Discovering Cold War Berlin: Six Places to Visit

Date: 14 August, 2018
Discovering Cold War Berlin: Six Places to Visit
One could think that reminiscences of the Cold War era are long gone with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but that’s not the case. If you are interested in this intriguing period of history, Berlin is the place to be. The German capital has preserved and taken care of the sites and stories of the Cold War era so that today we can visit them, learn about the circumstances of the time, and hear about the lives of the victims of the period. Our free walking tour all about the Cold War, just one of our Berlin walking tours, is the best way to explore this topic, but if you are venturing out to discover it by yourself, there are six places that you cannot miss.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Until today, the Berlin Wall, which once divided the city into East and West Berlin, continues to be one of the most compelling symbols of the Cold War era. It is one of the first stops (and must-dos!) of any walking tour in Berlin. The Berlin Wall used to separate not only space but also people; families, friends and lovers. Walking along Bernauerstraße, you can see their photos and learn about their stories, and the efforts they made to reunite with their loved ones, many of them tragically losing their lives in the process. You will discover the remains of the underground tunnels and you can visit the visitor center to grasp even more insights about the Cold War days. The Berlin Wall Memorial gives you the essence of the everyday struggle of the 60s, 70s and 80s Berliner, and, as it is located in the center of the city, it cannot be missed.

The exhibition at the Berlin Wall memorial, the stories of victims and survivors of cold war Berlin

Palace of Tears – (Tränenpalast)

The check-in hall at Friedrichstraße railway station served as the main inspection point of Berliners travelling across the divide during the Cold War from East to West Berlin between 1962 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in ‘89 and is essential on any Cold War walking tour or excursion. The small exhibition here displays the memoirs of those whose passports and luggage was checked at the crossing point, many of whom were young children separated from their parents in order to travel towards hope of a better life on the West or in England, hence the name “Palace of Tears”, owing to the very many tearful goodbyes exchanged between parents and their children in this substantial station. The shadows cast by the glass and steel architecture reinforces the impression of dividedness, and the original border crossing signs inflict a powerful reminder of the past. The free exhibition is open from Tuesday to Sunday and is a must-visit in Berlin.

Ghost stations – Geisterbahnhöfe

While you are getting on and off the Berlin subway, you don’t even realize that you are actually visiting many of the historically significant points of the Cold War. After the division of Berlin, some of the U- and S-Bahn lines were located either on the West or on the East side of the city, and a few lines were cut in half, meaning trains ran until the East-West border and were turned back. However, there were three lines, today’s U6 and U8, and the Nord-Süd Tunnel on the S-Bahn, which began and ended in West Berlin, and, for a few stations, ran under East Berlin’s authority. Travelers taking the train in West Berlin passed through East Berlin, but they were not allowed to get off the train until it entered West Berlin again. There were sixteen so-called “ghost stations” that trains passed through but did not stop. They were dim, cold, unfriendly and heavily guarded by army officers. The stations were furbished and re-opened to the public shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and today’s passengers rarely know they are stepping out of the train at a former ghost station. Your tour guide will reveal the ghost-stations to you on our Cold War Berlin free tour.

A map depicting Berlin ghost stations from the cold war era

Television Tower (Fernsehturm)

It is impossible to miss the 368 meters tall Berlin Television Tower. It, being the tallest building in Germany, stands proudly in the center of the city near Alexanderplatz. The Tower was built between 1965 and 1969 in East Berlin and it was designed to symbolize the dominance of the Communist Party. After the fall of the wall, it became the symbol of Berlin as a whole. With more than a million visitors each year, the TV Tower is one of the most visited places in Germany. Besides its observation deck, the Tower is home to the Panorama Bar and the revolving Sphere Restaurant; two equally popular places where you can enjoy the 360-degree scenic view of Berlin after a long day of sight-seeing. Make sure to make a reservation before turning up for the restaurant. The observation deck is open year-round to the public.

The tall TV tower in Berlin from a distance as seen on cold war Berlin free walking tour

Karl Marx Allee and 'Stalin's bathroom'

The spectacular socialist boulevard, Karl Marx Alle, was built between 1952 and 1960 by the GDR (German Democratic Republic). The buildings along the avenue were designed in so-called socialist classicism, a popular style of the Soviet Union. You can relax walking alongside the impressive tall buildings of the two kilometres long avenue while drinking a beer from the local Späti during a sunny day or Glühwein (sweet hot wine with rum), a popular German beverage, on a cold Winter evening. Oh, and don’t forget to ask your Berlin Free Tour guide why Karl Marx Allee is called “Stalin’s bathroom”.

Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park)

If you want to enjoy nature and tranquillity in the middle of bustling Berlin and learn about the city’s Cold War era history at the same time, the Soviet War Memorial and Cemetery at Treptower Park is your place. The Memorial is one of the three extravagant Soviet monuments that honour the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died during the Second World War in the Battle of Berlin. 7,000 of the deceased soldiers are buried in Treptower Park. Characterized by the magnificent entrance of two arches and its enormous space, the Memorial is a frequently visited site by both locals and tourists. In the center of the Memorial stands a twelve-meter tall sculpture of a Soviet soldier, holding a German child and pointing his sword to a broken swastika.

Panorama of a location on Berlin Cold War walking tour, the Russian War Memorial at Treptow

Cold War history is still one of the most fascinating topics that travellers have at the top of their Berlin to-do lists. If you are visiting the city, make sure to visit at least some of the places related to this remarkable recent history; these are just six but the city is full of memories of the Cold War era dotted across the Berlin city map which you can easily explore with us on our excellent Cold War Berlin free walking tour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 am from our tour meeting point at the huge granite bowl in Lustgarten, the park in front of the Old Museum and the Berliner Dom. See you soon in the German capital!
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