Book Review: The Berlin Wall Today

The Berlin Wall Today: Remnants, Ruins, Remembrances
by Eva C. Schweitzer (photographer), Michael Cramer (foreword)
Publisher: Berlinica

Book cover

It’s amazing how quickly the massive, 100-mile-long Berlin Wall disappeared after it was first breached on the night of November 9, 1989. By the time of official German reunification in 1990, most of the Wall that had stood for 28 years had simply vanished! A little over two decades later, even less of the Wall remains. If you want to find its traces, you need a guide like The Berlin Wall Today.

But this book is much more than a mere guide for would-be Wall explorers. It is also a history book of the best kind: short and to the point. Through words and pictures it gives the reader a better understanding of the Wall – past, present and future. (The future includes plans to expand the marking of significant Wall landmarks.)

Michael Cramer’s introduction offers a good summary of the Berlin Wall’s past and the struggle to preserve even a few bits and pieces for future generations. The little of the Wall that stands today is either an accident of history or the result of heroic individual efforts – or both. The German government – East and West – utterly failed to realize the importance of historical preservation of this monument to the Cold War. Both sides were in a rush to erase all traces of what had suddenly become an ugly embarrassment. And they almost succeeded.

The Berlin Wall Today not only offers a pictorial tour of the last remaining segments of the Wall, it also discusses the past and present of those locations. For instance, Potsdamer Platz, as it appears today reveals little of the bleak, stark character it had before its reconstruction (1993-2002). It was a no-man’s-land cut off by two walls. (The book reminds us that in most places the Berlin Wall was actually two walls – an outer west one and an inner east one – that defined a dangerous corridor, the so-called Todesstreifen, the “death strip.”) A black-and-white photo shows the barren walled-off square as it looked after the Wall was built in 1961. Color photos show us the bustling Potsdamer Platz area as it looks today – with few signs of its landmark division or for that matter, few signs of its glory days in the 1920s and ’30s. Many other famous and less familiar Wall locations are similarly documented.

If you want to find the actual Berlin Wall today, you have very few choices, and they are scattered around Berlin. Having a copy of The Berlin Wall Today can save you a lot of time and searching. The truth is that most of the Wall that still exists today is what the book calls the “Hinterland Wall,” the inner eastern concrete panels that East Berliners saw. That includes the famous East Side Gallery that runs from the Oberbaumbrücke (the Run Lola Run bridge) to the Ostbahnhof (train station). Sections of the “real” outer western Wall are much more rare. The three main ones are: (1) the one-mile stretch at the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum on Bernauer Straße (partly rebuilt, complete with death strip), (2) the 100-yard section at St. Hedwig’s Cemetery, Chaussee Straße; and (3) the pock-marked 263-foot section of the Wall at the Topography of Terror Museum (former Gestapo headquarters) in central Berlin. Genuine concrete Wall slabs can be found scattered in numerous locations across Berlin, but they are almost always no longer in their original locations. Only five of the Wall guard towers are still standing today.

In the introduction to The Berlin Wall Today we are reminded that anyone now under the age of 22 who has grown up and lived in Berlin only knows about the Berlin Wall from history books and hearsay. Many people today – Germans, Americans, Russians and others – know little about the Wall or who built it. (A 2011 survey revealed that fewer than half of Russians know who built the Wall.) Eva C. Schweitzer’s book serves to counteract such ignorance, and I recommend it to anyone planning a Berlin visit or who just wants to know more about recent world history and the most famous symbol of the Cold War.

Get this book from The Berlin Wall Today or from the publisher,

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