Mapping Divided Cities and Their Separation Walls: Berlin and Jerusalem


Issue . 65
P. 86
Mapping Divided Cities and Their Separation Walls: Berlin and Jerusalem



This project compares two separation barriers and their urban landscape in two very different socio-cultural and historical contexts: in the cities of Jerusalem and Berlin. The focus is on how different mapmakers from opposite side of the respective divides represent physical divisions, such as walls and barriers, as well as imaginary divides, such as geopolitical or socio-ethnic divisions. Jerusalem and Berlin are particularly powerful symbols of political partition as the Berlin Wall split the city of Berlin for over twenty-six years and Jerusalem remains a divided city to this day. In both cases, their walls have become defining feature of their city’s urban identity. Through much of its recent history, Berlin became synonymous with the wall that split it, and Jerusalem also has become an iconic example of a city divided along physical and imaginary lines.[1]

Such barriers – whether they are real or imaged – evoke varied meanings for different social groups in terms of their function and consequences.[2] At the same time, they can determine ways of seeing and making visible certain urban infrastructures and socio-ethnic geographies on either side of the divide. In other words, as geopolitical barriers are contested, their urban surroundings also become sites of contention. Indeed, the geographies of physically divided cities – their spaces, infrastructures, locales, and streets – are places in which geopolitics dictate that which is made visible and that which is made invisible in maps. Therefore, instead of conceiving of maps as representing and mirroring the world around us, these case studies exemplify how society and politics shape a map’s contours and content. Consequently, the social-political implications of such barriers help “make up” cities, their people, and their geographies in varied ways.[3]

Critical cartographers have long questioned the presumed objectivity of cartography and pointed out that maps, rather than being seemingly “objective” representations of “the world out there,” represent certain social and political concerns that shape the hierachization of spaces as well as the visual and linguistic information included.[4] The selection, inclusion, and elimination of certain visual and linguistic information hereby serve as tools to affirm the existence of certain features and not others. As a result, maps are more like arguments than representations:


the map is actually a system of propositions (a proposition is a statement affirming or denying the existence of something), an argument . . . the map has gone on to a long career rich in the affirmation of the existence of a bewildering variety of things, some whose existence we continue to affirm . . . some we have come to deny (the island-continent of California, the Northwest Passage, the open polar sea, etc.), but, in any case, things very hard to imagine without the creative intercession of the map.[5]


If maps can be understood as arguments for the existence and the affirmation of certain features and not others, we need to develop conceptual tools in order to understand their visual rhetoric. Visual rhetoric includes the use of various graphical, symbolic, and linguistic tools to invoke authority, appeal to particular audiences, elaborate social concerns, and make political statements. Some commonly used visual rhetorical devices in maps include: visual signifiers (including features such as a map’s projections and scale, levels of cartographic detail, and choice of colors); textual signifiers (including the naming of places and other signifiers that load an image and reveals its target audience); and the demarcation of the space (by selecting certain geographical or infrastructural features such as roads, maps can create a specific spatial hierarchy).[6] How these different elements are used to design maps and thereby co-construct particular geopolitical visions is informed by the social and political context of the maps’ production.

Historically, maps have long been used as tools to establish sovereign control over territories and dispossess the colonized.[7] Indeed, “putting the state on the map meant knowing and imagining it as real – and, so, making it a reality.”[8] The making of maps is part of “knowing the land” and has been a precondition for supplanting societies, asserting land claims, and controlling resources.[9] Yet with the recent democratization of mapping practices enabling anyone with access to the Internet and cartographic software to design maps, “counter-mapping” and “alternative mappings” have become increasingly prevalent.[10] Consequently, maps of divided territories and contested spaces and infrastructures became examples of the power and politics of maps, as various governmental and non-governmental institutions and actors engage in “map wars.”[11] What is cartographically represented, eliminated, or emphasized in different types of maps is thus deeply political.

The data presented here provides a preliminary analysis of different mapping strategies in geopolitically divided cities. In order to trace how visual rhetoric is used to map disputed spaces and infrastructures, I will address the following questions: First, how do mapmakers across the divides use representational strategies of inclusion, exclusion, mapping, and naming to unify or split divided cities and to claim or expunge spaces, names, and infrastructures? Second, how do various mapmakers represent or erase geopolitical walls and barriers in these divided cities? Finally, how has the rise of political tourism affected the visibility of geopolitical walls and barriers in maps and on the ground? By addressing these questions, this paper traces the changing politics of the visibility or relative invisibility of walls and the cityscapes they divide. I will first turn to predominant mapping practices in communist East Germany and capitalist West Germany.


The Politics of Mapping Berlin


The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was one of the pivotal moments of the twentieth century. Since its construction in 1961, the Berlin Wall represented one of the great political, economic, and ideological divides of history; it symbolized the Cold War, dividing communist East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, GDR) from capitalist West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) for decades. During that period, mapmakers in East and West Germany represented the contested territory of the two Germanys in varied ways. They employed a visual rhetoric that reflected the contested geopolitical realities at the time. How spatial relations and hierarchies were cartographically denoted, in tandem with the use of various visual and textual signifiers (ranging from the colors used to the size of names), served to both claim and erase certain territories and spaces and to advance contrary geopolitical visions. While East Germany, under the auspices of the Soviet Union, strove to establish an autonomous socialist state that was to be independent from West Germany, West German policy-makers and politicians continued to treat the two German states as part of one nation in need of reunification. These different geopolitical visions become embedded in the sorts of maps that were produced on either side.


East German Maps


In the strive toward independent statehood, East German mapmakers demarcated East Germany’s territory and erased West German sites, lands, and cities from the map.



Figure 1: “Topografische Karte 1:200.000,” 1988. Zentral-und Landesbibliothek Berlin, online at 31 January 2016).


A 1988 East German–produced map (fig. 1) exemplifies this practice.[12] In this map of Berlin, West Berlin is marked as an empty and unlabeled void in the city’s midst. Moreover, the boundary between the two parts of the city is indicated by a thick pink line, yet the “Berlin Wall” that enforced that division remains unmarked. Similarly, in East German tourist maps, West Berlin was frequently represented as a void, on the edges of the GDR capital, among its outlying suburbs, and with no or only few markings.[13] When we compare maps from Berlin before the construction of the wall and after, we see that after 1961 the West German part of the city became eradicated (fig. 2).



Figure 2: “Karte Berlin 1960,” Forum DDR Grenze: DDR Zeitgeschichte Online, online at (accessed 26 August 2015).


How can we explain this cartographic eradication? For the East German government the divide was not as the West represented it ­– “a wall” that embodied twentieth century dictatorial power and repression – but was the “Anti-fascist Protection Bulwark” (der Anti-fashischtische Schutzwall). It was set up to control the infiltration of undesirables, including National Socialists, fascists, and smugglers. This “defensive barricade” was seen as a grand achievement of the socialist state – a “demarcation-line” which represented an international border that protected the newly established East German state from its enemies. It was celebrated in postage stamps and state celebrations as securing an independent and sovereign state, controlling its borders, and hindering illegal activities.[14] According to official accounts: “We did not take any . . . action that any other independent, sovereign state would not also take. We solely took our border . . . under control.”[15] Therefore, this border was to be depicted like any other border that demarcates the limits of an independent sovereign state.[16]

While the cartographic eradication of West Berlin and West Germany served to affirm East German national statehood, the use of textual signifiers such as various naming practices also helped to assign different territorial significance to either part of the two Germanys. Indeed, the names of cities became part of identity politics. Historically, newly established states have understood the importance of renaming a territory and its infrastructure. New names for territories, sites, and cities served to legitimize new political powers and could reflect their particular ideologies, while at the same time erasing the topography of previous sovereigns.[17] In divided cities, adversaries’ struggle over territory is expressed in a struggle over names. While in Cold War Berlin, both parts of the city adopted the name “Berlin” in order to signify their political legitimacy as the successor state to pre-war Germany, East German maps juxtaposed the names: “the capital of the German Democratic Republic” or “democratic Berlin” with “Westberlin.”[18] The name Westberlin implied that it was neither democratic nor sovereign, but a puppet state of the Western allies. The name also suggested that while the capital of the GDR was connected to the territory under its control, Westberlin did not possess such a territorially based legitimacy.[19]

Besides the use of textual signifiers to legitimize or delegitimize and to emphasize or erase the status of certain territories, various visual signifiers (including the size and color of names and territories) also served to mark the status of the two Berlins. Indeed, West Berlin remained not only unmarked, but was also frequently cartographically minimized. For instance, in an East German–produced subway map from 1988 (fig. 3), West Berlin disappeared into a gray-lined zone that seemingly had no impact on East Berlin’s urban spaces.[20] While some subway stations did serve as formal crossing points from West to East Berlin (such as at Friedrichstrasse), these potential crossing points and subway lines were not included, not least because only passengers from the Western sector had access to this border crossing.



Figure 3: East German subway map, 1988, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).


The visual and spatial configurations in this map served to obliterate West Berlin by superimposing the Potsdam area (a town West of Berlin) onto West Berlin by condensing the distance between Potsdam and East Berlin. The map thereby obscures the urban divide and reveals a seemingly continuous East German territory.[21]


West German Maps


West German–produced maps told a very different cartographic history of the region at that time. For West Germany, the “Berlin Wall” was not an international border between sovereign nations, but an internal political division in a city that was supposed to be united. Maps therefore visually emphasized the division by clearly delineating the wall, and they included, rather than excluded, the East German side of the city. This cartographic inclusiveness in the maps produced was in line with the then-predominant West German political sentiment that reunification was the only viable political solution.

The following 1961 map (fig. 4) contrasts starkly with East German–produced maps of the time, which represented the “protective barricade” as an international border. In this map, the divide is clearly demarcated visually as a glaring red brick wall (though at the time the divide was constructed of barbed wire only) to highlight how the wall severed the very heart of the city. This map, like other West German–produced maps at the time, also depicts both West and East Berlin, again emphasizing the essential unity of the territory and the artificiality of the geopolitical divide.



Figure 4: Map of Berlin, 1961. Source: Mauerpläne, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).



Figure 5: “1963 U: BVG_West: Eröffnung Grenzallee-Britz Süd,” S-, U-, und Strassen-Bahn Netzspinnen – die Netze im Spiel der Geschichte, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).


Similarly, West German-produced subway maps also depicted the whole, albeit divided, city and they showed the transit network as contiguous (fig. 5). By depicting stations in the city’s east, the city is represented as a contiguous subway-scape. In this 1963 map, unlike in the East German–produced map, the subway line linking the western part of the city with Friedrichstrasse (which served as an entry point into the East) was also marked. The cartographic inclusiveness of this map is all the more remarkable given that a gray line, which is described as the “sectorial border” between the Soviet- and the Western-occupied sectors, is clearly demarcated. Such West German–produced maps thus tend to clearly delineate the wall, the division, and to represent both sides of the cityscape.[22]

Maps produced in East and West Germany during the Cold War therefore show how Berlin became a contested representational space. The diverging geopolitical visions of independent statehood in the East as opposed to the need for reunification in the West thus dictated what become cartographically visible and what remained invisible in the maps produced at the time. The construction of spatial relations in tandem with the use of various visual and textual signifiers served to emphasize, include, or erase places, and thereby reflect wider geopolitical aims. How then does the geopolitical division of present-day Jerusalem dictate which spaces are represented and which names are used?


The Politics of Mapping Contested Jerusalem


Just like the struggle over divided Berlin was, in part, a battle over the representation of spaces and territories, so does the territorial battle over divided Jerusalem include a struggle over the depiction and naming of places. The physical and imaginary divides that crisscross the city of Jerusalem do not divide it linearly, but rather form a complex web of divided spaces that fragment the city into different ethnically-defined zones and serve to exclude, include, or guard against various socio-ethnic groups. Indeed, in the city of Jerusalem (as elsewhere in the West Bank and inside Israel), Palestinian and Israelis may reside in close proximity to one another, yet they are located inside “a giant web” of interrelated, but disconnected, ethno-social spaces.[23] The fragmentation of spaces within Jerusalem and the resultant ethno-social territorial struggles over urban spaces they entail has also informed the design of the city’s maps. The various physical and imaginary divides have fuelled cartographic diversity across these divisions in terms of how different mapmakers name, represent, include, or eliminate different urban spaces and infrastructures.


Israeli Maps


While East and West German–produced maps of Berlin conveyed different geopolitical visions of the city, maps of divided Jerusalem reveal pervasive ethno-social divides that are reflected in what they include or exclude. Israeli-produced maps tend to select and emphasize Jewish spaces and erase the Palestinian topography of the city, a practice that has long been part of Israeli state-making efforts. Indeed, since the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, national maps were Hebraized to affirm a Hebrew topography of the land and to de-signify and symbolically erase Arab spaces.[24]

This process was not confined to the early years of Israeli state-building, however, and in Jerusalem it is possible to see how this process is ongoing. The following map (fig. 6), which was produced by the Israeli association Ir David (also known as Elad), which aims to strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, exemplifies how selecting and highlighting some spaces and de-emphasizing others, while also imposing particular names, serves to strengthen Jewish claims to the city.[25] This map emphasizes the archeological site of the “City of David” in the heart of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, which remains unnamed and fades into the background. Streets have been given biblically-derived Hebrew names so as to emphasize Jewish connections to the area. This is exemplified by “Maalot Ir David Street,” which frames the archeological site to the north.[26] At the same time, Jewish sites, such as the Jewish Quarter, Mount Zion, and the Western Wall Plaza, are marked and named, while Palestinian sites such as the al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as Palestinian street names (including the Arabic name for Maalot Ir David Street, Wadi Hilweh Street) and other Palestinian sites of interest, remain unnamed. Such cartographic renderings thereby solidify a Hebrew topography of Jerusalem.



Figure 6: “The City of David – Ancient Jerusalem,” produced by Ir David. Source: Cornell University: Artstor.


Yet such maps not only can establish what Edward Said called “imaginary geographies,” they also have real world consequences. They may impact planning decisions and they can also remake physical geographies. In 2010, the Jerusalem municipality published an urban plan to build a biblical park adjacent to the “City of David.” For Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, this plan was intended to restore the place to what it was three thousand years ago: a garden for King Solomon. (The archeological community, it should be noted, is divided over whether archeological finds in the area pertain to that time period or support the historical interpretation put forward by Ir David.) This entailed demolishing Palestinian homes in the neighborhood.[27] Moreover, by 2015, the Jerusalem municipality renamed East Jerusalem streets and Hebrew names that first appeared in Elad’s maps, such as Maalot Ir David Street, were now official. The power of such maps thus lies in their potential not only to shape “imaginary geographies,” but to become tools to recreate urban realities.

Jerusalem city maps also reveal how the demarcation of urban spaces can define spatial hierarchies and thereby impact geopolitics. Maps purchased on West Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street or on East Jerusalem’s Salah al-Din Street provide a very different sense of what constitutes Jerusalem’s downtown. For the producers of the “Jerusalem City Map” (figs. 7a and 7b), downtown doesn’t include the eastern part of the city – including Salah al-Din Street, the heart of East Jerusalem. It is either erased from the map (fig. 7a) or marginalized to the city’s fringes (fig. 7b). Such maps also Hebraize the geography of the city by a process of selective representation that excludes Palestinian spaces and infrastructures, as well as by Hebraizing streets and sites.[28]



Figure 7a: “Jerusalem City Map,” 2006–2007, produced by Rami Meroz. Source: Cornell University, ArtStor.



Figure 7b: “Jerusalem City Map,” 2006–2007, produced by Rami Meroz. Source: Cornell University, ArtStor.


Indeed, for the Jerusalem municipality, despite its annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and its declaration of Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people, “East Jerusalem . . . is apparently not considered part of the core of Jerusalem – it rather represents its periphery.”[29] However, while East Jerusalem is not part of the downtown area, it is nevertheless represented as part of the larger Jerusalem municipality. The municipality also includes various Israeli settlements (illegal under International law) that have become well connected to each other and to the city center and have at the same time isolated parts of Palestinian East Jerusalem in terms of infrastructural developments and connectivity. While West German–produced maps claimed East Berlin by cartographically depicting it, Israeli mapmakers also make territorial claims by cartographically annexing East Jerusalem. Such maps therefore navigate an uncomfortable path between inclusion and exclusion.

The controversy over the recently built Jerusalem light rail also exemplifies the politics of inclusion and exclusion (fig. 8). Although the municipality presented the light rail as a project to provide public transportation, thus serving all Jerusalemites, critics argued that the light rail is a “‘conflict infrastructure’ that connects the city physically and segregates it politically.”[30] According to the Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem:


The JLRT [Jerusalem Light Rail Transit] system is planned to accommodate the transportation needs of 100,000 settlers daily. Planned routes lead to illegal settlements in both northern (Har Hatzofim, French Hill, Pisgat Ze‘ev, Ne‘ve Ya‘akov, Ramot, Atarot) and southern (Gilo) parts of East Jerusalem. The preferential nature of the first line serves as an indication that the project disregards the transportation needs of the Palestinian population. Of the 23 stations planned along this route (14 km), only three are in the predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Shu‘afat.[31]



Figure 8: CityPass Jerusalem Light Rail Transit route, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).


The light rail’s infrastructure thus expands the definition of what is considered Jerusalem and consolidates Israeli Jewish claims to the city. The map provides the cognitive infrastructure to reshape people’s “imaginings” of the city limits. Here again, the “control over the representation of space” becomes “part of the broader struggle over control in and over the city.”[32] At the same time, the politics of territorial inclusion goes hand in hand with the marginalization and de-signification of the Palestinian topography of the city. As the light rail’s route skirts the margins of East Jerusalem and only enters two Palestinian neighborhoods (Shu‘fat and Bayt Hanina) on the way to Israeli settlements on the city’s outskirts, the railway provides only minimal benefits to Palestinian residents.[33] The cartographic depiction and Hebraization of territory (for example, the Palestinian neighborhood of Shaykh Jarrah is referred to as Shim’on Ha-Tsadik, the Hebrew name for the same area) in tandem with the establishment of infrastructures of colonization hereby serve to expand Jewish territorial “imaginings” and practices.[34] At the same time, Palestinian topographies, spaces, and infrastructures remain largely unnamed and unmarked, and fade increasingly into the background.


Palestinian Maps


Palestinian mapping practices have lagged behind the Israeli effort to survey and map the land. A lack of human, technical, material, and financial resources; the precarious geopolitical situation on the ground; as well as fragmented and divided Palestinian institutions have all hampered the development of Palestinian cartographers’ and surveyors’ ability to survey and map the territory.[35] However, by the mid-1990s, various Palestinian state and non-state actors and institutions have increasingly produced maps that reveal different perspectives on Jerusalem’s downtown. Like in the Israeli-produced maps examined above, in the Palestinian-produced map below (fig. 9), the demarcation of urban spaces most clearly denotes notions of what constitutes the city.



Figure 9: “Jerusalem Street Map,” produced by Pal Map GSE, online at (accessed 26 August 2015).


In this map, the focus is on Palestinian East Jerusalem, which is to the north of the Old City walls. At the same time, the Israeli Jewish parts of the city (which on Israeli produced maps extend far to the west) are eliminated. Maps produced by Palestinian governmental institutions, such as the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, also delineate only the eastern part of the city.[36] Thus, commercially produced maps of Jerusalem largely follow the conventions of other Palestinian-produced maps of the Palestinian territories: they delineate what under international law is considered to be occupied territory and thereby don’t make spatial claims on Jewish parts of the city by way of representing or mapping it. Visual elements that would appear on Hebrew maps of Jerusalem – such as the “City of David” – are also omitted. At the same time, the Palestinian topography of the city is named, represented, and emphasized through the use of visual signifiers (such as the level of visual detail) as well as through textual signifiers (such as the use of Arab names). The resulting urban geography of the city thus differs substantially from the geographical configurations put forth in Hebrew maps.

Yet, is there a bird’s eye view, a particular way of representing Jerusalem cartographically, that can overcome the socio-ethic divisions so prevalent in locally produced maps? Internationally produced maps, such as by the cartographic company Freytag & Berndt, tend to provide a different vision of how to spatially demarcate the city.[37] Such maps tend to be cartographically inclusive. Both West and East Jerusalem are provided equal space on the map and thereby seemingly co-constitute the city of “Jerusalem.” They also tend to name both Hebrew and Arab sites and streets. The socio-ethical imaginary divisions that matter to locals are thus cartographically erased; the spatial hierachization and marginalization that is prevalent in locally produced maps thus gives way to a “united” city of Jerusalem.

The maps produced by different Israeli, Palestinian, and international mapmakers exemplify how the use of specific spatial demarcations as well as various visual and textual signifiers can construct the city’s “imaginary geographies” in different ways. Such visual rhetorical devices hereby become powerful tools to establish competing geopolitical visions of which territories, infrastructures, and people “make up” the city in divided lands.


The Politics of Mapping Walls


Mapping the West Bank Barrier


While maps become arguments to “make up” cities in different ways, maps of the contested West Bank barrier/wall/fence exemplify most starkly the politics of maps. Such maps become visual arguments for particular geopolitical understandings of the barrier’s impact, purpose, and consequences for different communities.[38] The Israeli government started to build what it calls a “security fence” in 2002. It consists partly of a concrete wall (up to 8 meters high along densely populated areas) as well as sections of a “fence system,” 45–70 meters wide, that includes a patrol road, sand tracks, a ditch, and outer fencing on each side. Once completed, the barrier is projected to be 721 kilometers long (twice as long as the internationally recognized Green Line – the 1949 armistice line marking the boundary between Israel and the West Bank). For Israeli proponents, it is the “security fence” or “anti-terrorist fence”; for its opponents it is “the Wall” (often preceded by one or multiple descriptors such as racist, separation, colonization, annexation, or apartheid). The BBC, the United Nations, and Israeli human rights groups use the term “barrier” as an acceptable generic description, instead of more politically charged terms such as “security fence” or “wall.” Therefore, the very name given to the barrier allegedly reveals our politics, as names such as “wall” versus “fence” are intertwined with its alleged function and social consequences.

Jerusalem’s wall may not cut through the heart of the city as the wall did in Berlin, but it winds its way around the edges of the ever-expanding Jerusalem municipality. While the Israeli government maintains that the barrier’s route is based on security considerations, various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) argue that other factors determined its construction and routing, including demography. Accordingly, the wall’s route was to exclude as many Palestinians as possible, while annexing land and including Jewish locales in order to strengthen Israel as a Jewish state.[39]

Yet, despite the barrier’s impact on the municipality, it is frequently underrepresented or erased in maps. For instance, in a map of the Jerusalem municipal area posted on the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs’ website, the municipal boundaries are clearly depicted as a red broken line, yet “the fence” is not represented (fig. 10).



Figure 10: “Jerusalem Municipal Area,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, online at (accessed 25 August 2015).


To be sure, the practice of either erasing, underrepresenting, or depicting the barrier strictly in terms of its function of security is in line with predominant cartographic practices among Israeli mapmakers.[40] However, Israeli political advocacy groups, such as human rights organizations, delineate the barrier and contextualize it in terms of the complex realities on the ground.[41] In B’Tselem’s map of the separation barrier in Jerusalem (fig. 11), the municipal boundary (in yellow) is juxtaposed with the barrier’s route (in red) as well as the Green Line. These starkly accentuated lines are superimposed on the territorial divisions and demographic fragmentations of the area so as to highlight how the barrier serves to include Jewish settlements. For such political interest groups, the cartographic visibility of the wall is vital in order to advocate effectively against the barrier and to visually link the demographic composition of the territory with the wall’s route.




Figure 11: “The Separation Barrier, Jerusalem Area, September 2005,” B’Tselem, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).


Similarly, Palestinian mapmakers tend to trace the route of the wall clearly and distinctly so as to point to its impact on land- and cityscapes, as can be seen in the “Jerusalem Region Map” (fig. 12). In this map, what is termed the “separation wall” is distinctively marked in black. Its cartographic visibility again is crucial for advocating against “the Wall.” In such maps, the barrier is also always described as a “wall,” unlike in many Israeli-produced maps in which it frequently is described as a “fence” that seemingly doesn’t profoundly impact its surroundings.



Figure 12: “Jerusalem Region Map,” produced by Pal Map GSE, online at (accessed 31 January 2016).


Mapping the Berlin Wall


While the cartographic visibility of Jerusalem’s barrier has served as a call for political action, the cartographic visibility of the Berlin Wall has also served the German tourist industry post-1990.[42] In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, local municipalities raced to destroy any visible signs of its infrastructure. Little did the local government expect that the wall was to become one of the city’s more attractive features. For tourists, the wall was its symbol. In an economically strapped city with few industries and a lack of international investments, the tourist industry promised to be one of the more lucrative sources of economic revenue.

By the mid-1990s, various attempts were made to make the Berlin wall visible again in various ways. Maps began to trace its route so as to entice people to walk along it.[43] Its path was reconstructed by inlaying cobblestones into streets. The Mauergedaenkstatte Bernauer Strasse and the Museum Haus at Checkpoint Charlie turned urban spaces into historical pilgrimage sites for political tourists interested in Berlin’s tumultuous political history.[44] Not only did the historical memorabilia of the wall make Berlin the most popular tourist destination in Germany, but it also assured Berlin its place as the most popular tourist site in Europe after London and Paris.[45]

Yet, how the wall is remembered remains disputed. For Hagen Koch, the East German architect of the wall in 1961, a West German perspective on the wall dictates the way the Berlin Wall is remembered and seen: “We commonly understand the term ‘Berlin Wall’ to mean the western side of the border infrastructure.”[46] Consequently, the collectively shared memory of the twentieth century division that split Germany reflects the history and experience according to the victorious powers. The elaborate “fence system” (fig. 13) that faced the Eastern side and dug deep into East German territory and, according to the East German ministries at the time, was an international border, has thus been replaced with narratives of a physical wall that divided the two Germanys and embodied twentieth century dictatorial powers and repression. The politics of visibility of such contentious structures – such as walls and barriers – thus also turns into a politics of historical memory. Neither maps nor memories are therefore likely to ever escape the contentious geopolitics of divided cities.



Figure 13: “System of Berlin Wall,” Berlin Wall Online, online at (accessed 31 January 2016). Source: Berlin Wall Archive, Hagen Koch.




Cartographic practices in divided cities are paradigmatic examples of how maps don’t reflect but create spatial realities that are informed by different geopolitical visions. In divided Berlin as well as in divided Jerusalem, maps served as tools to either represent and thereby claim territory, or to erase the topography and spaces of the political adversary. The predominant West German political sentiment, pre-1989, that eventual reunification of the two Germanys was the inevitable solution to the historical injustice of national division was reflected in West German maps produced at the time; they tended to represent cartographically and thus claim East German territory. Yet for East German officials their state was independent and sovereign and East Germany’s maps therefore represented only what they perceived as the national territory under their control. At the same time, the infrastructure of division that separated the two territories had fundamentally different meanings to compatriots on either side. While for East Germans, it was a national border, for West Germans it was the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the infringement of human rights and political repression. These contrary political meanings constituted the cartographic representation of a national border or a wall (indicating an internal political division) respectively.

These political tensions are also evident in the divided city of Jerusalem. Official Israeli-produced maps tend to include both sides of the divided city whereby claiming them as part of the national territory; yet they largely exclude Palestinian infrastructures and names. Israeli NGOs working for peace and reconciliation in the region, however, cartographically depict Palestinian topographies and infrastructures so as to emphasize their commitment to international law and the need for territorial compromise. Palestinian-produced maps, on the other hand, tend to exclude Jewish parts of the city. By not representing Jewish cityscapes they also don’t claim it as their own. Moreover, while Israeli-produced maps frequently minimize or eliminate the fence/wall/barrier, Palestinian-produced maps (not unlike West German–produced maps before 1989) tend to emphasize “the Wall” so as to point to its devastating effect on urban spaces. Just as the visibility of the wall became a rallying cry for the unification in Germany pre-1989, in Jerusalem the wall’s cartographic prominence represents a call for political activism.

In both cases then, imaginary and physical divides have become catalysts that make visible or erase certain infrastructures, people, and geographies. In terms of cartographic representations, the politically more powerful actor – West Germany and Israel respectively – represented and cartographically depicted the other side so as to claim the territory, yet in the Palestinian case, its people and their infrastructures become largely invisible. Both East Germany and the Palestinian Authority refrained from representing and claiming territories on the other side of the divide. Indeed, Palestinian governmental and commercially produced maps cartographically claim only territory to which they have a legal claim according to international law. Internationally produced maps, on the other hand, include both Israeli and Palestinian infrastructures. Cartographic inclusiveness thus becomes a matter of cultural recognition of both socio-ethnic groups. Cartographic representations of barriers also seem to have become part of a politics that is interlinked with power and legitimacy. While official Israeli maps tend to underrepresent the “fence,” Israeli left-wing NGOs tend to emphasize “the wall/barrier” in line with the representational practices of international institutions such as the United Nations. In Berlin, on the other hand, representation of the divide depended on its geopolitical definition as either an international border or an illegally constructed wall. It is only post-1990, when the wall turned from a geopolitical divide into an economically profitable tourist attraction, that it again became visible on the ground and in maps.

Geopolitics thereby not only dictates the varied meanings of walls and barriers, but it also dictates the relative visibility or invisibility of different parts of divided cities and their infrastructures. Yet history often is the final arbitrator in such geopolitical disputes. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany’s communist regime, only one victorious geopolitical vision remained. It is this vision that has become part of the collectively shared memory of the Berlin Wall; its memorabilia have become part of a thriving political tourist industry. The West Bank wall and the fraught geopolitics it entails, however, is still a history in the making, and its maps remind us how such divides can shape certain imaginary and physical geographies that continue to divide, rather than unite, cities with walls in their midst.


Christine Leuenberger is a senior lecturer in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University. She is grateful to participants at the 7th International Conference of Critical Geography (ICCG), Ramallah, Palestine (26–30 July 2015) for useful feedback and she is indebted to Ahmad El-Atrash and Gary Fields for reading earlier drafts of the paper. She is also thankful to Salim Tamari as well as co-editors and reviewers of Jerusalem Quarterly for constructive and encouraging comments. This research was made possible through grants from the Fulbright Scholar Program for the Middle East, North Africa, Central and South Asia Regional Research Program (grantee no. G48413539), the Fulbright Specialist Program (grantee no. 88100362), and the National Science Foundation (award no. 1152322).



[1] Anne B. Shlay and Gillad Rosen, Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis (Cambridge: Polity, 2005).

[2] Christine Leuenberger, “Technologies, Practices, and the Reproduction of Conflict: The Impact of the West Bank Barrier on Peace Building,” in Elisabeth Vallet, ed., Borders, Fences, and Walls: State of Insecurity? (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 211–230; Christine Leuenberger, “From the Berlin Wall to the West Bank Barrier: How Material Objects and Psychological Theories Can Be Used to Construct Individual and Cultural Traits,” in Katharina Gerstenberger and Jana Braziel, eds., After the Berlin Wall: Germany and Beyond(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 59–83.

[3] Ian Hacking posits that people are “made up” through theories, practices, and beliefs. Ian Hacking, Mad Travellers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illness (London: Free Association Books, 1998).

[4] John B. Harley, “Deconstructing the Map,” in Writing Worlds: Discourse, Text, and Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape, ed. Trevor J. Barnes and James S. Duncan (London: Routledge, 1991), 231–247; Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, “Rethinking Maps,” Progress in Human Geography 31, no. 3 (2007): 331–344; Denis Wood, The Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 1992).

[5] Denis Wood and John Krygier, “Maps,” in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, ed. Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift (Oxford: Elsevier, 2009), vol. 1, 429.

[6] Christine Leuenberger and Izhak Schnell, “The Politics of Maps: Constructing National Territories in Israel,” Social Studies of Science 40, no. 6 (2010): 803–842. See also John Pickles, “Texts, Hermeneutics, and Propaganda Maps,” in Writing Worlds, 193–230; John Harley, “Deconstructing the Map.”

[7] Jeremy Black, Maps and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Patrick Carroll, Science, Culture, and Modern State Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); M. H. Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765–1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); Francis Harvey, “Maps and Governance,” in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2009), vol. 6, 431–35; Leuenberger and Schnell, “Politics of Maps”; John Pickles, Cartographic Reason, Mapping, and the Geo-Coded World (New York: Routledge, 2004); James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994).

[8] John Agnew, “No Borders, No Nations: Making Greece in Macedonia,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97, no. 2 (2007): 401; see also Mark Monmonier, “Ethics in Map Design: Six Strategies for Confronting the Traditional One-Map Solution,”Cartographic Perspectives 10 (1991): 3–8.

[9] David Day, Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 38.

[10] Izhak Schnell and Christine Leuenberger, “Mapping Genres and Geopolitics: The Case of Israel,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, no. 4 (2014): 518–531.

[11] Leuenberger and Schnell, “Politics of Maps,” 834.

[12] See Andrew Henderson, “Mapping Divided Berlin: The Politics of Under and Over-Representation,” Yale Review of International Studies (May 2013): 1, online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[13] Biljana Arandjelovic and Dushko Bogunovich, “City Profile: Berlin,” Cities 37 (2014): 9.

[14] “Warum wurde 1961 in Berlin die ‘Mauer’ gebaut? (Archivartikel, DDR-Publikation 1989 vor dem Fall der Mauer!)” Berliner Mauer Online, online at, accessed 26 August 2015; “25 Jahre Antifaschistischer Schutzwall,” Old-Stamps.Com, online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[15] “Warum wurde 1961” (author’s translation).

[16] “Verordnung zum Schutze der Staatsgrenze der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik vom 19. März 1964,” online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[17] After the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, a naming commission was put into place in order to establish a Hebrew topography of the land. In Germany, too, renaming practices have always been indicative of political power shifts. After 1933, the National Socialists purged street names deemed unsuitable for the new vision of Germany and instead replaced them with names of what the Nazi’s considered German heroes. After the end of World War II, the Allies decreed the renaming of these same streets in line with their new political visions. In post-1989 Germany, a West German naming commission was tasked to rename the Eastern part of the city to celebrate pluralism and democracy, to eradicate its Stalinist past, and to integrate the formerly divided city. Auga Michele, Shlomo Hasson, Rami Nasrallah, and Stephan Stetter, eds., Divided Cities in Transition: Challenges Facing Jerusalem and Berlin (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Berlin Forum, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, International Peace and Cooperation Center, and Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2005); Maoz Azaryahu, “German Reunification and the Politics of Street Names: The Case of East Berlin,” Political Geography 16, no. 6 (1997): 479–493. See also Julie Peteet, “Words as Interventions: Naming in the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” Third World Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2005): 153–172.

[18] “Beschluß des Ministerrates der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (über Maßnahmen zur Sicherung des Friedens, zum Schutze der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, insbesondere ihrer Hauptstadt Berlin, und zur Gewährleistung der Sicherheit anderer sozialistischer Staaten) vom 12. August 1961,” online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[19] Frank Jacobs, “513 – Then We Take Berlin: When East Ate West,” Big Think, n.d. [2011], online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[20] Jacobs, “513”; “1988 S&U Ost: im Ostteil wieder ein neues Format, das westliche Umland ist wieder drauf, der Westteil der Stadt nicht,” alte Netzspinnen, online at, accessed 3 February 2016.

[21] C. J. Schuler, “History of the Berlin Wall through Maps,” HERE 360, 6 November 2014, online at, accessed 26 August 2015; “5 Things We Learned from Maps of the Berlin Wall,” CityMetric, 14 November 2014, online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[22] See “Two Germanies (1961–1989),” German History in Documents and Images (GHDI), online at, accessed 26 August 2015. Maps also tended to emphasize the connectivity between West Berlin and West Germany by clearly demarcating roads, railway routes, and waterways. This was particularly significant in the light of the East’s Berlin Blockade that attempted to sever the links between West Berlin and West Germany. See “Transit Routes to West Berlin (1972),” German History in Documents and Images (GHDI),online at, accessed 26 August 2015; and Arandjelovic and Bogunovich, “City Profile,” 5.

[23] Stefano Boeri, “Border-Syndrome: Notes for a Research Program,” in Territories: Islands, Camps, and Other States of Utopia, ed. Anselm Franke, Eyal Weizman, Stefano Boeri, and Rafi Segal (Berlin: KW and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, 2003), 53.

[24] It was the newly established Governmental Names Commission that was to Hebraize the map so as to redeem the land from foreign rule and foreign languages. See: Meron Benvenisti and Shlomo Khayat, The West Bank and Gaza Atlas (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Post, 1988); Noga Collins-Kreiner, Yoel Mansfeld, and Nurit Kliot, “The Reflection of a Political Conflict in Mapping: The Case of Israel’s Borders and Frontiers,” Middle Eastern Studies 42, no. 3 (May 2006): 381–408; Ghazi Falah, “Israeli State Policy toward Bedouin Sedentarization in the Negev,” Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 2 (Winter 1989): 71–79; Ghazi Falah, “The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War and Its Aftermath: The Transformation and De-Signification of Palestine’s Cultural Landscape,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86, no. 2 (1996): 256–285. Leuenberger and Schnell, “Politics of Maps”; Maoz Azaryahu and Arnon Golan, “(Re)naming the Landscape: The Formation of the Hebrew Map of Israel, 1949–1960,” Journal of Historical Geography 27, no. 2 (Apr. 2001): 178–195.

[25] For further information about the Ir David association, see its Web site:, accessed 22 August 2015.

[26] See “East Jerusalem Streets Given Hebrew Names amid Tensions,” al-Bushra, 21 September 2015, online at, accessed 29 September 2015; “30 East Jerusalem Streets Given Hebrew Names, Enraging Arab Residents,” Times of Israel, 21 September 2015, online at, accessed 29 September 2015.

[27] See “Jerualem’s Mayor Barkat Publishes Planned Map for al-Bustan,”, 5 March 2010, online at, accessed 29 September 2015.

[28] Azaryahu and Golan, “(Re)naming the Landscape”; Falah, “The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War.”

[29] Amina Nolte and Haim Yacobi, “Politics, Infrastructure, and Representation: The Case of Jerusalem’s Light Rail,” Cities 43 (2015): 34.

[30] Nolte and Yacobi, “Politics, Infrastructure, and Representation,” 32.

[31] Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ), The Jerusalem Light Rail Train: Consequences and Effect (Jerusalem: CCDPRJ, December 2009), 7, available online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[32] Nolte and Yacobi, “Politics, Infrastructure, and Representation,” 36.

[33] CCDPRJ, The Jerusalem Light Rail Train, 15.

[34] Oren Yiftachel, Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

[35] Abdullah S. Abdullah, “An Approach towards the Development of National Geographic Information Strategy in Palestine” (Master’s thesis, University of Nottingham, 2001); Christine Leuenberger, “Map-Making for Palestinian State-Making,” Arab World Geographer 16, no. 1 (2013): 54–74.

[36] See, for example, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, “Statistical Quarters in Jerusalem Localities 2007,” online at, accessed 3 February 2016.

[37] See, for example, Freytag and Berndt’s Jerusalem 1:12 500 map.

[38] Christine Leuenberger, “The Rhetoric of Maps: International Law as a Discursive Tool in Visual Arguments,” Law and Ethics of Human Rights 7, no. 1 (2013): 73–107.

[39] CCDPRJ, Aggressive Urbanism: Urban Planning and the Displacement of Palestinians within and from Occupied East Jerusalem (Jerusalem: CCDPRJ, December 2009), online at, accessed 2 October 2015.

[40] Christine Leuenberger, “Maps as Politics: Mapping the West Bank Barrier,” Journal of Borderland Studies, forthcoming.

[41] See also Ir Amim ( and Stop the Wall Campaign (, among others.

[42] Christine Leuenberger, “ Constructions of the Berlin Wall: How Material Culture Is Used in Psychological Theory,” Social Problems 53, no. 1 (2006): 18–37.

[43] See, for example, “Memorial Landscape: Berlin Wall,” online at, accessed 3 February 2016, and “Walk the Wall – The Multimedia Guide to the Berlin Wall,”, online at, accessed 3 February 2016.

[44] See Karin Liebhart, “Authentischer Ost, ‘DDR-Disneyland’ oder ‘Pendant zum Holocaustdankmal’? Checkpoint Charlie und das Berliner Mauermuseum,” in Die Besetzung des Öffentlichen Raumes, ed. Rudolf Jaworski and Peter Stachel (Berlin: Frank and Timme, 2007); Alexander Tölle, “Urban Identity Policies in Berlin: From Critical Reconstruction to Reconstructing the Wall,” Cities 27 (2010): 348–357. See the Web site for Mauergedaenkstaette Bernauer Strasse at (accessed 26 August 2015) and for Museum Haus at Checkpoint Charlie at (accessed 26 August 2015).

[45] The Tourism Industry in the Berlin-Brandenburg Capital Region (Berlin: Land Brandenburg, 2008), online at, accessed 26 August 2015.

[46] Hagen Koch, “Where is the Wall?” Berliner Gespräche, July 2001, online at, accessed 26 August 2015.