November 2019 marked 30 years since the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin for more than 25 years, fell. But Berlin is a city which has been surrounded by walls since its very beginning.
Maybe not everyone knows that, centuries before Berlin’s most notorious wall epitomized the Iron Curtain, another wall defined the german capital’s cityscape. It is the Berlin Stadtmauer, or City Wall, that was erected sometime during the 13th century as a defensive barrier to fortify the city.
Spanning about 2.5 kilometers, the wall encompassed Berlin’s medieval perimeters (an area which now includes the Alexanderplatz neighborhood), as well as its sister-city Cölln. The official founding of Berlin-Cölln dates back around 1237. An official city until the 18th century, Cölln was the twin city to Altberlin (the Old Berlin). By 1400, Berlin-Cölln counted 8,500 inhabitants and 1,100 buildings – including three town halls, churches, and several monasteries.
However, the city of Berlin gradually extended past its medieval borders, absorbing neighboring Cölln and eventually transforming into an expansive metropolis.
As a result, over time, with the original city wall rendered useless, its bricks and stones were repurposed to construct neighboring buildings, despite some of the wall’s distinctive original bricks can still be seen near the patio area of Zur letzten Instanz, Berlin’s oldest restaurant still active, which dates back to 1621.
By the 18th century, the city wall no longer served to mark the city limits of Berlin, and another wall was built around the growing city to serve as an excise tax wall to levy tariffs on goods entering and leaving the city. Surely, you have noticed that many of Berlin’s stations and squares have the word “Tor” (“gate”) in their name, such as the waterside Schlesisches Tor, or Hallesches Tor in today’s Kreuzberg. These are reminders of the old city gates in the customs wall which originally stood near the stations.
In any case, between 1867 and 1870, the excise wall and most of the city gates were torn down. Only three were left standing at the time, and two of those were destroyed in the Second World War. The only gate from this wall that still stands is still today one of the most popular attractions of the city, the Brandenburg Gate, once on the western edge of the city. The gate also includes the buildings that were once used to collect the customs duties and excise taxes.
Forgotten by most Berliners and almost lost to time, the intact remnants of the original Stadtmauer were discovered around 1948 when wartime debris was being cleared. This nearly 150-meter piece of wall was promptly declared a city landmark.
Today, the remains of the medieval city wall is located on the grassy median that straddles Littenstraße and Waisenstraße.
Images from web – Google Research