Germany/Poland ’23, Day minus 1

(The students arrive tomorrow.)

Day minus 1 allowed me to gain virtually all of the rail tickets we need (took nearly 2 hours, whew!), find our hotel for this year (conveniently located near Alexanderplatz), and do a little exploring on my own.

What I set out to find was the Berlin Wall Park and Memorial which is located in the north-central part of the city. This particular venue features several memorials, large stretches of the outer wall peppered across the park’s western edge (a bit of the inner wall is there as well), and many markings on the ground where things once stood. The entire park sits in what was called “the death strip,” the area between the inner and outer walls that was covered with various detection devices and constantly surveilled from strategically placed watchtowers. This strip sliced and curled its way around the entirety of West Berlin. Construction began on it in August ’61 and this barrier kept the people of East and West Berlin separated until it became functionally useless in late 1989. (Over that span of time, 136 people were killed trying to cross from the East to the West.) It was put up by East Germany as a bulwark against the debased values of the west that they claimed were encroaching on the planned economy and state-managed lifestyles of the model communist East German state. Even though over 3 million had fled from the Soviet-eastern zone of the post-war divided Germany to the west since the end of the second World War, the East Germans, with a breath-taking degree of chutzpah, called this wall their “Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier.” (Well played, Nikita.)

Of special note is the Church of Reconciliation (built and named in the 19th century, actually) which sat in the territory of East Berlin but so close to the border with West Berlin that it protruded well into the death strip. Despite this positioning, it almost survived the 28-year long period of separation. However, it was torn down for surveillance reasons by the East Germans in 1985. The Chapel of Reconciliation stands there now.

See a few pictures of the park and memorials below.

Tomorrow everyone arrives and we get started with a walking tour of some of the sites in downtown Berlin.