Where to stay in Berlin
A number of hotels in the city are offering "Wall Anniversary" specials. Find more details here.
Nov. 9 will mark 25 years since the sledgehammers started breaking down one of the most tangible symbols of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall.
The 97.2-mile "antifascist protection wall," as it was called by East German authorities, enclosed West Berlin from Aug. 13, 1961, to that fateful day in 1989, cutting a 27.2-mile swath through the heart of the city. Its goal was to prevent East Germans from fleeing their economically depressed and politically oppressive country for the West.
What promises to be one of the most visually striking events commemorating the anniversary is the Lichtgrenze, a light installation along the former path of the wall. From Nov. 7 to 9, some 8,000 illuminated balloons will trace the division of the city over a stretch of approximately eight miles.
Numerous other venues are hosting permanent or temporary Berlin Wall-related programs.
The Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse will unveil a display titled "25 Years Fall of the Wall" in a ceremony on Nov. 9. A view into the past can be experienced at Yadegar Asisi's 360° Berlin Wall. Asisi created a panorama in a cylindrical steel rotunda portraying a bleak East Berlin autumn day in the 1980s. The instillation will remain open until spring 2015.
The Wall Museum located at the infamous Checkpoint Charlie focuses on the wall's place in the Cold War. Among its displays are items used in escape attempts.
While some of those attempts succeeded, more than 130 people died in failed efforts. Among them was Gunter Litfin, who was killed by members of the transport police on Aug. 24, 1961, becoming the first victim of targeted shooting at the wall. The former East German watchtower on Potsdamer Platz has been renamed Memorial Gunter Litfin in his honor.
Memorials also mark other sites of escape attempts. Of these, the Peter Fechter Memorial is the most well known. East German border guards shot Fechter on Aug. 17, 1962. Badly wounded, he lay dying in the no man's land at the foot of the wall without medical assistance for more than an hour while horrified West Germans helplessly looked on from their side of the wall.
Before many East Germans could even attempt an escape, they were rounded up by the greatly feared East German state security agency known as Stasi. The Stasi Museum, located in the agency's original offices, displays operational tools such as concealed cameras, microphones and weapons, bearing witness to the ubiquitous spying techniques employed to keep watch on East German citizens.
While many tried to escape or undermine the political system, most East Berliners simply tried to get on with their lives. The DDR Museum, whose motto is "Hands on History," focuses on daily life behind the Iron Curtain. It includes interactive displays such as driving a Trabant automobile (nicknamed Trabi or Trabbi) through a simulated area of prefabricated houses.
The Trabi Museum, dedicated solely to that vehicle, features 15 models of the now highly collectible cars. For those who want to get behind the wheel of the legendary vehicle on the actual streets of Berlin, Trabi Safari offers self-driving tours.
Visitors who want to explore on foot can walk the Berlin Wall History Mile, a permanent exhibition marked with a double row of cobblestones and cast-iron plaques set in the ground inscribed with the words "Berlin Wall 1961-1989." Plaques along the way recall historical events that took place at specific locations.
Several companies offer bicycle tours along the 112-mile Berlin Wall Trail. Among the most popular are Berlin on Bike's "Riding Along the Berlin Wall" and Fat Tire's "Berlin Wall and Cold War" tours.
The transition of Berlin in the two-and-a-half decades since the fall of the wall has been monumental, with its culture and arts scene continuing to set standards. The city of 3.5 million is home to 180 museums and collections, 400 art galleries, three opera houses and eight major symphony orchestras.
After unification, Potsdamer Platz became the largest construction site in Europe, featuring buildings by star architects such as Renzo Piano and Hans Kollhoff. On the other side of town, famed British architect Norman Foster designed the cupola that sits atop the Reichstag, a building that brings to mind the footage of the Russians fighting their way into this last vestige of Nazi Germany. Now it is home to a democratic parliament and is the most visited house of government in the world.
The transparency of Germany's national legislature is both figurative and literal, with the Bundestag visible from the copula when it is in session.
Another platform with dramatic views is the Berlin TV Tower. Built in the 1960s as a symbol of socialist superiority, Germany's tallest structure attracts more than a million visitors a year.