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Checkpoint Charlie (or "Checkpoint C") was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991). Checkpoint "C" was short for "Checkpoint Charlie" as enshrined in NATO nomenclature and this is why it was subsequently christened Checkpoint Charlie.
East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop emigration and defection westward through the Border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from East Berlin into West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. On June 26, 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited Checkpoint Charlie and looked from a platform onto the Berlin Wall and into East Berlin.
After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin.
By the early 1950s, the Soviet method of restricting emigration was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc, including East Germany.However, in occupied Germany, until 1952, the lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones remained easily crossed in most places. Subsequently, the inner German border between the two German states was closed and a barbed-wire fence erected.
Even after closing of the inner German border officially in 1952,the city sector border in between East Berlin and West Berlin remained considerably more accessible than the rest of the border because it was administered by all four occupying powers. Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West. Hence the Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape.
The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population. The emigrants tended to be young and well educated. The loss was disproportionately great among professionals — engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers.
The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that the resecuring of the Soviet imperial frontier was imperative.Between 1949 and 1961, over 2½ million East Germans fled to the West. The numbers increased during the three years before the Berlin Wall was erected, with 144,000 in 1959, 199,000 in 1960 and 207,000 in the first seven months of 1961 alone. The East German economy suffered accordingly.
On 13 August 1961, a barbed-wire barrier that would become the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was erected by the East Germans. km) zonal border became 3.5 miles (5.6 km) wide on its East German side in some parts of Germany with a tall steel-mesh fence running along a "death strip" bordered by mines, as well as channels of ploughed earth, to slow escapees and more easily reveal their footprints.Two days later, police and army engineers began to construct a more permanent concrete wall. Along with the wall, the 830-mile (1336
Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall located at the junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße (which for older historical reasons coincidentally means 'Wall Street'). It is in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (on foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. (Members of the Allied forces were not allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated for use by foreigners, the Friedrichstraße railway station).
The name Charlie came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner of Berlin. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point (КПП Фридрихштрассе, KPP Fridrikhshtrasse). The East Germans referred officially to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle ("Border Crossing Point") Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.
As the most visible Berlin Wall checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie was featured in moviesand books. A famous cafe and viewing place for Allied officials, armed forces and visitors alike, Cafe Adler ("Eagle Café"), is situated right on the checkpoint. It was an excellent viewing point to look into East Berlin while having something to eat and drink.
The checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However, the Allied authority never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the well-known wooden shed, which was replaced during the 1980s by a larger metal structure, now displayed at the Allied Museum in western Berlin. Their reason was that they did not consider the inner Berlin sector boundary an international border and did not treat it as such.
Soon after the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, a stand-off occurred between US and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on 22 October as a dispute over whether East German border guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a US diplomat based in West Berlin named Allan Lightner heading to East Berlin to watch an opera show there, since according to the agreement between all four Allied powers occupying Germany, there was to be free movement for Allied forces in Berlin and that no German military forces from either West Germany or East Germany were to be based in the city, and moreover the USA did not (initially) recognise the East German state and its right to remain in its self-declared capital of East Berlin. Instead, the Americans only recognised the authority of the Soviets over East Berlin rather than their East German allies. By 27 October, ten Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 yards apart on either side of the checkpoint. This stand-off ended peacefully on 28 October following a US-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks and reduce tensions. Discussions between US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.
The Berlin Wall was erected with great speed by the East German government in 1961, but there were initially many means of escape that had not been anticipated. For example, Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate, and a citizen of the GDR (East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected. Another escapee approached the barrier in a convertible, the windscreen removed prior to the event, and slipped under the barrier. This was repeated two weeks later, so the East Germans duly lowered the barrier and added uprights.
On 17 August 1962, a teenaged East German, Peter Fechter, was shot in the pelvis by East German guards while trying to escape from East Berlin. His body lay tangled in a barbed wire fence as he bled to death in full view of the world's media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few metres inside the Soviet sector. East German border guards were reluctant to approach him for fear of provoking Western soldiers, one of whom had shot an East German border guard just days earlier. More than an hour later, Fechter's body was removed by the East German guards. A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint, protesting against the action of the East and the inaction of the West.
A few days later, a crowd threw stones at Soviet buses driving towards the Soviet War Memorial, located in the Tiergarten in the British sector; the Soviets tried to escort the buses with armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Thereafter, the Soviets were only allowed to cross via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were prohibited from bringing APCs. Western units were deployed in the middle of the night in early September with live armaments and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban.[ citation needed ]
Although the wall was opened in November 1989 and the checkpoint booth removed on 22 June 1990,the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification in October 1990.
Checkpoint Charlie has since become one of Berlin's primary tourist attractions, where some original remnants of the border crossing blend with reconstructed parts, memorial and tourist facilities.
The guard house on the American side was removed in 1990; it is now on display in the open-air museum of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.A copy of the guard house and the sign that once marked the border crossing was reconstructed later on roughly the same site. It resembles the first guard house erected during 1961, behind a sandbag barrier toward the border. Over the years this was replaced several times by guard houses of different sizes and layouts (see photographs). The one removed in 1990 was considerably larger than the first one and did not have sandbags. Tourists used to be able to have their photographs taken for a fee with actors dressed as allied military policemen standing in front of the guard house but Berlin authorities banned the practice in November 2019 stating the actors had been exploiting tourists by demanding money for photos at the attraction.
The course of the former wall and border is now marked in the street with a line of cobblestones. An open-air exhibit was opened during the summer of 2006. Gallery walls along Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße give information about escape attempts, how the checkpoint was expanded, and its significance during the Cold War, in particular the confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961. Also an overview of other important memorial sites and museums about the division of Germany and the wall is presented.
Developers demolished the East German checkpoint watchtower in 2000, to make way for offices and shops. The watchtower was the last surviving major original Checkpoint Charlie structure. The city tried to save the tower but failed, as it was not classified as a historic landmark. Yet, that development project was never realised. To this day, the area between Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße/Schützenstraße (the East German side of the border crossing) remains vacant, providing space for a number of temporary tourist and memorial uses. New plans since 2017 for a hotel on the site stirred a professional and political debate about appropriate development of the area. After the final listing of the site as a protected heritage area in 2018, plans were changed towards a more heritage-friendly approach.
The “BlackBox Cold War” exhibition has illuminated the division of Germany and Berlin since 2012. The free open-air exhibit offers original Berlin Wall segments and information about the historic site. However, the indoor exhibit illustrates Berlin's contemporary history with 16 media stations, a movie theatre and original objects and documents (entrance fee required). It is run by the NGO Berliner Forum fuer Geschichte und Gegenwart e.V..
Near the location of the guard house is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie . The "Mauermuseum - Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie" was opened on 14 June 1963 in the immediate vicinity of the Berlin Wall. It shows photographs and fragments related to the separation of Germany. The border fortifications and the "assistance of the protecting powers" are illustrated. In addition to photos and documentation of successful escape attempts, the exhibition also showcases escape devices including a hot-air balloon, escape cars, chair lifts, and a mini-submarine.
From October 2004 until July 2005, the Freedom Memorial, consisting of original wall segments and 1,067 commemorative crosses, stood on a leased site.
The museum is operated by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13. August e. V., a registered association founded by Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt. The director is Alexandra Hildebrandt, the founder's widow. The museum is housed in part in the "House at Checkpoint Charlie" building by architect Peter Eisenman.
With 850,000 visitors in 2007, the Wall Museum is one of the most visited museums in Berlin and in Germany.
Checkpoint Charlie figures in numerous Cold War-era espionage and political novels and films. Some examples:
James Bond (played by Roger Moore) passed through Checkpoint Charlie in the film Octopussy (1983) from West to East.
Checkpoint Charlie is featured in the opening scene of the 1965 film The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom), based on the John le Carré novel of the same name.
In the feature film Bridge of Spies , imprisoned American student Frederic Pryor is released at Checkpoint Charlie as part of a deal to trade Pryor and U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Pryor's release happens offscreen while the trade of Powers for Abel takes place at the Glienicke Bridge.
Checkpoint Charlie was the inspiration for the indie game Papers Please by Lucas Pope, where the player performs the tasks of a border guard for a fictional Eastern Bloc-like country.
It was also depicted in the opening scene of the film The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015).
The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Construction of the wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area that contained anti-vehicle trenches, beds of nails and other defenses. The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" from building a socialist state in East Germany.
East Berlin was the de facto capital city of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1990. Formally, it was the Soviet sector of Berlin, established in 1945. The American, British, and French sectors were known as West Berlin. From 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989, East Berlin was separated from West Berlin by the Berlin Wall. The Western Allied powers did not recognise East Berlin as the GDR's capital, nor the GDR's authority to govern East Berlin. On 3 October 1990, the day Germany was officially reunified, East and West Berlin formally reunited as the city of Berlin.
West Berlin was a political enclave which comprised the western part of Berlin during the years of the Cold War. Although not a part of the Federal Republic of Germany, West Berlin aligned itself politically in 1949 and after with it and was directly or indirectly represented in its federal institutions.
The Inner German border was the border between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1990. Not including the similar and physically separate Berlin Wall, the border was 1,393 kilometres long and ran from the Baltic Sea to Czechoslovakia.
Peter Fechter was a German bricklayer who became the twenty-seventh known person to die at the Berlin Wall. Fechter was 18 years old when he was shot and killed by East German border guards while trying to cross over to West Berlin.
Schießbefehl was the term in the German Democratic Republic for standing orders authorizing the use of lethal force by the Border Troops to prevent Republikflucht (defection) at the Inner German border from 1960 to 1989.
Steinstücken, a small settlement with approximately 200 inhabitants, is the southernmost territory of the Berlin borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, belonging to Wannsee. From the division of Germany in 1949 until a connecting corridor was created in 1971–72, Steinstücken was the only permanently inhabited of twelve original exclaves of West Berlin in East Germany, while West Berlin itself was an enclave controlled by the Western Allies, surrounded either by East Berlin or East German (GDR) territory.
Bernauer Straße is a street of Berlin situated between the localities of Gesundbrunnen and Mitte, today both belonging to the Mitte borough. It runs from the Mauerpark at the corner of Prenzlauer Berg to the Nordbahnhof. The street's name refers to the town of Bernau bei Berlin, situated in Brandenburg.
The Berlin border crossings were border crossings created as a result of the post-World War II division of Germany. Prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, travel between the Eastern and Western sectors of Berlin was completely uncontrolled, although restrictions were increasingly introduced by the Soviet and East German authorities at major crossings between the sectors. This free access, especially after the closure of the Inner German border, allowed the Eastern Bloc emigration and defection to occur. East German officials, humiliated by this mass defection, subsequently chose to erect the Berlin Wall in order to prevent residents from leaving East Germany.
The Border checkpoint Helmstedt–Marienborn, named Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn (GÜSt) by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was the largest and most important border crossing on the Inner German border during the division of Germany. Due to its geographical location, allowing for the shortest land route between West Germany and West Berlin, most transit traffic to and from West Berlin used the Helmstedt-Marienborn crossing. Most travel routes from West Germany to East Germany and Poland also used this crossing. The border crossing existed from 1945 to 1990 and was situated near the East German village of Marienborn at the edge of the Lappwald. The crossing interrupted the Bundesautobahn 2 (A 2) between the junctions Helmstedt-Ost and Ostingersleben.
Berlin Friedrichstraße is a railway station in the German capital Berlin. It is located on the Friedrichstraße, a major north-south street in the Mitte district of Berlin, adjacent to the point where the street crosses the river Spree. Underneath the station is the U-Bahn station Friedrichstraße.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a private museum in Berlin. It is named after the famous crossing point on the Berlin Wall, and was created to document the so-called "best border security system in the world". On display are the photos and related documents of successful escape attempts from East Germany, together with the escape apparatus: hot-air balloons, getaway cars, chairlifts, and a mini-U-boat. The museum researches and maintains a list of deaths at the Berlin Wall. It is operated by the Mauermuseum-Betriebs gGmbH, and the director is Alexandra Hildebrandt.
The Berlin Crisis of 1961 occurred between 4 June – 9 November 1961, and was the last major European politico-military incident of the Cold War about the occupational status of the German capital city, Berlin, and of post–World War II Germany. The Berlin Crisis started when the USSR issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all armed forces from Berlin, including the Western armed forces in West Berlin. The crisis culminated in the city's de facto partition with the East German erection of the Berlin Wall.
The Iron Curtain was a political boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The term symbolizes the efforts by the Soviet Union (USSR) to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the West and its allied states. On the east side of the Iron Curtain were the countries that were connected to or influenced by the Soviet Union, while on the west side were the countries that were NATO members or nominally neutral. Separate international economic and military alliances were developed on each side of the Iron Curtain. It later became a term for the 7,000-kilometre-long (4,300 mi) physical barrier of fences, walls, minefields, and watchtowers that divided the "east" and "west". The Berlin Wall was also part of this physical barrier.
Emigration from the Eastern Bloc was a point of controversy during the Cold War. After World War II, emigration restrictions were imposed by countries in the Eastern Bloc, which consisted of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Legal emigration was in most cases only possible in order to reunite families or to allow members of minority ethnic groups to return to their homelands.
Mitte is a central locality (Ortsteil) of Berlin in the eponymous district (Bezirk) of Mitte. Until 2001, it was itself an autonomous district.
The Tränenpalast is a former border crossing point between East and West Berlin, at Berlin Friedrichstraße station, which was in operation between 1962 and 1989. It is now a museum with exhibitions about Berlin during the Cold War period and about the process of German reunification. It was the border crossing for travellers on the S-bahn, U-bahn and trains going between East and West Germany. It was used only for westbound border crossings. It had separate checkpoints for West Berliners, West Germans, foreigners, diplomats, transit travellers and East Germans.
The Allied Museum is a museum in Berlin. It documents the political history and the military commitments and roles of the Western Allies in Germany – particularly Berlin – between 1945 and 1994 and their contribution to liberty in Berlin during the Cold War era.
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 was a pivotal event in world history which marked the falling of the Iron Curtain and the start of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe. The fall of the inner German border took place shortly afterwards. An end to the Cold War was declared at the Malta Summit three weeks later and the German reunification took place in October the following year.
|Tanks at 1961 checkpoint|
|Western Allies Berlin website images|
|Virtual e-Tour (Shockwave Player required)|
|The short film "Berlin Documentary (1961)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive|
|The short film "U.S. Army In Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie (1962)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive|