Let’s Go Exploring! The Real Reason Why the Berlin Wall Fell

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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Most people, myself included, don’t remember exactly how the Berlin Wall came down. We attribute it to some sort of heroic uprising, or maybe with the inevitable era of democracy that swept through the west, the Communists had no choice but to retreat. This is what I assumed before we went to Berlin. Turns out we were completely wrong.

As we found out through one of the most engaging walking tours ever, the real reason the Berlin Wall came down was actually due to..

…a completely fluke.

The year was 1989. After 30 long years of the wall remaining standing, with no sign of coming down, the Communist government of East Germany decided to show their generosity by loosening travel restrictions across the wall—ever so slightly. Non-retired residents were now able to cross the border without a visa or some minor shit like that.

They decided to hold a press conference and put politician Gunter Schabowsk in charge of delivering this tiny bit of good news. Standing in front of the podium, in front of a group of journalists, Gunter proceeded to put the crowd into a boredom-induced coma by reading off the driest, most boring document ever, outlining the flea-sized changes.

One of the journalists, having nearly drifted off to sleep, suddenly perked up at the words “loosening travel restrictions” and having misinterpreted it as “dropping all travel restrictions,” immediately cornered Gunter and asked him “when will these changes be coming into effect?”

And Gunter, having barely read the press release, quickly flipped through his papers and in a sheer panic of trying to hide the fact that he didn’t have an answer, blurted out “effective immediately”.

(Photo credit : Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1104-455 / Grimm, Peer / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The press took this opportunity to open the flood gates and report “all travel restrictions through the Berlin wall have been lifted. Effective Immediately.”

The guard at the wall, overwhelmed by the thousands of people that suddenly started demanding to be let through, called his superior officer no less than 60 times in a span of mere minutes. After receiving no orders on what to do, he decided against shooting everyone, threw up his hands and said “Screw it, I’m too old for this”. And then in an act worthy of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, proceeded to open the gates and let the crowd through.

Three million east Germans surged through the wall into the west in the following 3 days, David Hasselhoff sang a song, and the rest is history.

(Photo credit: By Stefan Helbig (Own work (Original text: Selbst Erstellt)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

So there you have it, ladies and gents. The Berlin Wall came down, not because of some heroic uprising, but because of a colossal bureaucratic fuckup.

So that’s the story we heard on our free 3 hour walking tour of Berlin, delivered by one of the best guides of all time.

We came to Germany after leaving Bratislava, specifically to meet up with our buddy Justin from RootofGood.com, who was on a 9 week trip with his family at the time, but we had no idea how much awesomeness was packed into the city that would ultimately become our favourite in Germany.

Because even though Berlin had history, art, and the lively atmosphere of a major metropolitan city, what it didn’t have was:

a) massive crowds
b) metropolitan prices

And this time, the usual excuses for why a big city has big prices (“population density!” “high paying jobs!”) just pinged right off. For a city that size, we never once felt frustrated by massive tourism, bad traffic, or cringe-worthy prices. For a world-class metropolitan city, steeped in history, it seems to have bucked all the trends of bad prices and horrible crowds.

We were shocked to find this brand-new, 1 bedroom Condo within a 20 min subway ride to Brandenburg Gate, at the heart of the city for only $60CAD (or $48 USD) per night. Anywhere else in the world, a place like this in a major city would cost $100/night at least.

In addition to great value for accommodations, Berlin also had its fair share of free museums, Jewish memorials (they go out of their way to educate the next generation to keep places like Auschwitz from ever existing again), and historic monuments. And for the most hard core of museumophiles, there’s even an entire island filled with museums–aptly named “Museum Island”.

And thanks to Justin, whom we ended up meeting for dinner, we also found out there was a weekend Thai-style market in the park, where you can get authentic pad thai and papaya salad for only $5 Euros a dish!

Papaya salad. Nom nom!

I can honestly say, this is the most authentic Thai night-market experience you’ll get outside of Thailand in the western hemisphere.

Our most haunting experience in Berlin is walking through the Jewish memorial, which was built as a tribute to the 6 million Jews who were killed during WW2:


As you walk through the uneven columns, you really get a sense the sheer volume and scale of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people.

Germany has taken strong measures to educate the future generation and enforce strict rules against idolizing Hitler.

Which is why the bomb shelter where he committed suicide as the Allies closed in is now nothing but a paved over parking lot. To prevent Neo-Nazi’s from turning it into a shrine, the state has decided not to open it up to the public or mark it in any way out of respect for the victims of the holocaust.

As we walked around the city, another thing that stuck out for us was the obvious bullet holes that you could spot in random buildings and monuments, showing just how much destruction happened during WW2, a constant reminder of the casualties of war.

The city felt like living history and with its wonderful culture, transit system, and surprisingly lack of crowds, we really felt at home. Berlin is a city we’d love to come back to in the future.

The busiest, “most crowded” part of the city

Especially given how affordable it is. Check out how much we spent during our week there:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $48 USD/night $60 CAD/night The Airbnb we stayed in was a brand new 1-bedroom condo just a 20 min subway ride from the heart of the city. I couldn't believe you can get prices like this in a major metropolitan city with good job prospects. Mind-blown!
Food: $26 USD/day $32 CAD/day ($19/day for eating out, $13/day for groceries) Groceries in Germany were really cheap. Our favourite grocery stores were Rewe and Lidl, which had grocery prices way cheaper than back home in Canada. To give you an example, a can of beer cost just 0.54 cents–and 0.25cents was the beer can deposit which you get back. So 0.29 cents a can compared to $1.50-$2 back home. When we used to live in Toronto, we thought things were expensive because that's just how it is. Then we started travelling. We quickly found out how overpriced things were in North America. *shakes fist*
Transportation: $17 USD/day $21 CAD/day The flight from Bratislava to Berlin was $73 for the 2 of us. Other than that, cost of subway was only around 9 Euros a day for the 2 of us.
Entertainment: $5.60 USD/day $7 CAD/day Lots of free museums, monuments, parks, and even an open air theatre in Berlin, so the only money we spent was tip  (10 Euro per person) on the best guided walking tour ever and the DDR museum  (8.50 Euro per person).
Total: $96 USD/couple/day $120 CAD/couple/night For a major metropolitan city, Berlin was surprisingly affordable. And if it wasn't for the flight to get there from Bratislava, it would be even less. Looking for long term accommodations, I was able to find 1 bedroom condos for 600 Euros to 800 Euros/month. If we were to live there long term, we could easily live there on $30K USD or $36K CAD a year without missing out on anything.

If you’re ever in Germany, Berlin is a MUST visit. Out of all the cities we visited–
Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Düsseldorf—Berlin stands out as our favourite.

Have you ever been to Berlin? If so, what did you think of it?



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35 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! The Real Reason Why the Berlin Wall Fell”

  1. My wife and and I spent two weeks in Europe with a friend back in 2016; between Prague and a night train to Freiburg, we only allotted forty hours to Berlin. BIG MISTAKE.

    Mauerpark was amazing, especially Bearpit Karaoke. We found a great little modern Vietnamese restaurant, and Meisterstück — pricey, but you walk in and the smoker smells as wonderful as anywhere I’ve been in the South, and all kinds of wurst come out of it. So good. And the CHOCOLATE… sure, there’s a big Ritter Sport store, but if you really want some decadence then Rausch Schokoladenhaus is the place to go. Never have I been so happy to drink hot chocolate in the middle of July.

    So we’re going back this summer for at least a week. Got any further details on that guided tour?

  2. Berlin and Paris are by far my favourite cities I’ve visited so far! I experienced the same as you, great prices, transportation etc.

    I went on a bunker tour (one of the few remaining ones) and it was really interesting. I’d love to do the one you went on but also recommend the one I did. It was cool since they did a 100yr history of Berlin. So you walk out with more knowledge than Berlin at War.

    I’d love to go back sometime!

    1. Your rave review of Berlin was one of the reasons why we went 🙂 Will have to also check out that bunker tour the next time we’re there.

  3. Berlin was many miles inside of East Germany and dissolved along with the rest of Russian dominated, communist Soviet Union shortly after Berlin became one city. As a US soldier, we had to take a “duty train” in the middle of the night to get to West Berlin. Now that I’m retired, I plan to go back in 2019 and immerse myself in all things Berlin, and many of my old stomping grounds. Thanks for another great (and accurate) social studies and history article, professor!

  4. I never knew that about the Berlin wall. It was big news, but I was in high school and had kids problems to deal with. That story is very cool. Thanks for sharing. I’ll read up more about it. History is a lot more interesting now that I’m not learning it in class. 🙂

    We’ve never been to Berlin. The Thai night market sounds really cool. I don’t know why we can’t have great night markets like that here.

    1. History is definitely more interesting when you’re not learning it inside a classroom. Hope you get to visit Berlin someday. The Thai market was a big surprise to us too. Good thing Justin recommended it!

    1. Hope you get to visit, DocG! I was pretty blown away by the city and had no idea something so big and metropolitan could be such good value.

  5. Cool story about the fall of the Berlin wall FireCracker! I remember seeing images on TV of the wall coming down when I was a kid, but I don’t think I understood why it happened.

    Berlin looks surprisingly affordable. I usually write-off slow travel destinations like London and Paris because they’re utra-expensive, but Berlin seems it might be a real possibility.

    Thanks for the great post on Berlin!

    1. I was just as shocked as you are, Mr. Tako! I was like “Ber-freaking-lin” for only $60CAD/night? What the? Am I reading this correctly? Yes, it’s surprisingly affordable for a major city with good job prospects. Hopefully it stays that way.

  6. i was there Xmas 85 and spring 88

    i was so shocked in 89 when it came down , i didn’t see that coming

    one of my most odd travel experiences was visiting East Berlin
    and the metro .. which went under East Berlin but the train would not stop and the stations were spooky and caught in a time warp ..

    i must go back and see it now

  7. Love it! And love that I got to meet up with you guys while we were there. 🙂 I had forgotten all about that “worst bottle of Mexican hot salsa in the world” sitting there on the table between us. Very hot authentic salsa my ass… 🙂

    I came away from Berlin with the same impression. It’s another one of those cities that’s underrated and underloved. Very metropolitan, easy, accessible and inexpensive (given it’s a major world capital). And those delicious $0.25-0.50 beers? Nom nom nom.

    Those bullet holes scattered everywhere throughout the city (and in Munich and the parts of Cologne/Koblenz that weren’t bombed flat) were a stark reminder of exactly what went down 75 years ago.

    1. HA HA, that was the first time I had salsa that tasted like sweet and sour sauce. And the horrible “American” apple pie. Wasn’t even worth it for a joke 😛

      The bullet holes all over the city was freaky!

      1. OMG the AMERICAN apple pie. Totally blocked that traumatic experience out of my memory till you brought it up. Too funny. 🙂

        At least they get sausage, kraut, and pretzels right. And beer. And Thai food. And public transit. And intercity trains. And biking. Well yeah, Germany is pretty great overall (apple pie and crappy hot salsa notwithstanding).

  8. Just wondering why the Americans credit Ronald Reagan for the wall coming down in his speech of 1987 when he said to Gorbachev “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”?
    Just wondering . . .

    1. Yeah, I think that’s him trying to get the wall torn down, but in actuality we have Gunter to thank, not Reagan. Hooray for bureaucratic screwups!

  9. Berlin, Berlin, Berlin! I absolutely loved Berlin! To be honest, Mr.Wow was the one that really wanted to go there and I wasn’t to thrilled about it beforehand. But it quickly became one of the places that would go back to in a heartbeat. It is truly such a cool city with delicious food and beer, awesome street art, and a stark history that it hard to miss.

    1. Felt the same way you did, Mrs.Wow! I was like “No, we need go back to Munich, Munich is where it’s at!” Munich was great, but I like Berlin even better.

  10. We totally fell in love with Berlin, to the point of which I actually had a job interview while we were there. We decided against it eventually, but it was a very real possibility.

    The history is so awesome, that it’s there and in your face, and it’s from our life time.

    And I love that the city has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times, you can just feel the energy there that there is nothing that will defeat that city. The idea that it was separated among 4 outside countries, means that it is truly by definition, an international city.

    One of our favorite experiences there was sitting in a courtyard in Alexanderplatz just listening to a musician with a crowd of people around us. He was just playing on the sidewalk, until the police came and told him to move along. It was so peaceful and relaxing. There was no animosity. Everyone had the same thoughts, we were enjoying the music while it existed and now it’s time to go about our evening. It was kind of wild.

    Germany was great! Munich was fun, and Oktoberfest is a blast! But, Berlin is definitely a special place. Weird. But SHHHHH!!!! No one goes to Europe to go to Berlin.. Keep it between us 😉

    1. Wow, you loved it so much you almost got a job there? That says a lot 😉

      Let’s hope the tourists don’t wise up to how great Berlin is. Go to Munich! Don’t listen to us. Munich is where it’s at!

  11. First time I was in Berlin was in 2000 for my first conference. I think I’ve been there one other time but not really with tons of free time. My friends love it there though. Clearly I should go.

    On the other hand, we just ran into a vanload full of Spanish climbers, in Spain, who were running away from the Berlin winter (where they lived).

    1. Yeah, I can see people escaping the Berlin winter to go to Spain 🙂 Though, coming from Canada, the winter in Germany really isn’t that bad at all. We got away with layering a sweater under a wind breaker. No way you’d be able to keep from freezing to death in Feb in Toronto with so little clothing.

      Definitely go to Berlin in the spring, summer, or fall though. It’s amazing.

  12. Love this!!! Totally adding to my list of places to go!!! Sometimes accidents make the best memories and outcomes!!!

    Now admitting my ocd – isn’t Friday the reader case day? Damn you for getting me into a routine of cool places, investment workshop explanation and reader case routine!!!

    1. It’s so true. That’s why we try to keep our schedule pretty open–just in case we get opportunities to go to places we weren’t planning to go to.

      And yes, Friday’s are reader cases days, but I try to alternate every other Friday between travel and reader cases just to mix things up. You know, to keep you on your toes 😀

  13. Oh, Berlin, I love you so much! I spent a college semester in Berlin. It was so great – got to live in Kreutzberg and eat lots of Döner, school paid for the theater, opera and various concerts…night life was amazing. Anyway, so much fun! On our next trip to Germany my family will be spending 3 months in and around Munich (closer to relatives) but I definitely considered Berlin! Maybe next time (and thanks for sharing your experience)!

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