My Berlin: Bornholmer Strasse, first through the Wall
By today’s appearance, it’s easy to overlook the bridge at Bornholmer Strasse (also known as Bösebrücke) as an historic landmark. On the night of 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall opened here first, at the Bornholmer Strasse bridge border-crossing between East Berlin and West Berlin.
28 years undone in a matter of hours
The city of Berlin was divided in two between 1961 and 1989 with a physical wall as the physical manifestation of East German (GDR/DDR) policy. Bornholmer Strasse was the northernmost of the seven road border-crossings between West and East Berlin. Only citizens of West Berlin and West Germany (FRG/BRD) could enter East Berlin at this crossing, whereas citizens of East Berlin and East Germany were forbidden from using the crossing into West Berlin.
On 9 November 1989, the East German government announced new travel regulations which were incorrectly stated at a news conference. But once word had gotten out East Berliners could travel “freely” across the “open border” into West Berlin without the onerous process of a travel visa, people gathered at various border crossings, including Bornholmer Strasse at around 8pm. Border guards began letting pedestrians and cars trickle across the border by 930pm. Guards at other road crossings also began letting people through. But hundreds gathered became thousands, and when it became clear no additional support was forthcoming to manage “control” of the border, border guards decided on their own initiative to open the gates wide open at around 1130pm to relieve mounting pressure and appease those who openly demanded free passage. Just after midnight, 20-thousand people had already crossed the Bornholmer Strasse bridge and the inner-German/intra-Berlin border.
In a matter of hours, the 28-year Wall was rendered useless without a shot fired that night. All border controls ceased on 1 July 1990 (day of monetary union), and checkpoints were no longer manned on 3 October 1990 (German Reunification Day).
Inaugurated on 9 November 2010, a memorial and permanent exhibition occupy the new square, Platz des 9. November 1989, by the northeast corner of the bridge to commemorate that historic evening. Metal strips on the ground highlight events; for example:
2242h (1042pm): “Die Tore in der Mauer stehen weit offen,” Tagesthemen ARD (“The gates at the Wall are wide open,” reported on West German ARD-TV news-program Tagesthemen.)
2320h (1120pm): “Tor auf! Tor auf! Wir kommen wieder, wir kommen wieder!” Ostberliner. (East Berliners shouting, “Open the gate! We’re coming!”)
2330h (1130pm): “Wir fluten jetzt! Wir machen alles auf!” Stasi-Offizier (“We’re flooded with people! We’re going to open everything!” Stasi officers)
0015h (1215am): “Wahnsinn”, “Irre”, “nicht zu fassen”. 20.000 Menschen haben die Bösebrücke passiert. (Crazy, nuts, unbelievable; 20-thousand people cross the Bösebrücke bridge.)
Bornholmer Strasse station
With its inauguration on 1 October 1935, the Bornholmer Strasse station saw S-Bahn train service from central Berlin north to the outlying towns of Bernau, Oranienburg, and Velten (e.g., 1936). S-Bahn service resumed with reconstruction after the Second World War (e.g., 1951). Because of its proximity to the East-West Berlin border and subsequent construction of the Berlin Wall, Bornholmer Strasse station closed on 13 August 1961, becoming a Geisterbahnhof or “ghost station”. West Berlin’s S-Bahn trains sped through the station without stopping, whereas East German trains traveled on new tracks from late-1961 along the so-called “Ulbricht curve” between barriers near the “ghost station”; see images below. The station reopened 22 December 1990 for West Berlin trains, and a second platform opened the following August to allow train interchange. Today, Bornholmer Strasse station is served by trains on S-Bahn Berlin routes S1, S2, S25, S26, S8, and S85; additional side branches of the S-Bahn Ringbahn from both Gesundbrunnen and Schönhauser Allee stations go to Pankow via Bornholmer Strasse.
Archival & Historical Images
• Former border crossing at Bornholmer Strasse (berlin.de): English – German.
• Damals-Heute (then and now) picture comparison, Chronik der Mauer, in German.
• Die Nacht, in der die Mauer fiel (The night the Wall fell), 30-minute YouTube video in German.
• “Bornholmer Strasse”, 88-minute movie in German about the border guards on the night the Wall fell.
• Kreuzberged provides a concise history of the Bornholmer Strasse bridge (in English).
I made the above pictures labeled “HL” on 8 May 2015. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-ajU. Revised 9 Nov 2018 for S-Bahn routes through the train station.
7 Responses to “My Berlin: Bornholmer Strasse, first through the Wall”
[…] Bornholmer Strasse (9 Nov 1989 memorial): S-Bahn Bornholmer Strasse […]
Interesting stuff! Good work 🙂
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Neal, thanks for your comment and for stopping by!
Thank you very much for putting together this interesting piece with such great photos and documents. I’ve crossed the border there many times and was glad to see how the area looks now.
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Hi, Matthias. Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comment!
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[…] of the first places where people broke through the Wall was at Berlin’s Bornholmer Strasse crossing. On the former East Berlin side is the Platz des 9. November 1989 (9th of November 1989 Plaza or […]
[…] comes up with creative ways to support homeless youth. We also walked through an installation at Bornholmer Strasse, the site where the first break in the Berlin wall came late in the night of November 9, 1989. […]