We’ve all heard the saying, “If these walls could talk…” Imagine this in the context of historic walls that have seen everything from war to revolution to peace.
If the following walls could talk, they would tell the stories we only read about in history books. However, in some ways these walls do talk by way of their murals, graffiti, engravings, and wear over time. Why not visit them and experience their immensity for yourself?
The Berlin Wall is arguably Berlin’s most popular sight for tourists, but more than that, it’s a remnant of a tumultuous political history. The German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany for those of us who didn’t pay attention in history class) began constructing the wall in 1961 to encompass West Berlin, and it served its purpose until it came down in 1989. Today, hidden behind colorful, artsy graffiti is the bleak, gray, concrete structure that divided Berlin (and to some extent Europe on an ideological level) into East and West.
Visiting the remnants of the Berlin Wall is more than just an opportunity for a new Facebook cover photo with a cool background. As you stand in front of the wall and appreciate the artwork that today adds beauty and a new level of meaning to the historic wall, you can take a moment to imagine what it would have been like to live in a city where citizens of the West couldn’t visit their family members in the East.
John Lennon Wall
Prague, Czech Republic
This unassuming wall is located on a peaceful, leafy side street in the regal Malá Strana district of Prague. It originally started as a normal wall until the 1980s when those resisting the Czech Communist government began painting the wall with a portrait of their pacifist hero, John Lennon. For years the wall continued as a way for Czech youth to peacefully show their discontent with the government. Since then, the wall has changed from displaying politically-charged graffiti to a range of artwork, words, and poems. Visiting the wall and appreciating the messages of peace and love colorfully displayed there — while more than likely listening to Beatles’ music played by a street performer — is a soothing experience and a welcome reprieve from a long day’s touring of Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge.
Great Wall of China
Without a doubt one of the most historic walls in the world, the Great Wall spans more than 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) across China. The start of its construction dates back to around 220 BC when emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered a wall to be built to protect China from outside attacks. Throughout the years, the wall saw periods of disrepair then reconstruction, but it still stands today as a symbol of China’s significance, power, and centuries-long history. A trip to China would not be complete without taking a day (or more) to admire the sweeping views of the wall across the landscape. You can even take a day trip to the wall from Beijing and appreciate its glory for yourself.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington DC, USA
Just a short distance from the Lincoln Memorial, you can find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an unassuming, simple memorial to those members of the United States military who fought, died, or went missing during the Vietnam War. Construction of the memorial was completed in 1982 after a contest was held to select a design. Maya Lin, then an undergraduate at Yale University, won the contest with her design of a wall with a reflective surface covered in the names of those being memorialized.
As the wall grows up around you, you get the sense of going lower into the earth as though descending into a grave. As you are confronted by the reality of the overwhelming number of people involved in the war (not even including those outside the United States), you see yourself reflected back in the surface and cannot escape facing the reality of history.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
The only one on this list still serving its purpose as a divider, the Peace Walls in Belfast are relatively unknown among those outside Ireland. Also known as “Peace Lines,” these borders run through Northern Ireland separating the Catholic and Protestant communities to prevent street violence that was once common during the period known as the “Troubles.” Though this violence has virtually disappeared, the walls persist as reminders of these bloody times, and some walls even still close during the evening — most notably those dividing the famous Falls Road and Shankhill Road in west Belfast. The walls in west Belfast were raised in height twice after their initial construction to better separate the conflicted communities and ease tensions.
Today, parts of these walls are covered with murals with a range of messages. The experience of visiting these walls and hearing the stories of residents living in the vicinity is surreal. You wonder how it’s possible that walls of this height still stand in a modern-day city such as Belfast and are even still closed at night. A visit to this lesser-known remnant of the Troubles will open your eyes to the complexities that persist in human society and shock you that these still exist today.