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A Brief History Of Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

© Guido Radig/WikiCommons
© Guido Radig/WikiCommons
Now one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions, the famed Checkpoint Charlie has a long and suspenseful history as an American military stronghold during the Cold War, situated right in the center of the city at the juncture between Mitte and Kreuzberg where Friedrichstrasse, Mauerstrasse, and Zimmerstrasse intersect. Here’s everything you need to know about it in just one minute.

Beginning in 1947, Checkpoint C, nicknamed ‘Charlie’ by the Allies, was established as a crossing point between East and West Berlin, something that became increasingly important after the Wall was erected in 1961. It was one of three checkpoints between east and west Germany, with letter A being in Helmstedt and B in Wannsee. Once the Wall was built, Checkpoint Charlie was the only official crossing point for Allied troops and foreigners between the two sides of the city.

Throughout its existence, Checkpoint Charlie was the site of some tense standoffs between the two sides, and it gained fame as a symbol of division within the city as well as in world politics at large during this era. Later in the same year when construction began on the Wall, one of the most famous of such stalemates between the East and West occurred as part of the Berlin Crisis of 1958-61. Both American and Soviet tanks were lined up here, ready to fire at each other. It happened following a dispute as to whether the GDR guards were permitted to examine the travel documents belonging to an American diplomat, Allan Lightner. The gridlock lasted for six long days and attracted international attention as the Cold War was briefly on the brink of turning hot. Luckily for everyone involved, it was peaceably diffused.

In 1962, the death of the 18-year-old East Berliner Peter Fechter occurred at the Checkpoint as he attempted to climb over the wall and was subsequently shot by GDR guards before making it to the other side. Therefore, US troops couldn’t come to his aid as he bled to death, caught in the barbed wire of the fence. This incident caused much protest and controversy.

Since reunification, it has been possible to visit the Checkpoint where an adjoining museum was created following the fall of the Wall. Visitors can even have their photos taken with men dressed as American soldiers from this era. Checkpoint Charlie was also featured in numerous films and spy novels.