, a date of birth, and a date of death. Currently, there are 130 people documented here. Additionally, there were 8 East German border guards also died at the Wall and their names are inscribed on a column.
You may notice that some of the squares are empty. This was done on purpose to allow space for those who may be determined to have been victims if research proves that this was the case.
Although it’s random, you may notice candles or flowers in front of the photographs. These are usually left here by family members or friends and is a stark reminder of how recent their deaths really were.
Area A has two additional and important components, the Documentation Center with its lookout tower and the Monument, a relatively well-preserved section of the intact border wall system, containing both an inner and outer wall, the death strip and a watchtower.
You can get a great view of the Monument from the lookout tower across the street. There is an elevator, but most people should be able to handle the stairs. In addition to the view of the Monument, the lookout tower also affords you great views of the entire memorial and part of the cityscape, including the TV Tower and the Berliner Dom.
Just a quick note, there are restrooms and a small cafe and souvenir stand at the Documentation Center.
You can choose to visit the Documentation Center now or come back once you are done walking the memorial till its end. Unlike the outdoor exhibits, it is only open from 10:00 am until 18:00 (6 pm) every day but Mondays.
The center is dedicated to telling the story of the Wall, why it was built, maintained, and eventually destroyed, using multimedia displays, maps, documents, interviews, etc. It’s even more in-depth than the outdoor memorial itself. You could easily spend an hour here browsing the exhibits.
Area B – Destruction of the City
Area B moves the focus of the memorial to the people who lived here on Bernauer Strasse and the surrounding area, particularly those in East Berlin. This section of the Memorial has 4 subject stations.
The first station is “Blocking Off of Ackerstrasse“. Unlike the previous station dealing with the closing off of Bergstrasse, this station focuses more on the people who lived in the buildings that were taken down when the Wall was expanded.
Station 2, titled “the Reconciliation Church” covers the fate of one Protestant congregation, most of whose members lived in West Berlin. Unfortunately, the gothic church was located on East Berlin land and would only be used for two more services after Aug 13, 1961, and ultimately was destroyed in the 1980’s.
One other significant feature is the Chapel of Reconciliation, which is built upon the foundations of the Church of Reconciliation, which was trapped within the Berlin Wall upon erection, and ultimately destroyed.
The chapel’s inner room is a quiet, respectful space that occasionally hosts services, whilst the outer space features exhibits discussing the church.
Station 3 is titled “the Suffering of the People” and its focus is on the apartment buildings that bordered Bernauerstrasse and West Berlin. These buildings were used for early escapes, including the deaths of a few locals who jumped from the buildings’ upper floors and roofs. It was for this reason that the East German government evacuated their residents and eventually destroyed the buildings.
The main exhibit here is the excavated foundation of one of these buildings, Bernauerstrasse 10a. Here you will find audio and visual aids that tell you the story of the residents of these border buildings, many of whom were cut off from family and close friends in West Berlin.
The final station on Area B is called “Escaping to the West”, which chronicles some of the daring escape attempts that took place here on Bernauerstrasse.
Most of these escape attempts were via tunnels. In all, there were 10 tunnels under the Wall here at Bernauerstrasse, though only 3 successfully freed any East Berliners. There are many tunnel markers in this area, such as the one in the photo above.
Area C – Building the Wall
This area of the memorial covers the evolution of the border wall’s construction, reinforcement as well as how the East German government enforced security in the area just behind the border.
At the subject station, “Rebuilding the Border Fortification“, covers the evolution of the Wall and how its builders analyzed escape attempts to make improvements to the border system, starting from a simple concrete wall with barbed wire to the more elaborate and impenetrable system that you have now probably come to understand better.
It’s here more than anywhere that you can get a good sense of this evolution through photos, audio, and text.
The second subject station here is “Surveillance of the Border Area“. Here you will learn how the GDR government spied on its citizens who lived just beyond the wall and how local residents were recruited to aid the government, mostly as informants, all in order to reduce the chances of successful escapes.
The last subject station here is called “the Wall at Brunnenstrasse”, where you will find a large mural of one of the most iconic images of the wall, the escape of Conrad Schumann, an East German border guard, who just a few days after the start of the Wall’s construction made a daring leap over the border. His jump was actually one street further on.
Area D – Everyday Life at the Wall
As with the other areas of the memorial, you will find several subject stations. The first is titled “the Wall and West Berlin” and covers how the Wall affected those who lived in West Berlin, and particularly those in the Wedding District, which lies on the West Berlin side of the Wall.
Station 2, “Escape Agents and Tunnel Builders” details several of the escape tunnels that were built from West Berlin under the Wall into East Berlin and those who dug and financed them.
Station 3, “The Border Soldiers“, covers the daily life of border guards and what their surveillance responsibilites were in keeping East Berlin citizens from fleeing the East.
The next station, “the Wall in Politics“, explains how West Berlin and West Germany portrayed the city and East Berlin in domestic and local politics and foreign diplomacy.