The Cold War was a 20th century conflict characterised by nuclear crises, the Space Race and decades of brutal division between, chiefly, the United States and the Soviet Union.
In Germany, that division was unavoidable: the country was separated into US and Soviet spheres of influence, with Berlin a militarised zone severed in two by the Berlin Wall.
Today, numerous museums and monuments in Berlin tell the story of the Cold War and its effect on the lives of everyday German citizens.
Here are 5 of the most important Cold War sites to visit in Berlin.
Possibly the most famous of all Cold War sites, the Berlin Wall was an 87 mile long concrete barrier between East and West Berlin, a symbol of the Cold War and an embodiment of the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’. The Berlin Wall was controversial throughout its existence, with world leaders continually calling for it to be torn down. The fall of the Berlin Wall finally occurred on 9 November 1989 and the wall was almost completely dismantled in the days and weeks that followed.
Very few segments of the wall remain. The largest, 1.3 kilometre section can be found at the open air East Side Gallery, although small sections are dotted throughout the city.
Among the best-known Cold War remnants, Checkpoint Charlie was an important crossing point in the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Checkpoint ‘C’, nicknamed Checkpoint Charlie, was the only place where Allied forces were allowed to cross the border.
The original Checkpoint Charlie is housed at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, but the site now displays a replica where the original once stood as well as information about the era. Nearby is a small private museum about the checkpoint.
One of Berlin’s newest sites, the DDR Museum examines what life was like within the former German Democratic Republic, and provides an incredibly vivid look into this 40-year period. The museum is a wholly interactive experience, wherein visitors enter a model of a GDR estate.
The museum actively encourages visitors to touch and experience the exhibitions, in a way that few others do. Visitors can stroll through a typical concrete-slabbed housing estate, into the buildings that are bursting with relics and real models from the lives of those who grew up and lived during this time.
Among the most infamous Cold War sites, the Berlin Stasi Prison was an East German prison run by the East German Ministry of State Security (the Stasi) during the Cold War. The prison became the remand detention centre of the Stasi, housing anyone considered to be hostile to the communist GDR. The prison was notoriously brutal, with inmates being kept in tiny cells and subjected to torture to extract confessions.
Today, the Berlin Stasi Prison is a memorial to those who were detained there and is a stark reminder of the atrocities carried out during the Cold War. Tours are offered and visitors can see a film about the prison.
One of Berlin’s most famous Cold War sites, the Brandenburg Gate is a famous landmark in Berlin built between 1788 and 1791 which once served as a city gateway. During the cold war, the Brandenburg Gate formed a focal point of many politically charged rallies and speeches, including visits by American Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
Today, visitors from around the world come to see the Brandenburg Gate and its ornate carvings, including its dramatic depiction of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, driving a horse drawn chariot.