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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Builds Trail Following Berlin Wall

BERLIN -- It is hard to find any tangible evidence left of the Berlin Wall, hastily built 46 years ago by communist East Germany and torn down almost as quickly in 1989 in a rush to obliterate memories of the loathed barrier.

But Berlin has been rediscovering its painful Cold War past and putting the finishing touches on a $6 million bike trail that follows the path of the 160-kilometer wall built on Aug. 13, 1961.

Tracing a "death strip" that ran next to the wall around the enclave of West Berlin, the Berliner Mauerweg, or the Berlin Wall Trail, is both a pleasant tour of the city's green belt and a surreal journey into its horrific history.

"The wall is part of our past and we can't just erase it," said Michael Cramer, a Berlin political leader and mastermind behind the trail idea, which encountered years of resistance.

"The Wall Trail is there to help Berlin come to terms with the past. It's a reminder of not only the division but also of how the wall was peacefully swept away in 1989," said Cramer, who is now a member of the European Parliament for the Greens.

The bike tour offers both a physical challenge and historical treats as it winds its way through mostly green sections of the city. There are about 30 signs posted describing historical landmarks.

Some obstacles were created by reconnected roads and rail lines radiating out of West Berlin after the wall fell. A bike tunnel was built under one train line but other train lines force detours into the city or countryside.

Dream houses have popped up on parts of the former death strip while horse stables and chicken farms are set up in other areas of reclaimed land, where East German border guards and aggressive watch dogs once patrolled.

Birch trees have sprouted up and thick underbrush has spread across other areas of the strip, which was 5 meters to about 100 meters wide -- you can get lost if you miss one of the hundreds of grey "Mauerweg" signs set up at most intersections.

The Soviet-backed Warsaw Pact and the U.S.-led forces during the Cold War squared off along the 3.6-meter wall and "no-man's land" around West Berlin.

The wall, which was created 46 years ago Monday, was built to stop a flood of East Germans to the West -- some 3 million had left from 1949 to 1961. It became a symbol for a lack of freedom for East Germans.

Prosecutors said 270 died trying to get over, under it or through it by the time it was torn down. Some spots where famous killings took place are marked, including the final victim, Chris Gueffroy. He was shot dead nine months before it was opened.

Some 3,200 people were arrested for trying to cross the border.

The bike trail passes three sections of the wall that survived the hasty 1989 dismantling. They total less than two kilometers. Only five of the 303 guard towers are left.

There are still small sections being worked on and a battle over bike rights on one part is raging.

"It's all but finished now," said Cramer, who has been struggling for almost 20 years to have the path built.

"One small park won't let cyclists ride through it but we're working on that."