If you’re a Cold War kid like me, there’s a good chance that any visit to Berlin will be riddled with a little nostalgia. One of the things I love most of Berlin (and, trust me, there’s a ton!) is how intimately connected this city is to the memories of my childhood.
No, I didn’t live in East Germany. Or even West Germany for that matter. But, for some odd reason, watching the collapse of communism in Europe unfold, was a strangely memorable experience.
I was barely old enough to understand what was happening when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Yet, somehow, Germany’s joyous celebrations and fevered fight for freedom stuck with me. Even without ever seeing that moment again, it would be forever etched in my mind.
So, naturally, when I was old enough to visit Berlin to see it all for myself, it was on like Donkey Kong. (Just aged and nerdified myself a bit, didn’t I?)
Of course, aside from all the usual top Berlin attractions, I needed to catch a glimpse of those that brought back that odd “Goodbye Lenin!” vibe that I never experienced, yet felt so at ease with. (I blame my Eastern European blood.)
Here are a few of the best spots in Berlin to get your Cold War fix:
East Side Gallery
Perhaps no place in Berlin will transport you instantly to a bygone era than the East Side Gallery. This open-air art gallery stretches some 1.3 kilometres along one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.
The East Side Gallery’s most famous mural is none other than the Sozialistischer Bruderkuss (Socialist Fraternal Kiss). It depicts former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker showing off their all-too-real bromance with the quote (in German), “My God, help me survive this deadly love.” Although the recently restored mural isn’t quite as impressive as when I first visited Berlin, it’s still an absolute must-see for any history buff.
Now, this is a place worth mentioning. Even if you think thematic museums are a tad kitschy (and, yes, they usually are), you might still just love the DDR Museum. Located on the banks of the Spree River (less than a block down from a Marx-& Engels statue, naturally), this interactive museum puts you into the driver’s seat to explore the wacky world of East Germany.
One of the most famous attractions here is the chance to get behind the wheel of an old East German Trabant (or Trabi as it’s lovingly referred to). Elsewhere in the museum, enter into a mock Stasi (secret police) interrogation room or sit in a typical DDR era living room to catch a glimpse of everyday life in post-war East Germany.
At just €8.50, the entrance ticket to the DDR Museum is well worth it—even if you’re committed to visiting Berlin on a budget.
While you’ve already checked out part of the wall at the East Side Gallery, there are other sections that a little more “real” for getting a sense of the city during the Cold War.
By far, the most haunting section of the former Berlin Wall lies around the Topography of Terror. In this section you’ll get a glimpse of the former “no-man’s-land” (or death strip) where dissenters trying to escape East Germany would be shot on site.
One of the most famous remnants of Berlin’s Cold War area is Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous border crossing between East & West Berlin. The checkpoint’s “You are now leaving the American sector” sign is one of the era’s most enduring emblems and has been recreated all around the world.
With all the new construction around Checkpoint Charlie, it’s becoming harder and harder to imagine what it was like in the post-war era. These days, it’s a little more gimmicky than need be, and is probably less of a “must-see” than other attractions in the area. Nonetheless, for Cold War nostalgia in Berlin, getting your requisite selfie at Checkpoint Charlie shouldn’t be skipped.