Die Mauern: The Berlin Wall (Topography of Terror & Checkpoint Charlie)

by Chris on November 10, 2010

Berlin has two museums that focus on the Berlin Wall (die Mauern): The Topography of Terror and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. We visit both and review.

Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

After viewing the colorful murals of the Berlin Wall’s East Side Gallery, we tackled the task of visiting two of the city’s museums dedicated to die Mauern: The Topography of Terror and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

The Topography of Terror consists of two parts. The open air portion of information panels, interviews and photos stretches along a section of the Berlin Wall, right in the shadow of the Nazi-built Luftwaffe (Ministry of Aviation) building, where Hermann Goring held court. There’s a more traditional museum nearby, with library archives, study rooms, lecture halls, bathrooms and a cafe, that was built on the grounds where the Gestapo and the SS headquarters once stood.

Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

In a city full of war memorials and museums, I thought the Topography of Terror was particularly well done. It’s one of the few exhibits that specifically walks you through the connections between Germany’s Weimar Republic right after World War I to the rise of the Nazi party and persecution of the Jews and other groups to the Soviet establishment of East Germany and the Stasi policies that kept the population in fear. I read every panel.

Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germamy

It’s such an age-old question when it comes to Nazi Germany: What would you have done as your country descended into racist and genocidal policies? We all like to think that we’d take a stand on the side of good, instead of letting evil take a foothold. But the Nazis made their laws and propaganda campaigns so insidious and far reaching that many people went along not only out of fear but out of complacency. It makes you search your soul and your own family tree a bit. What did my own ancestors do for civil rights, for example? (Not much). What am I doing specifically to protest discriminatory policies going on now, such as the laws being passed against gay marriage, or against laws such as the Patriot Act that chip away at our personal freedoms? Big questions – which is exactly what an effective museum is supposed to make you consider.  If you’re going to Berlin, the Topography of Terror is a must-do.

Ostalgie, Berlin, Germany

As I noted with the Ampelmann, Berlin is awash in ostalgie, highlighting its Communist past through kitschy bars, stores and fashion. On the tourist front, if you’ve ever wanted to buy a fake Russian fur hat, a copy of the former Soviet flag or a gas mask, Berlin’s the place to do it.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

Our last stop along the Berlin Wall took us down to Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous guide house that represented the divide between West and East Berlin for so many years.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany

At one time, this sign provided a stark view of Cold War tensions and global unease. Now it’s a place where people pose for photos, then head off to the McDonald’s that is right next door. It’s proof of how history actually moves faster than we think it does.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Berlin, Germany

To be honest, we were disappointed with the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Although it had some interesting stories about East Berliners attempts to cross over the Berlin Wall, the museum exhibits appeared extremely disorganized and in no particular chronological order.While the museum has some historic significance – it opened in a private apartment in 1962, shortly after the Wall went up – as a non-violent statement against Russian control, its layout and overall feel can’t compete with more modern learning experiences offered elsewhere.

If you only have time for one museum about the Wall, I’d choose the Topography of Terror instead.

Berlin Wall, Potzdammer Platz, Berlin, Germany

If you’re not a museum type, there are some other places to view bits and pieces of the Wall. There are some graffiti ed panels up in Potzdammer Platz, a former dead zone while Berlin was divided that’s now bustling under German reunification.

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

Or you can trace the brick line that marks where the Wall once stood that runs throughout the city.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Noah November 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Wow! Great post. It’s very interesting to me how much history still seems to be present in Berlin. Maybe, it’s because of the focus of your post, but other cities seem to have bits of history strewn amnongst the modernity. The fact that parts of the wall are still standing and their are still relics from Soviet time is great. If I ever make it to Berling I will surely be visiting this area.

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Carl December 18, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I found the most interesting section of the Wall and history to be in the Bernauerstrasse. There is a maintained section of the whole profile of the wall, a lookout tower, and an exhibit which includes a film flying all the way around the wall in 1989. Bernauerstrasse is a residential neighborhood which was divided in two by the wall, often dividing extended families. Initially ground floors on one side were walled off and people leaped into the West from upper floors.

You can get there from the S-Bahn station “Nordbahnhof” which also has an exhibit on the division of the Berlin S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems.

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