When Berlin was a divided city, the Berlin Wall erected in 1961 ran along this street. Bernauer Straße became famous for escapes from windows of apartment blocks in the eastern part of the city, down to the street, which was in the West. Several people died here when the border was first enforced.
The Bernauer Straße existed early on as a commercial and military connection road between Berlin and locations in the Margraviate of Brandenburg. It received its present name on May 29, 1862. Prior to this date, it was known as Straße 50, and later Straße 80, prior to being named Bernauer Straße. It led to the northeast from Bergstraße to the triangular intersection of Schwedter Straße and Oderberger Straße. On July 4, 1904, the southwestern extension between Bergstraße and Gartenstraße was completed. With the formation of Greater Berlin in 1920, and the related district division, house numbers 1-50, on the south side of the street, would lie in the district of Mitte, which would later be part of the Soviet sector of Berlin, and house numbers 51-121, on the north side of the street, would lie in the district of Wedding, which would later be part of the French sector of Berlin. The street itself belonged entirely to Wedding, and later to the French sector; this would set the stage for escapes during the Berlin Wall era.
As the street itself belonged to the French sector of West Berlin the entrances and windows of the houses on the southern side were successively bricked up by the East German border guards and access to the roof was blocked. On 22 August 1961 Ida Siekmann became the first casualty at the Berlin Wall: she died after she jumped out of her apartment (third floor by German standards, fourth floor by North American standards) at Bernauer Straße 48.
By autumn 1961, the last of these houses had been compulsorily emptied and the buildings themselves were then demolished in 1963. For the ten people known to have died trying to escape in the area of the Bernauer Straße, there is a memorial tablet at the entrance to Swinemünder Straße.
The Bernauer Straße subway station, which served U-Bahn Line D, also suffered from the building of the Berlin Wall. Despite having an entrance onto Bernauer Straße which was located on the border of East and West Berlin, the station itself was located inside East Berlin and became a ghost station with all its entrances sealed off. The entrance from Bernauer Straße became part of the Wall.