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Travel: Berlin Wall tour full of bloody, tragic history

The most imposing symbol of the division between the east and west was torn down 20 years ago

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For those living in this densely populated neighbourhood it was "like living in a high security wing."

At the Brandenburg Gate - for 28 years, isolated within a walled-off "death strip" - we learn about the "lockdown" of the massive 18 th -century structure, with its 12 Doric columns, in the early '60s, and events leading up to the wall's fall in 1989.

The tour walks you to a colossal memorial to 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The Soviets deliberately sited this cenotaph near Adolf Hitler's chancery and Nazi architect Albert Speer's "victory avenue."

In contrast, the tour continues to the "Calling Man," a gorgeous three-metre sculpture erected in 1966, and recalling the words of the 14 th -century humanist poet Petrarch - "I wander through the world and cry, peace, peace, peace."

Still following GPS instructions, I walked to the River Spree and a cluster of white memorial crosses. Here the commentary explained how those named died. For example, Klaus Schroeter was shot when he surfaced while swimming the river. The guards who killed him were, we're told, rewarded with medals and cash.

Bernauer Strasse, in the north of former East Berlin, is the main wall memorial site. Here the tour explores the construction and evolution of the wall, and the impact it had on ordinary Berliners. From a military-like observation tower attached to the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre you look down on a sprawl of walls and open spaces created by the East Germans to foil a growing number of attempted defections.

On your Mauer screen run scratchy archival clips of actual escapes or attempts, including that of a woman who gets entangled in barbed wire. You also witness a newly married couple "visit" parents who are seen in an unreachable window across the divide.

Finally, the tour takes you to the East Side Gallery, where graffiti artists have redefined The Wall. The Mauer audio includes interviews with artists, and an explanation of the memorial to "The Unknown Fugitive." Here you see old clips of reunions between East and West Germans briefly permitted by East German authorities in the 1960s at the Oberbaumbrucke Bridge border crossing.

On Nov. 9, 2009, a reunited Berlin marks the 20 th anniversary of the fall of the wall with performances, concerts and a street festival at Brandenburg Gate (berlin.de). For more on the Wall GPS tour, go to mauerguide.com.

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