I have vague memories of watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV as a kid and not really knowing what was happening; it all seemed pretty distant. Unsurprisingly, that distance feels much shorter when you stand in front of the Wall.
What, you didn’t know there’s a preserved section of the Berlin Wall in New York? Neither did I, until recently. Actually, there are apparently four sections in Manhattan — the other three in Battery Park, at the United Nations, and in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (I guess this is one thing there you can believe).
The section I visited stands in the lobby of 520 Madison Avenue (entrance on 53rd Street). Building employees and security guards must be used to seeing tourists, judging by how patiently they dodged my photographs.
This section may get fewer visitors than it used to, however. Some travel guides will tell you that it stands in a small plaza just outside 520 Madison. A couple years ago it was removed from that spot for restoration and then relocated indoors. The plaza’s waterfalls may be more atmospheric, but they’re not good for historical preservation.
It may be only a fragment of the original Wall, but this section — about 12′ tall and five panels, or about 20′ wide — is still imposing. The sounds and sights of the corporate, midtown office building are an incongruous background for it, but you still get the smallest hint of what it must have been like to stare up at the Wall when it sat along the border.
I crossed the street to get a photo of 520 Madison, and stumbled across a New York landmark I’d never heard of: the Fisk-Harkness House at 12 East 53rd Street.
According to the plaque, the house was built in 1871 and is a “rare survivor of the period when the area around Fifth Avenue in midtown was home to Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens, who built mansions or transformed existing row houses into their private residences.” Indeed, 12 East 53rd looks nothing like its chrome and glass neighbors.
Proof that you can’t cross the street here without running into an interesting bit of history.
Location: 520 Madison Avenue; entrance on 53rd Street (Fisk-Harkness House: 12 East 53rd Street, between 5th Ave and Madison Ave)
Nearest Subway: E/M at Fifth Avenue/53rd Street
Estimated Timespan: 10-15 minutes