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The Berlin Wall Memorial: Victims and Escapees

Monument to the people that tried to escape East Berlin on Bernauer Strasse

March 19th, 2015
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The Documentation Center of the Berlin Wall Memorial was re-opened on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. It gives an insight into life in divided Germany from the perspective of individual who challenged it. The exhibition connects the political history of the Berlin Wall to the experience of the people that tried to flee from East Berlin. It tackles questions about the reasons behind building the wall, the reasons why it fell and how some people still managed to escape.

The memorial on Bernauer Strasse is the best place to answer these questions, because most of the people fled through this border strip. The monument now is a long strip of grass, with rusty bars lining out the location of the Berlin wall. Iron strips in the ground underline the position of the houses that used to stand on the border and several other constructions, such as the guard towers and alarm system. The Church of Reconciliation was placed on the spot of a former church that was demolished to create the no man’s land of the Berlin Wall.

One legendary escape was by the a member of the State Police, Konrad Schumann, who jumped over the barbed wire into West Germany. The border of Bernauer Strasse was originally defined by houses: the people living there had their front door to the West, but were East Berlin citizens. Through these houses, many people managed to escape, until the windows and doors were blocked. At the memorial site, the foundations of some of these houses, including the blocked basement windows, were excavated and are now still preserved and visible. After the blocking of the doors, many people tried make tunnels under the Wall. The locations of various tunnels are still marked on the memorial. On the sidewalk next to the monument, circular iron tiles show the names of different people and whether and when they escaped to West Berlin.

The new exhibit in the documentation center tells the stories of these people. Because increasingly few people have living memories of the era of the Berlin Wall, the gathering of their stories is important to the culture of remembrance, and this is the mantra of the Berlin Wall Foundation. This personal approach gives people the opportunity to imagine how the Wall worked on a practical level in everyday life. Now there is this new exhibition, the memorial can truly be considered an eyewitness testimony.

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