© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's Left Behind Of The Berlin Wall


Germany today celebrates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. NPR's Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz brings us this story on what's left of where the wall once stood.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The Berlin Wall stretched 100 miles. Now all that remain are a few tiny sections, less than 1% of the original.

GUNTER SCHLUSCHE: You can see the frontier wall. You can see the death strip. You can see one watchtower.

SCHMITZ: Gunter Schlusche, project manager for the Berlin Wall Memorial, points to the last piece of the wall preserved as it once stood along Bernauer Strasse in central Berlin. After the wall fell, the city tried to figure out what to do with the nearly 1,000 acres of land it stood on.

SCHLUSCHE: All major architects, all major investors came to Berlin and said, we have an idea.


CYNDI LAUPER AND PINK FLOYD: (Singing) We don't need no education.

SCHMITZ: While developers schemed, Schlusche recalls a moment of freedom before the wall was dismantled. Pop musicians performed the Pink Floyd album "The Wall" along one section. What was once one of the most dangerous and restricted zones on Earth suddenly became a playground of potential.


LAUPER AND PINK FLOYD: (Singing) All in all, it's just another brick in the wall.

SCHMITZ: That ended when the former armed troops of the GDR, who once patrolled the wall, were ordered to tear it down. By the end of 1990, 90% of the wall was dismantled. The sections returned to the city were used to reconnect old neighborhoods. And other parts were sold to developers, who, Schlusche says, demanded the city immediately allow them to build shopping malls and new housing.

SCHLUSCHE: We need a decision right now - end, end, end. And only in a few cases the city resisted to that pressure. And I think it would be more intelligent to save a few areas and say, we keep them aside, not now. Let's think about it in 10 years again.

SCHMITZ: The impulse to pave over history has a phrase in German. It's called Verdraengung. And the wall wasn't the first time the city of Berlin used it to make painful reminders of history disappear.

MARY DELLENBAUGH-LOSSE: So, actually, what we're walking up towards right now is the the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark.

SCHMITZ: Historian Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse shows me another example of Verdraengung, a surviving section of the wall on an artificial hill. And the hill itself is made from the rubble of bombed buildings during World War II.

DELLENBAUGH-LOSSE: This entire hill that we're on right now is made of rubble.

SCHMITZ: I mean, this is not a - I mean, it's not a small hill.

DELLENBAUGH-LOSSE: No. You could hear me. I am actually pretty athletic. But I was losing my breath going up these stairs.

SCHMITZ: Below us is the wall's former death strip, the no man's land patrolled by East German soldiers. It is now Mauerpark, home to a weekly flea market, impromptu karaoke performances, street shows and general public space to do what one wants to. Dellenbaugh-Losse says this is an example of how a former section of the wall became something new and interesting.

DELLENBAUGH-LOSSE: But what makes this so successful is that it really is a space that's not so burdened with memory.


SCHMITZ: The section of the wall atop this hill is covered in graffiti, as are the benches, trees and grass. High schooler Natasha Hotte is contributing with her can of green spray paint. She's been taking graffiti art lessons. But this is the first time she's ever been able to try it.

NATASHA HOTTE: Here it's not forbidden. So we are allowed to do that. And like in Munich, we can't do it. There are no places like that.

SCHMITZ: And this 16-year-old is now reveling in the freedom of a wall that once stood as the ultimate barrier to it. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!