CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

Address: Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117 Berlin Hours of operation: Round the clock Web: mauermuseum.de

Checkpoint Charlie located in Friedrichstrasse was the most famous of the several heavily guarded crossing points between East and West Berlin. It is a site of huge historical and emotional significance as it symbolized the division between East and West, Communism and Capitalism, confinement and freedom.

Since the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop the brain-drain from East to West until the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, Checkpoint Charlie served as the main entry and departing point for diplomats, journalists and non-German visitors who were allowed to enter East Berlin on a one-day visa after exchanging their German Marks into East German currency on one-to-one basis. While the facilities on the East side were significantly expanded over the years (with multi-lane checkpoints and security personnel to match), the West side remained relatively unchanged as the Allied authority made do with the original wooden shed which was subsequently replaced with a metal structure now on display at the Allied Museum in western Berlin. Reason was the Allied authority did not treat this intercity boundary an international border and never erected any permanent structures on the West side.

One of the best known Cold War incidents took place in October 1961 when 10 Soviet and 10 U.S. tanks stood 100 meters apart on both sides on the Checkpoint Charlie in an apparent standoff caused by a visa-related dispute. A few days earlier a U.S. diplomat crossing the checkpoint on his way to see opera in East Berlin had his papers checked by East German guards and this caused a dispute of whether they were authorized to do so. The standoff saw a peaceful ending following negotiations between the then U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgyi Bolshakov.

After the war the building was essentially a ruin with the border separating East and West Berlin running a few meters around its back. With Bonn as the seat of West German government established in 1949, there was no real use for the Reichstag which led to its further deterioration in postwar years and the need to demolish the original dome in 1954. The restoration of 1961-1964 gave the building a new function as a venue for parliamentary committee meetings, albeit in a drab modern building stripped of its sumptuous decorations.

Some of the saddest moments in the history of Checkpoint Charlie relate to over 100 would-be refugees who lost their lives trying to escape to West Berlin. The death of a teenage East German Peter Fechter who was shot in pelvis and bled to death in broad daylight in full view of the world’s media demonstrates the deep division and animosity between the Soviet and Allied authorities in those years.

A few meters away from the guard house is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a private museum opened in 1962 which showcases the history of the Berlin Wall and the stories of those who were affected by it.

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