High-tech guide helps tourists find Berlin Wall

Image: audio wall-guide for tourists
A woman poses for photographers with a new audio wall-guide for tourists in the German capital Berlin. The GPS device automatically gives information on the course, surrounding and sites of the former Berlin Wall depending on where the tourist is standing.Miguel Villagran / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

It can be hard to find what remains of the Berlin Wall, a divisive landmark that for 28 years split the German capital and an entire generation.

But history buffs wanting to see the last vestiges of the iconic symbol of east versus west no longer have to consult old maps or seek out guidebooks. A new multimedia guide offers individualized walking tours connecting the key points where the 103-mile-long wall once stood.

The hand-sized minicomputer, commissioned by the city government and to be introduced May 1, is linked to global positioning satellites mapping the wall's former path.

Boasting a headset and a touch-screen, it features a colorful map of the city that can zoom in and out, showing the users where they are. The route of the former barrier between East and West Germany is marked in red while a yellow line guides the visitor from one wall section to the next, calculating the distances via GPS in meters.

"With the help of this guide, we finally have an answer to the most often asked question: Where was the wall?" Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit told reporters as he introduced the new gadget this week.

Most of the wall was torn down after Communist East Germany collapsed and the border was opened in 1989.

A city project to mark the wall's path through Berlin is scheduled for completion by 2011, the 50th anniversary of the wall's construction.

Apart from guiding tourists from one wall memorial to the next — among them the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the mural-covered East Side Gallery — the digital assistant gives information about 22 historically significant spots along the wall's route.

A woman poses for photographers with a new audio wall-guide for tourists at the German capital Berlin, Monday, April 21, 2008. The guide with a build in GPS system gives audio comments of the Berlin Wall at the users position. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)Markus Schreiber

Audio files and video documentaries give an overview of the wall's dramatic Cold War history, starting on Aug. 13, 1961, when East Germany began building the barrier to wall off the capitalist enclave of West Berlin in a bid to stop a westward exodus from the communist state.

At a memorial for the people killed while trying to escape across the barrier, users can click an icon that lets them see and hear Juergen Litfin talk about the death of his brother Guenter — shot by border guards Aug. 24, 1961 and said to be the first of at least 125 people killed trying to make the perilous crossing.

Passing through the Brandenburg Gate, users can listen to and watch U.S. President Ronald Reagan peering over the wall as he made his famous 1987 speech challenging then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"

Starting on May 1, the wall guides can be rented at five booths throughout the city. They cost between $9.50 and $24 depending on how long visitors want to keep them.

The "Walk the Wall" guide comes in German and English, but manufacturer Antenna Audio is planning to offer it in other languages as well.

It took a team of historians and computer experts one year and $797,000 to develop the current software, said Rosemarie Wirthmueller, Antenna Audio's managing director for Europe, but there now are no concrete plans to use similar GPS-connected devices in other cities.