Berlin Wall: Confessions of Why I Was Disappointed At First

Berlin wall germany

I’ve waited almost two years to see the Berlin Wall, one of the most epic sights in all of Germany.

So it was hard to ruffle up any enthusiasm when this was the first glimpse I had of it:

berlin wall

My first disappointing look at the Berlin Wall.

This lack-luster, ordinary wall is what I had eagerly anticipated for almost two years?  This puny wall is what divided a country for 28 years?  I couldn’t hide my initial disappointment from Julian, our well educated docent from Context. He led us on a three hour tour of the wall and took us to the viewing platform at the Berlin Wall Documentary Center.  It was there that it became apparent that there was more to this “puny” wall than meets the eye:

Death strip of the Berlin Wall in Germany

A recreated “death strip” that separated East Berlin from West Berlin.

Getting over the wall was only the first hurdle.  The would-be escapees then had to make it through the “death strip” which was surrounded by guard towers with guards who had orders to shoot. The estimated 5000 would-be escapees had no place to hide.  124 of them didn’t make it:

Would be escapees over the Berlin Wall in Germany

Memorial photos of East Berliners who died trying to escape.

All notions of this “puny” wall were washed away.  But I still couldn’t help noticing the lack of graffiti.  The graffiti that the Berlin Wall is so famous for was missing.  You know the ones that East Berliners created in protest of the wall?

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall in Germany

Graffiti was only found on the west side of the wall.

Graffitti on the Berlin Wall in Germany
Not so fast. Julian explained that graffiti was only found on the west side of the Berlin Wall.  Defacing the wall in East Berlin would have resulted in severe punishment by the communist state.  It made perfect sense once he explained it and debunked yet another myth in my head.

Berlin Wall in Germany

The Open-Air Exhibition is free and worth seeing the wall in its various states.

Slowly, it dawned on me, the Berlin Wall in itself isn’t impressive. Its significance lies in the oppression it represented, until change and growth broke out – 28 years later.

berlin wall_trees

Thank you to Julian from Context for our complimentary tour. As always opinions expressed are my own. Context Travel offers three hour tours of the Berlin Wall. Guides provide an extensive history and you will visit numerous sites relevant to the Berlin Wall.

Also check out expat Adam’s Things to Do in Berlin and Simon’s journey to nearby Potsdam Sanssouci Park:  A Photo Tour.

See more places to visit in Germany.

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. Adam March 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    It’s hard to believe this city was once divided. And it’s so important to see the wall and know what it represented and what it did. And to know what walls can (and still) do today.

  2. Anwar March 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    That is something I hope to see one day too. I remember learning about the Berlin Wall coming down on Television and wondering and see the photos from the event. Something so far away, but even yet so profound. I recall them selling pieces too in places in the US that you could go and buy your own part of the wall. I never did (i was too young).

  3. fotoeins | Henry March 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    I think the stories about individual people and the lengths to which the state exerted tight controls on its people are the most harrowing.

    Thanks for your post!

  4. Expat-Mom March 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    Great pics! I haven’t made it to Berlin yet, but I too am eagerly anticipating. There are a couple sections of the wall at the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn though (House of History). When I saw the sections of wall, I too hadn’t immediately thought of the graffiti only being on one side, but then it was like a “duh” moment once my husband explained. 🙂 Again, great pics!

  5. Laurel March 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    @Adam – Agreed, its hard to grasp what one wall stood for and how different life in Berlin would have been compared to present day.

    @Anwar – I remember watching it on TV as well and being very jealous of a friend who did buy a piece of the wall.

  6. Cathy Sweeney March 12, 2012 at 11:43 pm - Reply

    Seeing remnants of the Berlin Wall was a highlight of my trip there in December. You’re right — its real significance today is the oppression that it represents. Hard to imagine what it was like to be there during the 28 years when the wall really was a physical barrier to freedom. Well done photos, Laurel.

  7. Heidi March 13, 2012 at 12:42 am - Reply

    The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of the first big moments of history that I remember from my lifetime, and not just history books. It shames me to realize how little I really knew about the wall itself. While what it stood for was often explained, the wall itself was never described. It really hammers home the solidity of the division of East and West Germany, a concept that’s hard to imagine from afar.

  8. Zhu March 13, 2012 at 1:09 am - Reply

    Such a crazy idea… to think that a city (and the world) was divided by a wall like that. I still remember clearly the day it fell, even though I was just a kid.

  9. Sam March 13, 2012 at 2:01 am - Reply

    The Berlin Wall shows some amazing history. Did you get to the Westside Gallery?

  10. Victor Tribunsky March 13, 2012 at 6:52 am - Reply

    What an awfull wall and what an excellent story!

  11. Italian Notes March 13, 2012 at 7:58 am - Reply

    I suppose it’s right that the Berlin Wall is as much symbol as reality, yet I thought they’d had the remains decorated by a group of artists.

  12. Jessica March 13, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Laurel, thank you for your kind blog. It was nice to take the walk with you, even with the grey drizzle. It’s amazing how something that seems so small or disappointing in person really effected the lives of Berliners (and the world) in such a unique way.

  13. Sabrina March 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for debunking some myth related to the Berlin Wall. I really enjoyed your explanations and pictures. I think taking a tour and having somebody offer explanations along the way is probably the best way seeing something like this.

  14. robin March 14, 2012 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I remember being struck by how puny the wall was too. A chat i had to a taxi driver in Berlin, who must have been in his seventies, certainly brought home how different and difficult life had been for so many people.

  15. Andrea March 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing these insights from your tour. I was so happy to finally see the Berlin Wall remnants last year – I find it and the stories that come from those times eternally fascinating.

  16. Eversong April 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    I have been fascinated by the Berlin Wall for a long time! I have read nearly about everything that I could borrow from our library about this Wall. The wall itself is indeed puny not impressive at all, but the history behind it just overwhelms me! I still think that the fall of the Berlin wall was one of the happiest moment in the world in recent history.

  17. Paul March 7, 2013 at 7:56 am - Reply

    Great selection of photos and facts there. The size of it was what struck me most when I first saw it too. So physically low yet such a powerful and effective barrier. It amazing when you see the line that’s drawn along where the wall used to be, and try to comprehend the lunacy of it all.

    • Laurel March 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      @Paul – Thanks and agree completely.

  18. Mariella March 8, 2013 at 10:22 am - Reply

    That is a great post that points out a few very important things about the Berlin wall most foreigners (and Germans for that matter!) probably don’t know. There is so much to learn about the wall… the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer where I suppose some of your photos were taken is one of my favorite places to learn about it.

    • Laurel March 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      @Mariella – Thanks Mariella. I definitely learned a lot on our tour. It’s one thing to read about it, but completely different to actually see it for yourself. I really enjoyed the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer as well.

  19. christina thomas February 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Great post about some of the myths and impressions of the Berlin Wall. I remember seeing it 25 years ago, shortly after the wall came down. I was able to see all the graffiti as at the time most of the wall was still intact and I was able to chip off a piece to bring home with me. I am looking forward to going back to Berlin this month and seeing the changes. My first impression was the same as you, how could this puny wall oppress so many? but it truly impacted me learning about the history, seeing the way people tried to escape. We must be thankful for our freedom every day and this is a great reminder of that.

  20. Bigfatheadz March 10, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I was so excited to visit Berlin as my Uncle was working for Reuters when the wall came down and brought me back a bit of the wall with graffiti. It was my prized possession. I thought checkpoint Charlie really helped to bring the issues home.

  21. May Simpson March 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Great post, you’re so right about its representations. Apparently you can buy a piece of the wall which was taken down… At first I thought, well, that’s stupid why would you want a bit of the wall that represents war and death…. Actually no, having a piece is nice because it represents the fact that Germany overcome their horrific dictator and having a piece is a symbol of the fact it’s no longer there to divide a great country!

    Thanks for sharing the pictures and your thoughts! I’ve not seen Berlin yet but will be this May on my one month trip around Europe!

    Love, May X

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