The Legacy of the Wall
November 13, 1996
BERLIN (CNN) -- Shortly after the Berlin Wall began to fall in November 1989, tourism surged in the city as people flocked to see history in the making, and perhaps even take home a piece of it.
Now seven years later, the tourist rush for a glimpse of the wall has dwindled; not much is left of one of the most widely-known Cold War symbols. However, the wall's legacy lives on in several places for visitors to get a feel for the atmosphere of the past.
The "East Side Gallery" is an "artistic" remnant of what used to be Communist East Berlin. At just under a mile long, it's also the largest remaining stretch of the wall. The wall, constructed in 1961 and running 29 miles through the city, was built to keep East Germans from fleeing to the West.
The East Side Gallery was created shortly after the wall fell in 1989, when 120 artists from around the world gathered to paint its drab eastern side in shades of red, black, white, blue and green. In September 1996, 35 of the original 120 artists came back to restore the murals, which had been weathered by the elements and picked apart by souvenir-hunting "wall-peckers," as they're called.
"Checkpoint Charlie" is a grim but also easily-viewed legacy of the wall. Formerly a heavily guarded border crossing, the checkpoint -- better than any other place in Berlin -- may symbolize the pressures of the Cold War. For nearly 30 years, Checkpoint Charlie was the spot where tourists, merchants and spies passed between West and East. All that remains today is a single watch tower, recently adorned with a "Golden Lady Liberty."
The nearby Checkpoint Charlie Museum offers Cold War-era photographs, films and exhibits that offer a glimpse into the barrier-filled city. In addition, a fascinating museum exhibit illustrates the ingenuity East Germans used to escape to the West, including displays of cars that hid passengers in secret compartments.
One of the more difficult legacies of the wall is a battle over the land where it once stood. The government is offering the property to former owners for 25 percent of its current value. However, many property owners say that is unfair because the land was theirs and was stolen by the communists. The government says selling the land back is fair because the East German government compensated some owners when the wall was originally built.
No matter how the land dispute is resolved, the wall's legacy will live in museums and as an art form.