• Berlin
  • Divided Berlin then and now: photo comparisons of the Berlin Wall


Divided Berlin then and now: photo comparisons of the Berlin Wall

Berlin has changed rapidly in the last 30 years, and it's difficult to remember what the city looked like when the Wall ran through it – here are some photo comparisons.

Brandenburg Gate pictured with a warning at the sector border. Photo: Imago/Sven Simon

Construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13th, 1961, and it fell on November 9th, 1989. A lot of time has passed since then – the Wall has now been down for longer than it ever stood. Berlin changed rapidly, and remnants of the Wall are now scattered all over the city as historical souvenirs. Some areas left absolutely no trace of it, while others are still shaped by the Wall and the clashing cultures of East and West Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz

The Potsdamer Platz wasteland. Photo: Imago/Sabine Gudath

Potsdamer Platz was a bustling centre of activity in Berlin for a long time. The war devastated the area, and the square became a wasteland. Today, the square and the buildings around it are exemplary of the architecture after the fall of the Wall. The area still has the reputation of being rather desolate, but there are a few good restaurants on and around Potsdamer Platz.

Potsdamer Platz today: improved, but not completely recovered. Photo: Imago/imagebroker

Niederkirchnerstraße, Gropius-Bau and Prussian Parliament

On the right, the Martin-Gropius-Bau, on the left, (the DDR side), the building of the Prussian Parliament. Photo: Imago/Gerhard Leber

The Wall neatly separated Kreuzberg and Mitte. On the West Berlin side was the Museum of Decorative Arts, (now known as the Martin-Gropius-Bau), one of the city’s most important exhibition halls. Members of the Berlin State Parliament now meet in the old Prussian Parliament. A section of the Berlin Wall is still preserved here, and it is integrated into the Topography of Terror, an educational site about the crimes of the National Socialist government.

The Prussian Parliament is now the Berlin House of Representatives. Photo: Imago/Jürgen Ritter


The view from Kreuzberg to Friedrichshain: on the left you can see a watchtower. Photo: Imago/Serienlicht

You’d never guess that the Oberbaumbrücke used to be so drab. The bridge on the border between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg is now one of the busiest and most popular places in Berlin. Back then, Friedrichshain belonged to the DDR, while Kreuzberg was the main hotbed of alternative West Berlin culture. Today it’s easier to cross the Oberbaumbrücke. Instead of border guards, you are only held up by construction work and traffic.

Photo: Imago/blickwinkel/S. Ziesex

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate pictured with a warning at the sector border. Photo: Imago/Sven Simon

“Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin”, warns the sign at the sector border. The iconic Brandenburg Gate used to stand in the capital of the DDR and the area still hosts the US and French embassies. Today, Pariser Platz is a magnet for tourists, and the Brandenburg Gate is one of the most recognizable symbols of Berlin.

The square near Brandenburg Gate can be deserted or packed depending on the tourist situation. Photo: Imago/HOFER

East Side Gallery

“High performance in socialist competition.” Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

The East Side Gallery – one of the largest works of art in public space – is a sizable section of the Berlin Wall. Not many visitors can resist taking a selfie with Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. This area is constantly changing, but not exactly for the better: Zalando, Mercedes and Amazon have all been building their monuments to competitive capitalism in the area.

The house pictured above is still standing. Photo: Imago/VW Pics

Landwehr Canal

West Berliners took the sudden appearance of the Wall in stride. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

Terrible things happened around the Berlin Wall, but for many people in West Berlin, the Wall was simply everyday life as you can see in pictures of Kreuzberg from the 1980s. Paddling on the Landwehr Canal was a popular activity among West-Berliners, and many people still enjoy it today.

This area along the Landwehr Canal is called the “Dreiländereck”. Treptow (East), Neukölln and Kreuzberg (West) meet here. Photo: Imago/F. Anthea Schaap


Walking through Kreuzberg: For the couple in the picture, the Berlin Wall is everyday life. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

When the Wall stood, Kreuzberg was a remote area. People who had little money to spend and those who wanted to live as untroubled as possible by the government were drawn there. Rent was cheap, but you had to deal with a view of the Berlin Wall. Today it no longer blocks the view, but in some places (around the Engelbecken, for example) in the border area between Mitte and Kreuzberg, it’s obvious whether the houses stood in the East or the West.

St. Thomas Church on Mariannenplatz in Kreuzberg. Photo: Imago/Schöning

The Reichstag building

Restricted area: The Berlin Wall ran directly past the former and current parliament. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

At the time of division, the West German parliament sat in Bonn. The DDR’s People’s Chamber was de facto without influence and limited by instructions from the SED. Until 1970 it met in the Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus in Mitte, then at Alexanderplatz, and from 1976 in the Palast der Republik. Today, the German Bundestag meets in the Reichstag building, and the meadow in front of the building is usually filled with tourists.

The Reichstag. Photo: Imago/Photostand/Reuhl

Checkpoint Charlie

Probably the most famous border crossing in the city: Checkpoint Charlie between the American sector and the capital of the DDR. Photo: Imago/Rech

People crossed the border of the American sector and the DDR through the heavily-guarded Checkpoint Charlie. Today, tourists flock to this somewhat scruffy corner of Friedrichstraße: the border crossing has become a spot for happy snaps, even though it looks completely different.

Today, the border crossing is used as a tourist photo location. Photo: Imago/Klaus Rose

The Spree

Three East Berlin landmarks: the white-framed International Trade Centre, the TV Tower and the Berlin Wall. Photo: Imago/F. Berger

A boat trip through Mitte reveals how drastic the changes have been since the Berlin Wall fell. The Spreebogen was a border area back then, but today, Germany’s government quarter stands here. Along the same stretch of the Spree you can now see the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, (one of the parliament buildings).

Photo: Imago/Westend61

Eberswalder Straße

View of Eberswalder Strasse, Bernauer Strasse and Oderberger Strasse. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

The Berlin Wall ran between Prenzlauer Berg (East) and Gesundbrunnen (West). Prenzlauer Berg was characterised by dirt-cheap rent, dilapidated buildings and drab façades. Nobody living there when the wall was up would recognize the district now. It has been made over completely – gentrification has taken its toll. Instead of a border, there are crowds in Mauerpark and hip cafés.

This is Prenzlauer Berg today: tidy and expensive. Photo: Imago/STPP


The Bösebrücke, long before the border was opened. Photo: Imago/Ritter

The Bösebrücke, colloquially known as Bornholmer Brücke, at one of the most famous border crossings between East and West Berlin. It was here, at 11.39pm on November 9th, 1989, that the head of the border crossing, Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger, opened the barrier to thousands of DDR citizens who had gathered on the East side to test the new travel regulations announced at 7pm by Günter Schabowski. Nothing noteworthy happens here now. Instead of spies and border troops, today there is mainly traffic and billboards at this crossing between Wedding and Pankow. A supermarket stands where the border crossing once was.

Billboards on the fall of the Wall can be found here. Photo: Imago/Andreas Gora

More on the topic

Interested in Berlin’s history? Check out our list of vanished buildings, (or the list of mostly vanished department stores). How about a photo series of buildings in 1945 and now? Maybe you’re after something a little more tangible: did you know that you can still see damage from World War II in some areas? Want to know what it was like to live in the DDR? There are plenty of museums that will teach you about the Stasi.

Want more Berlin stories? Sign up for our newsletter.