East Berlin: City of Shadows

East Berlin: City of Shadows

East-Berlin-2When Germany was reunited in October 1990, the Cold War ended and a nation, East Germany, officially disappeared. This tour will transport you back to East Berlin, a place now shrouded in mystery and nostalgia, to reveal a vivid picture of daily life behind the Iron Curtain.

This 3­hour tour explores the surviving monuments of the East German regime including the infamous Berlin Wall and Stasi headquarters. A historian will reveal the dialogue between modern Berlin’s built environment and its dark and often hidden history. You’ll hear about life under Communist rule, the East Germans’ growing discontent and their government’s brutal suppression. The tour begins at the Brandenburg Gate where, in June 1987, President Ronald Reagan famously called on Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to, “tear down this wall!” Nearby is the former Soviet Embassy, a grandiose monument built in 1945 amid the rubble of World War II as a bold declaration of Stalin’s ambition to control all of Berlin. We will discuss how the Allies’ post­war division of Germany into four parts led to decades of Cold War tensions.

East-Berlin-3Next stop is the Friedrichstrasse train station, a key crossing point between East and West Berlin. When families were torn apart by East Germany’s iron­fisted immigration laws, they said their sad goodbyes here in the office known as the Palace of Tears. At Nordbahnhof, we’ll explore how Berlin’s division created “ghost” stations, unused but heavily guarded stops on West Berlin’s subway lines that lay in East German territory. Farther along, the Berlin Wall memorial allows you to experience the notorious Death Strip and hear stories of East Berliners whose attempts to escape led to their tragic deaths.

We visit the grandiose mile­long housing complex known as Karl Marx Allee and consider how East Germans’ dreams for a Socialist paradise turned into a nightmare of deprivation, suppression and paranoia. East Germany’s secret police, the notorious Stasi, coerced neighbors and family members to spy on each other by. At the former Stasi headquarters, you’ll learn how its feared leader Eric Mielke recruited a massive network of spies and created innovative surveillance techniques.

East-Berlin-4Finally, we will visit the center of public life in East Berlin, Alexanderplatz, which was rebuilt in the 1960s with monuments like the futuristic parliament building and the iconic TV Tower. In 1989, this symbol of East German pride was the setting for massive demonstrations that led to the regime’s downfall and brought 40 years of Communist rule to an end.

f4Fabiola Bierhoff is an art historian and PhD Candidate in the History and Cultural Studies program at the Free University of Berlin. She received her Bachelor in Art History at Radboud University Nijmegen in 2006 and holds a Masters in Museum Curatorship summa cum laude from the Free University of Amsterdam. Her Master Thesis on the alternative East German art scene was awarded the Annual Master Thesis Award 2010. Since 2009 she has been an art writer for the bimonthly magazine De Witte Raaf. Fabiola is currently conducting research for her dissertation, which is provisionally entitled “The Role of Autonomous Art Criticism for Performance Art in the Last Decade of the German Democratic Republic”. Her research is funded by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and a research grant from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
DanHeadshotDan Borden grew up in Houston, Texas where he earned an architecture degree at Rice University. After getting his Masters degree from Columbia University, he worked as an architect in New York City for 15 years. His love affair with Berlin began when he visited as a student in summer 1987. After several more visits to the city, he settled in Berlin in 2006 where he works as a teacher, writer and filmmaker. He has contributed to books on the history of architecture and film. His monthly "Save Berlin" column in Exberliner magazine explores the city's architectural history and future.
Jean UlrickJean-Ulrick Désert is a conceptual and visual-artist. He received his degrees at Cooper Union and Columbia University (New York) and has lectured or been a critic at Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Humboldt University and l’école supérieur des beaux arts. Désert's artworks vary in forms such as billboards, actions, paintings, site-specific sculptures, video and objects and emerge from a tradition of conceptual-work engaged with social/cultural practices. He has exhibited widely at such venues as The Brooklyn Museum, Cité Internationale des Arts, The NGBK in galleries and public venues in Munich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Ghent, Brussels. He is the recipient of awards, public commissions, private philanthropy, including Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (USA), Villa Waldberta/Muenchen - Kulturreferat , Kulturstiftung der Länder (Germany) and Cité des Arts (France). Désert established his Berlin studio in 2002.
f3Peter Bijl, born-Dutchman, originally a journalist, has been the initiator/driving force behind different cultural festivals, websites, platforms and exchange projects. After moving back to Berlin in 2008, the city that had gotten under his skin profoundly, he's been doing this internationally. In Utrecht he put up the 9-day Berlin festival Mitte Bitte!, in Berlin he initiated a similar 12-day program of Dutch/Flemish culture: Flachlandfest. Both festivals took place in 2008 and were initiated, developed, financed and produced in only a few months time. As a curator / artistic director, Peter’s highlight was the city-wide manifestation 'No Man’s Land'. A multidisciplinary weekend in November 2009 at 40+ locations in Utrecht, celebrating and commenting the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: a festival as a work of art, using space, creativity and personal stories in different disciplines to tell Berlin’s incredible story. In ‘No Man’s Land’ Peter let Berlin’s heavy history interact with its light and creative present, via the red thread of personal stories. After realizing these festivals, Peter moved on to connecting cultures and stories in a different way: by joining musician Tjerk Ridder in his Caravan Hitchhiking Project. Hitchhiking with a caravan, without(!) a car: the duo traveled Europe, from Utrecht to Istanbul, showing that 'You need others to keep you going'. Their art project had a large international appeal, with national tv reports in 8 European countries. Out of their journey, Peter and Tjerk created and published a book/DVD, which has been published in Dutch, English and German. A new book, a playful photo project on football culture, is on the way.
f2Jeroen van Marle is a geographer and travel writer from the Netherlands, who has lived in Berlin for 5 years. He has lived in 8 countries across the world, writing about dozens of destinations. He's the editor of a Berlin city guide that's published several times per year. A resident of Kreuzberg since 2011, he is fascinated by the varied history of this young district.
f1Madelief ter Braak is architectural historian and freelance writer/journalist. In 2011 she graduated cum laude with a Research Master Art History & Archaeology from the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). Fascinated by urban public space, she focuses on the use and representation of this everchanging aspect of the city in the past, present and future. In her research and writing she’s guided by unconventional sources in art, photography, literature, poetry, films and music. Cross-cultural interests and curiosity have led to several publications in very diverse (online) magazines. For Blauwe Kamer magazine on landscape development and urbanism, she writes the column ‘Standplaats Berlijn’. On her research she’s given lectures at the School of Architecture Groningen, the TU Delft and the Art historian Institute from the University of Groningen. Her masterthesis Flanieren in Berlin is written as a journey across east and west, in times of dictatorship and democracy.

 

Not included: You will need to use public transport a few times, since the distances between some key sites would be too far to walk.  If you will not have a few days visitor's transit pass to Berlin already, we suggest that you purchase the day metro pass.  If you cannot purchase it in advance, your guide will help you  purchase it at the first metro station on the tour

 

Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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