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The Berlin Wall at the Newseum.
Photo via Shutterstock/FrontPage

8 places to see the Berlin Wall in D.C.

From the Newseum to the Museum of American History

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The Berlin Wall at the Newseum.
| Photo via Shutterstock/FrontPage

As of this year, as much time has passed without the Berlin Wall as with it—it stood from 1961 to 1989 in various iterations. Barbed wire and bricks evolved into standardized L-shaped sections of reinforced concrete 12 feet high. Then unity prevailed.

“In the case of the Berlin Wall, it was unique in the sense that it was designed to keep people in, not keep people out,” says Hope Harrison, a Cold War expert and an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University.

At a time when the U.S. government considers a plan to build its own tangible border, the remnants of the Berlin Wall remind us that barriers often begin the surge of progress instead of ending it.

Here are a few places around Washington, D.C., for an up-close encounter.

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1. U.S. Capitol

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East Capitol St NE & First St SE
Washington, DC 20004

A statue of former President Ronald Reagan sits in the Capitol’s rotunda where visitors will find the smallest publicly accessible pieces of the Berlin Wall in D.C. A line of stones embedded just under the statue’s pedestal honors the man who demanded the demolition of Germany’s notorious monolith. 

“The Berlin Wall is that really rare thing where this edifice and its peaceful crumbling marked the change of an era,” Harrison says. “A revolution is one thing, but what can you touch and feel like you were part of it?”

2. Newseum

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555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Visitors to the Newseum gain the most perspective for how the armored partition imposed upon the Berlin landscape and emotional psyche. 

“When you look at this wall, it invites you to think about what a wall does,” Harrison says. “The decision to resort to such physical separation is an extreme one.”

The brooding bulk of a guard tower from near Checkpoint Charlie dominates the exhibit as an example of the more than 300 towers that East German soldiers used to monitor the boundary. The famous checkpoint, located in central Berlin, provided one of the few breaks in the line.

Additionally, eight sections—the longest stretch viewable outside Germany—separate the Newseum space and provoke a deep sense of division and isolation. 

Photo via Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock

3. Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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1300 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20560

The Smithsonian owns a small chunk of the wall, colored as though it needed to represent the vibrancy of freedom. Red, yellow, orange, green, and blue streaks of paint cover the triangular piece, about four inches across.

“For many Americans,” Harrison says, “it seemed to symbolize American victory in the Cold War, the victory of the West, of democracy and capitalism over Communism.”

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Photo via Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

4. Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

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Ronald Reagan Bldg and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004

Federal Triangle’s Metro escalator will deliver you into Woodrow Wilson Plaza, from which visitors can enter the building, which is named for the most-quoted American leader of the era. Residents of Berlin donated the single panel that once stood in the heart of their city near the Brandenburg Gate. That’s where Reagan gave his popular charge to tear down the wall in the summer of 1987.

“As long as this gate is closed,” Reagan said, “as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/AvidInsight

5. Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

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1740 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

A section of the wall, which ringed West Germany for nearly 100 miles, stands in the courtyard outside the JHU School of Advanced International Studies. The plaque notes that the slice of the international symbol for repression is “a reminder that freedom can never be taken for granted.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Worawutc

6. U.S. Diplomacy Center

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330 21st St NW
Washington, DC 20006

This not-yet-finished museum, located at the U.S. Department of State, houses a recognizable artifact. Civic and political luminaries who ushered a relatively peaceful conclusion to the Cold War inscribed their names on the Signature Segment. The panel includes signatures from former President George H. W. Bush, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country’s first leader who grew up in Communist East Germany.

The wall offers “a permanent reminder of what unfree systems can impose when free systems fail to resist,” said Fred Kempe in 2014. Kempe is president of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank based in D.C. that helped coordinate the acquisition of the Signature Segment.

Construction on the museum won’t be completed for another year or so. Until then, the best way to see the historical slab is to track the Facebook page for public events.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

7. Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

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4645 Reservoir Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

The Signature Segment now on view at the U.S. Diplomacy Center first spent a year as a temporary installation at the embassy. Now, anyone with official German business passes a different piece of the wall. Your best opportunity to see it comes during D.C.’s annual international staycation in May. 

“Interestingly,” Harrison says, “getting the Germans to pay attention to the positive history partly came from the outside, the global memory of the wall. The fall of the wall represented for most people this moment of joy, this terrible thing that people thought would never come down. It took the Germans a long time to realize that it’s a global icon for freedom.”

8. CIA Original Headquarters Building

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Original Headquarters Building
McLean, VA 22101

The agency does not provide an option for public tours, so the wall there is out of reach for most of the D.C. area community. Three panels pulled from near Checkpoint Charlie stand on the grounds at headquarters. According to the virtual tour, the sidewalk runs right into and around the wall “so that it must be confronted directly—just as it was for nearly three decades by the citizens of Berlin.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/The Central Intelligence Agency

1. U.S. Capitol

East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC 20004

A statue of former President Ronald Reagan sits in the Capitol’s rotunda where visitors will find the smallest publicly accessible pieces of the Berlin Wall in D.C. A line of stones embedded just under the statue’s pedestal honors the man who demanded the demolition of Germany’s notorious monolith. 

“The Berlin Wall is that really rare thing where this edifice and its peaceful crumbling marked the change of an era,” Harrison says. “A revolution is one thing, but what can you touch and feel like you were part of it?”

East Capitol St NE & First St SE
Washington, DC 20004

2. Newseum

555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
Photo via Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock

Visitors to the Newseum gain the most perspective for how the armored partition imposed upon the Berlin landscape and emotional psyche. 

“When you look at this wall, it invites you to think about what a wall does,” Harrison says. “The decision to resort to such physical separation is an extreme one.”

The brooding bulk of a guard tower from near Checkpoint Charlie dominates the exhibit as an example of the more than 300 towers that East German soldiers used to monitor the boundary. The famous checkpoint, located in central Berlin, provided one of the few breaks in the line.

Additionally, eight sections—the longest stretch viewable outside Germany—separate the Newseum space and provoke a deep sense of division and isolation. 

555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

3. Smithsonian National Museum of American History

1300 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560
Smithsonian National Museum of American History Photo via Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

The Smithsonian owns a small chunk of the wall, colored as though it needed to represent the vibrancy of freedom. Red, yellow, orange, green, and blue streaks of paint cover the triangular piece, about four inches across.

“For many Americans,” Harrison says, “it seemed to symbolize American victory in the Cold War, the victory of the West, of democracy and capitalism over Communism.”

1300 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20560

4. Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

Ronald Reagan Bldg and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/AvidInsight

Federal Triangle’s Metro escalator will deliver you into Woodrow Wilson Plaza, from which visitors can enter the building, which is named for the most-quoted American leader of the era. Residents of Berlin donated the single panel that once stood in the heart of their city near the Brandenburg Gate. That’s where Reagan gave his popular charge to tear down the wall in the summer of 1987.

“As long as this gate is closed,” Reagan said, “as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind.”

Ronald Reagan Bldg and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004

5. Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

1740 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Worawutc

A section of the wall, which ringed West Germany for nearly 100 miles, stands in the courtyard outside the JHU School of Advanced International Studies. The plaque notes that the slice of the international symbol for repression is “a reminder that freedom can never be taken for granted.”

1740 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

6. U.S. Diplomacy Center

330 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20006
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This not-yet-finished museum, located at the U.S. Department of State, houses a recognizable artifact. Civic and political luminaries who ushered a relatively peaceful conclusion to the Cold War inscribed their names on the Signature Segment. The panel includes signatures from former President George H. W. Bush, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country’s first leader who grew up in Communist East Germany.

The wall offers “a permanent reminder of what unfree systems can impose when free systems fail to resist,” said Fred Kempe in 2014. Kempe is president of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank based in D.C. that helped coordinate the acquisition of the Signature Segment.

Construction on the museum won’t be completed for another year or so. Until then, the best way to see the historical slab is to track the Facebook page for public events.

330 21st St NW
Washington, DC 20006

7. Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

4645 Reservoir Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007

The Signature Segment now on view at the U.S. Diplomacy Center first spent a year as a temporary installation at the embassy. Now, anyone with official German business passes a different piece of the wall. Your best opportunity to see it comes during D.C.’s annual international staycation in May. 

“Interestingly,” Harrison says, “getting the Germans to pay attention to the positive history partly came from the outside, the global memory of the wall. The fall of the wall represented for most people this moment of joy, this terrible thing that people thought would never come down. It took the Germans a long time to realize that it’s a global icon for freedom.”

4645 Reservoir Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

8. CIA Original Headquarters Building

Original Headquarters Building, McLean, VA 22101
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/The Central Intelligence Agency

The agency does not provide an option for public tours, so the wall there is out of reach for most of the D.C. area community. Three panels pulled from near Checkpoint Charlie stand on the grounds at headquarters. According to the virtual tour, the sidewalk runs right into and around the wall “so that it must be confronted directly—just as it was for nearly three decades by the citizens of Berlin.”

Original Headquarters Building
McLean, VA 22101