Once, not long ago, it stalked through a forbidding strip of
wasteland, a harsh and ugly symbol of a divided world. Now it is a
fast-fading memory, its remnants few and far between. They stand -
where they stand at all - as curious anachronisms.
Follow the path of the Berlin Wall through the city center, and
you learn a lot about Germany's once and future capital from what
see. And even more from what you don't.
Their eyes fixed on Berlin's baptism next year as the capital of
reunified Germany, the city fathers have launched into a frenzy of
construction. And it seems no accident that much of this activity
has obliterated the past, altering the geography of entire districts
in ways that do not merely eradicate the wall, which was knocked
in 1989, but make it unimaginable.
This is not universally popular.
At the Checkpoint Charlie museum, for example, where for 35 years
Rainer Hildebrandt has run an exhibition about the wall at its most
famous crossing point, the wholesale destruction is viewed very
"Until 1989 we were fighting against the wall, and now we are
having to fight to keep some of it" to keep memories alive, comments
Hans Jurgen Dyck, one of Mr. Hildebrandt's aides wryly.
In its day, the Berlin Wall was a fearsome object, running a total
of 97 miles and not just dividing the west of the city from the
but hemming in the whole of West Berlin, an enclave within Communist-
held East Germany.
Nor was it simply one wall. The 11-foot-high wall visible from
the west hid a dead zone patrolled by dogs, a lower secondary wall,
an antivehicle ditch, barbed wire, and electrified fences.
Watchtowers and bunkers studded its length, and trip wires set off
self- activating machine guns pre-targeted to cut down would-be
The museum documents all this well. But step outside, look down
Friedrichstrasse into the former East Berlin, and you are in a
different world from the museum's grainy black-and-white
Where squat border-guard offices once dotted the wasteland among
tangles of barbed wire and tank traps, now bright concrete, steel-
and glass-plated office blocks fill the view.
"Halt! Construction in progress" reads an advertising billboard,
"1961: Erection of the wall.
1994-1998: One of Europe's most attractive business centers under
If you turn left down Zimmerstrasse to follow the route that the
wall used to take, and look closely at the buildings on the north
side of the street in the old "Soviet sector," you can still see the
iron pegs driven into the wall that were used to help seal the
windows. For in many places in the city, the front walls of
apartment blocks were simply transformed into "the wall" itself.
And then, almost hidden behind a row of young trees, you come
across an intact stretch of the wall. Ironically, the wall that once
fenced in a whole people is now fenced in itself - to protect it
"Here stands the last remaining stretch of wall in Stadtmitte"
district, reads a sign, "which did not have to make way for
construction interests, but which has been chipped away."
In another irony, this 200-yard stretch has been preserved only
because it stands directly above a testament to another German
horror, recently excavated: the cellars of Nazi Gestapo
$5 billion facelift
For a hundred yards or so, the line of the former wall is traced
along the curbside by a brass strip, which turns into red asphalt
then to fading paint. The line disappears altogether as you run slap
bang into Potsdamer Platz, the largest construction site in Europe.
Potsdamer Platz was once known as the busiest crossroads in Europe
(it is said that the Continent's first traffic lights were installed
here) but after the wall went up through the middle of the square it
decayed into an empty expanse of weedy nothingness.
Now the square no longer exists - it is filled with an astonishing
conglomeration of half-built skyscrapers covering 30 football fields
- an urban jungle of girders, raw concrete, plate glass, and mud
where the noise of bulldozers bulling, piledrivers piling, and
mixers mixing is deafening. …