Bornholmer Straße

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This is the historic spot where the border between East and West Berlin opened first, i.e. where the "fall of the Berlin Wall" began on the night of 9 November 1989. Today there is some commemoration at the site in the form of plaques, info panels and photos.   

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations  


More background info: After the announcement by GDR spokesman Günter Schabowski during a press conference on the evening of 9 November 1989 stating (prematurely, as it later turned out) that the GDR would officially allow visits to the West, huge numbers of people made their way to the various border crossing points to see for themselves.
The GDR border guards had not been properly informed, let alone prepared for how to handle the situation. And it was at Bornholmer Straße where the pressure from the increasing crowds demanding the opening of the border did indeed lead to the opening of the sluice gates, as it were. Unsure of what to do, and afraid of simply being overrun by the crowds, the border guards eventually gave in and opened the barriers to let the people flood into the West – most of them seeing the West for the very first time.
Other border crossing points followed, and the rest is, as the saying goes, history – history still well remembered: crowds of overjoyed East Berliners greeted by thousands of Westerners who came out to join the unfolding party. Soon the situation was, from a GDR perspective, out of control, and the complete downfall of the Wall only a question of time. The point of no return had been reached.
The 9th of November became synonymous with the "Wende" ('turning point') and Bornholmer Straße was where that breakthrough first occurred – hence the special historical significance of the place.
This was also honoured on the 20th anniversary of the event – when Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (an East German herself) ceremonially crossed the Bösebrücke bridge from East to West accompanied by a throng of reporters and several highly esteemed special guests (including Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa).
What there is to see: not that much really, these days, at least not much of any authenticity. The border crossing stations were all torn down, and about as little remains of them today as of the Wall at large (see Wall remains).
At Bornholmer Straße there is an open area (at one time used by a second-hand car dealer) where the border crossing installations would have been, and a few road markings, remains of foundations of buildings and other traces were still to be found when I was there in 2008, but nothing major in terms of original relics. On my latest return trip in May 2016 I found that part of that area had been turned into the car park of a new supermarket and the remainder was a building site – and the whole bridge was undergoing refurbishment too.  
A couple of memorial plaques stating the historical significance of the site had already been put up near the Bösebrücke bridge, and following the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, yet more commodification has been added. This is mainly in the form of a few information panels with bilingual texts (German and English) providing some account of what happened here and the context for this, small photos of what the place used to look like, as well as large blow-ups of famous photos from that night of the opening of the border at this spot. One panel also points out the other historic days that have happened to fall on a 9th of November in the history of Germany.
In addition, metal strips set into the ground quote famous lines that were recorded that historic night, such as East Berliners shouting “Tor auf! Wir kommen wieder” ('Open the gate, we'll come back') or the final resigning message from the commander of the border post to his superiors: “Wir fluten jetzt! Wir machen alles auf” ('We are flushing now! We're opening everything'). 
Furthermore there is a rather bizarre monument that looks like a cross between a section of the Berlin Wall and a traditional Korean gate. You will have guessed it: it's a monument that “expresses high aspirations” for a Korean reunification between the South and the North. While I frequently found this expressed in the DPRK (for purely propagandistic effects, of course), it is less common to be found as a South Korean “aspiration”, like in this piece of art sponsored by the ROK
Bösebrücke bridge itself leads, across train lines, into the West – and the classic iron structure had become quite an iconic image for the historical events of the "Wende" in 1989, as East Berliners thronged across it into the West … past countless cameras …  Today, however, it's more or less just a normal bridge.
A few Wall remains can also be found in the vicinity, especially towards the south along Norwegerstraße. More are/were supposed to be found along the northern stretch of the railway line towards Wollankstraße – unless these have more recently fallen victim to further urban development; I'll have to go and check some time …
Location: right by the S-Bahn station of the same name (which used to be one of Berlin's few 'ghost stations' that lay overground) to the east of the Bösebrücke bridge, in the district of Pankow, to the north of the city centre.
Google maps locator: [52.5546,13.3992]
Access and costs: Open-air site, freely accessible. To get there you can simply take the regional metro train (S-Bahn, S1, S2, S8) directly to Bornholmer Straße station – or you can walk it (see under dark combinations).
Time required: Probably really not that much; a few moments to view the new development and maybe just an additional moment to contemplate the historical significance of the place. Do factor in additional time for seeking out those original Wall relics in the vicinity, though.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Most likely, a visit to Bornholmer Straße will be part of a walking tour of Berlin Wall sites (see Wall remains), possibly as either a northbound extension of a walk to the "Mauerpark" and Bernauer Straße, or as a starting point for a Wall walk southbound.
To the north of Bornholmer Straße there are more, less obvious Wall remains too, all along the railway lines past Wollankstraße S-Bahn station – where some open areas and remaining light masts may help to indicate that this used to be the "death strip" …
Just one stop on the S-Bahn away is Gesundbrunnen station with a set of bunkers that can be visited on scheduled tours.
See also under Berlin in general.   
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Berlin – no specific sights of mainstream tourism are close by.
  • Bornholmer Straße - bridge in 2008Bornholmer Straße - bridge in 2008
  • Bornholmer Straße 2 - looking eastBornholmer Straße 2 - looking east
  • Bornholmer Straße 3 - wall remains at the bottomBornholmer Straße 3 - wall remains at the bottom
  • Bornholmer Straße 4 - wall remains at the topBornholmer Straße 4 - wall remains at the top
  • Bornholmer Straße 5 - plaqueBornholmer Straße 5 - plaque
  • Bornholmer Straße 6 - new info panelsBornholmer Straße 6 - new info panels
  • Bornholmer Straße 7 - Korean monumentBornholmer Straße 7 - Korean monument
  • Bornholmer Straße 8 - famous last wordsBornholmer Straße 8 - famous last words
  • Bornholmer Straße 9 - famous last wordsBornholmer Straße 9 - famous last words

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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