Berlin Wall Trail a surreal journey into city's past

Wed Aug 10, 2011 8:29am EDT
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - It was once one of the world's most deadly frontiers but has since been converted into one of the planet's most fascinating bicycle paths -- a green belt that offers a surreal ride into Berlin history.

The "Berliner Mauerweg" (Berlin Wall Trail) follows the wall's 160-km (100-mile) route and the accompanying "death strip" that encircled West Berlin during the dark decades of the Cold War.

At least 136 people were killed trying to get through the Wall that divided Berlin from the day it was built 50 years ago on August 13, 1961, to its fall on November 9, 1989. Most were shot by East German border guards. About 5,000 made it.

In the euphoria that followed the despised Wall's collapse, most of it was quickly destroyed and early proposals to preserve at least a few pieces for posterity or turn the "death strip" into a bike trail were dismissed as madness.

"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it," said Michael Cramer, a Greens party leader who ignored the widespread criticism and spent a lonely decade pushing to get the Berlin Wall Trail built.

"Everyone wanted the Wall gone as soon as possible and they called some of us in the Greens who wanted to preserve parts of it crazy," Cramer told Reuters. "Unfortunately, there was a certain Prussian thoroughness in demolishing it all."

The city council finally got behind his project in 2001, agreeing it made sense for a city with financial woes to develop its top tourist attraction. The trail is now used daily by tens of thousands of people.


<p>A man rides his bike through a gap in a row of metal rods that delineates the line along which the Berlin Wall used to run at the Berlin Wall memorial site in Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, August 9, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Peter</p>