The Cold War ghosts you can still see in Germany, 30 years later

It's 30 years since the Wall fell
It's 30 years since the Wall fell Credit: getty

November 9 1989 is a date that, even if you were not alive to witness it, rings loudly across the decades. All three of them.

The chill winter evening on which the Berlin Wall fell has become etched in the collective memory as one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th century; the night when the dividing line which had sundered one half of Europe from the other began to crumble - bringing the Cold War down with it.

Of course, it would be overly simplistic to say that the demolition which began in that euphoric darkness (all those sledgehammers, pick-axes, chisels and hammers sourced at immediate notice to bite into the grimy concrete) marked the precise end of that 44-year conflict between East and West - the revolutions which would release the likes of Czechoslovakia and Romania from their incarceration behind the Iron Curtain would occur in the following weeks; the Soviet Union would not be dissolved for a further two years.

But that now-grainy footage of the crowd swarming onto the hated barrier in front of the Brandenburg Gate has become seen as the symbolic moment when the house of cards collapsed; when a red line across the continent was conclusively erased.

Thirty years on, there will be celebrations, once again, to mark the weighty hour - and lengthy discussions of what went before it. And if you feel like listening to the echoes yourself, it is easy to do so.

Graffiti on a section of the Wall Credit: getty

The following list of Cold War-related sites is neither exhaustive nor continent-wide (to cover the entirety of Europe would require a series of features) - but it shines a spotlight on a Germany that was, until relatively recently, split down the middle. Not just in the barbed-wire-barricaded streets of Berlin, but out in the silence of forested Thuringia and along the tranquil riverbanks of Brandenburg...

The Berlin Wall

Were you - in what would surely be one of the most extraordinary jigsaw puzzles ever - to reassemble every one of the thousands of chunks of rock that are purported to have been part of the Berlin Wall, you would surely end up with a structure considerably longer than the 96-mile original.

An exhibit in the Palace of Tears Credit: getty

But you can still glimpse authentic sections of the old barricade in the German capital, most notably the near-mile-long segment, now known as the Eastside Gallery (), which runs along Mühlenstrasse in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.

It takes its name from the 102 graffiti murals which adorn its concrete - many of them expressions of protest which include the iconic and provocative image of the former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and the DDR (East Germany) leader Erich Honecker caught in a deep mouth-to-mouth kiss.

You can also find six slabs, preserved as a memorial, in Potsdamer Platz - the now-busy square that was rendered a ghostly abyss between 1961 and 1989 by the Wall's running through it.

Walk the airport's disused runways Credit: getty

The Palace of Tears

Or the Tränenpalast, to use the German term - a border point between East and West Berlin, which operated, under the strictest of conditions, between 1961 (when the Wall was constructed) and 1989.

John F. Kennedy addresses West Berliners, 1963 Credit: Bettmann/Bettmann

Lodged in the shadow of Friedrichstrasse railway station, it was the crossing zone for travellers on S-bahn and U-bahn train lines across the city.

The DDR Museum has become an accepted part of Berlin's cultural landscape Credit: Thomas Meyer/OSTKREUZ

With one considerable caveat - that only visitors from the West were allowed to come east. Easterners were not permitted to make the reverse journey. Hence its sorrowful nickname - in reference to the lachrymose partings which took place on its doorstep.

Erich Mielke (right) was head of the Stasi for 32 years Credit: AP/ELKE BRUHN-HOFFMANN

Unlike its counterpart Checkpoint Charlie, which has become something of a kitsch hotspot for selfies and souvenirs, the "Palace of Tears" has maintained its sombre air - its interior seemingly imbued with the sadness it provoked over three decades. It opened as a (free) museum to the city's former scar in 2011 ().


Before the Berlin Wall there was the Berlin Blockade - the tense period, at a time when the ashes of the Second World War were almost still smouldering, when Soviet forces cut off Allied road, rail and canal access to the sector of the city under Western control.

The response was the Berlin Airlift - a frantic 15-month (June 26 1948 to September 30 1949) operation which saw essential supplies delivered to beleaguered residents by the air-forces of Britain, France, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Over 200,000 missions were flown - as, in a curious impasse, the Soviets stood back and watched, fearful that to shoot down a rival aircraft would be to spark a full-scale war. The blockade was eventually lifted on May 12 1949 - although the Allies, distrustful of Moscow's intentions, continued with the sorties for a further four months.

The Glienicke Bridge has slipped back into sleepiness Credit: stavrida - Fotolia/Andrey Andronov

Planes - the Douglas C-47 Skytrain and the Douglas C-54 Skymaster - touched down at the Tempelhof airstrip on the south side of the conurbation.

It had been Germany's first airport when it opened in 1923, played a significant role in the Nazi war effort between 1939 and 1945, and was one of the heartbeats of West Berlin throughout the Cold War. However, as of 2008, it is no more. It closed at the end of October 2008 - partly because it was due to be superseded by Berlin Brandenburg Airport (which, controversially is still under construction).

For the last decade, it has enjoyed a retirement as Tempelhofer Feld - and, at 355 hectares in area, is considered to be the world's largest inner-city park. You can walk, cycle and run along its defunct runways.

Rathaus Schöneberg

Pitched some four miles south-west of the Brandenburg Gate, this towering sandstone building, constructed between 1911 and 1914, has been the city hall for Berlin's  Tempelhof-Schöneberg borough since 1991. But between 1949 and 1990, it stood as the Abgeordnetenhaus (senate) for West Berlin.

It was on its steps, on June 26 1963, that then-US President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

Five months later, following his assassination in Dallas, a crowd of several thousand gathered in the same spot to mourn his passing. The square in front was renamed John-F.-Kennedy-Platz on 25 November 1963, three days after the shooting.

The DDR Museum

Western historical perspective tends to regard the onetime East Germany as a permanent grey-zone of urban deprivation and rainy skies. But while life in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik could certainly be tough, there is also - in some places - a lingering fondness for the old ways and the Communist days.

This can be glimpsed at the DDR Museum () - an institution at the heart of the city (opposite Berlin Cathedral) which casts a nostalgic eye over everyday existence on the "other" side of the Wall. Exhibits include a five-room tower-block apartment, a child's nursery and an of-the-era cinema.

There are darker themes too - as provided by a surveillance room and an interrogation room - but the scepticism with which the museum's opening was greeted in 2006 has largely dissipated into warm appreciation.

The Stasi Museum

By contrast, there is no misty reverence for the yesteryears ingrained in the building - on Ruschestrasse, in the Lichtenberg district of eastern Berlin - that was once the headquarters of East Germany's widely feared secret police.

The Stasi Museum () opened in 1990, almost as the Wall was still being pulled down - founded by civil rights activists as a way of shedding light on the brutal practices of an organisation which kept the East German people firmly under its boots, microphones and ligatures for four turbulent decades.

It includes the office used by Erich Mielke, who ran its operations with a steely hand for 32 of its 40 years in existence (between 1957 and 1989). He was one of the political architects of the Berlin Wall, and an enthusiastic supporter of the policy to shoot defectors who tried to leap it to the West.

Elbe-Brandenburg River Landscape Biosphere Reserve

The centre of Berlin was not the only part of the German world that was pitted with watchtowers and machine-gun turrets amid the ice-storm of the Cold War. Witness this leafy protected space which spreads out around the village of Lenzen, some 120 miles north-west of Berlin, amid the fields of Brandenburg.

Despite its overly lengthy name (it is the even more wordy "Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe-Brandenburg" in German) and obvious eco-credentials, this lovely expanse of squelchy marshland, water meadows and soupy ponds () conceals a number of dark secrets.

Its southern perimeter is delineated by the River Elbe - which cuts the park, and Brandenburg, off from the neighbouring state of Niedersachsen, on the opposite bank. During the Cold War, these same currents helped to form the border between East and West Germany.

Hence the guard-posts which are still driven into the soil on the Brandenburg side of the water - although their only occupants now are the falcons and other winged beasts which use these metallic interruptions as nesting sites.

The Glienicker Brücke

You do not have to go far from central Berlin - some 20 miles to the south-west - to find this graceful 1907-built span of green-painted iron across the River Havel. But had you made the journey towards it in, say, 1975, you might have been on a rather perilous mission.

During the Cold War, the Havel was part of the border between West Berlin and the wider East Germany - and the Glienicke Bridge, with the small, pretty city of Potsdam (the capital of Brandenburg) beyond it, was a crossing point. Not just for diplomats trying to cross from West to East, but for a rather more covert type of professional.

The structure's nickname - "Bridge of Spies" - stems from the fact that American and Soviet operatives used it as a shadowy place of prisoner exchange - retrieving or returning undercover agents and other key military personnel who had fallen into their hands.

The first swap took place on February 10 1962, when the Soviet intelligence officer William Fisher walked east as CIA pilot Gary Powers - who had been shot down near Yekaterinburg in Russia two years earlier - went the other way.

First closed by the East German authorities on May 27 1952, the Glienicker Brücke reopened the day after the Wall fell. Thirty years on, it has slipped back into sleepiness - carrying road traffic towards Potsdam. Only a plaque buried in the pavement tells its dark story, reading simply: "Deutsche Teilung bis 1989" ("German division until 1989").

Probstzella Station

The worry lines of the border across Germany can still be traced 190 miles south-west of the capital in Probstzella, a small town in the central state of Thuringia. During the Cold War, it found itself on the frontline - Thuringia, on whose southern edge it sits, was part of the DDR; Bavaria, its neighbour, was in West Germany. This left its railway station as a border point for trains chugging between East and West.

Its facilities included passport controls, customs posts and a 20-metre "control path" along which travellers had to walk. Abandoned after reunification, the building fell into a dilapidated state, and was demolished in 2008 - but a museum to the site's history () opened in the main station building in 2010.

The station is still in use, and lies on the Franconian Forest Railway (Frankenwaldbahn) - a ugely picturesque 55-mile line which links Lichtenfels in Bavaria with Saalfeld in Thuringia via the tree-swathed slopes of the Franconian Forest. This involves a steep ascent to Steinbach am Wald, with an incline of 29 per cent in places.

Soviet authorities tore down the overhead power lines on their portion of the track in 1946 - only to reinstate them in 1950 as the steam engines they had been forced to deploy struggled with the gradient. Even now, freight trains require a second locomotive to complete the journey.

Zweiländermuseum Rodachtal

Elsewhere in Thuringia, the rural area of Straufhain also felt the force of division, with the border running through its farms and furrows.

This separated state of affairs is now recalled in Streufdorf, where the Zweiländermuseum - literally the "Two Countries Museum" () - recalls the effects this had on rural communities.