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Checkpoint Charlie

Updated: Jun 24


A photo at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin of two fake soldiers standing in front of a mock checkpoint

Checkpoint Charlie today (soldier actors are no longer there)

 

Origins of Checkpoint Charlie


In the aftermath of World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors controlled by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, with Berlin - located in the Soviet Sector - also divided into four. Tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies soon escalated culminating into an event called the Berlin Blockade.


Here the Soviets - still led by Stalin at this time - attempted to pressure the United States, Great Britain, and France to leave West Berlin by cutting off all roads and railroads leading to it. This left mostly the civilians in West Berlin - roughly 1.5 million - with no food or supplies as war-torn western Berlin could do little to supply itself. Rather than give in to Soviet Pressure though, the western allies decided to fly in supplies in what more commonly became known as the Berlin Airlift.


The blockade lasted from June 1948 until September 1949 and at the end the result was a East and West Germany and East and West Berlin.

 
A map showing the division of Germany and Berlin after World War II

Occupied Germany and Berlin 1945 - 1949, Expedition Earth

 

The Berlin Wall


This was the backdrop to which the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961. East Germany through the course of the 1950s was losing large swaths of its population, many through West Berlin. And so the prevent East Germans from getting into West Berlin, the border around West Berlin was shut overnight from August 12th to August 13th 1961 and a wall was progressively constructed around it.


Checkpoint Charlie was constructed by American soldiers as one of three border crossings - Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie - to continue to allow the crossing of military personnel, diplomats, and officials of the Federal Republic of Germany into East Berlin without the inspection or prevention by East German soldiers.


This became a spot of tension when on October 27th 1961 U.S. and Soviet tanks faced off at the checkpoint, only meters apart. This standoff began when an American diplomat was refused entry into East Berlin, prompting the U.S. to send tanks to the checkpoint. The Soviets responded in kind, and for 16 hours, the world held its breath as it seemed a full-scale war could erupt at any moment. Fortunately, diplomatic negotiations diffused the tension, and the tanks were withdrawn. Moreover, Berlin slowly became less of a focus point of the Cold War as it became clear that a West and East Berlin - and a Wall - would become the status quo.

 
US Army tanks facing down Soviet Tanks at Checkpoint Charlie

Tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie, Wikipedia

 

Regardless of the international tension receding, Checkpoint Charlie remained tense and it was the site of many escape attempts. Sadly though not all attempts ended in freedom. Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old East German, was shot and left to die by East German border guards in 1962 while trying to cross the wall near Checkpoint Charlie. His death, witnessed by people on both sides of the wall over roughly 50 minutes, highlighted the human cost of the division and stirred international outrage.

 
East German police taking away the lifeless body of Peter Fechter

Peter Fechter being taken away by East German guards, Zeithistorische-Forschung

 

The Fall of the Berlin Wall


The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, marked the beginning of the end for Checkpoint Charlie as a border crossing. However, its significance as a historical symbol endures. The original guardhouse was removed in 1990, but a replica stands at the site today, serving as a poignant reminder of the Cold War era. For many years actors dressed as solider stood at the intersection, but after a ruling in Berlin it was deemed illegal for actors to do this and so today the checkpoint house has only tourists.


The location is Berlin's only tourist trap with a KFC, McDonalds, souvenir shops, and even a beach bar all located nearby. The nearby Checkpoint Charlie Museum offers some legitimacy to the sight, known as the Mauermuseum, but frankly speaking this is a poorly organized and overpriced museum.


Regardless, Checkpoint Charlie remains a potent symbol of the Cold War and the city of Berlin today is struggling with how to memorialize the location. As it is on a busy intersection and the sight is itself the intersection, it may still be many years before Checkpoint Charlie gets a facelift.


Checkpoint Charlie today, Wikipedia

 

Helpful Answers


Q: Why is it called Checkpoint Charlie?

A: The name "Checkpoint Charlie" comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet, where "Charlie" stands for the letter "C." It was the third Allied checkpoint established in Berlin, following Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo.


Q: What happened during the Berlin Crisis of 1961 at Checkpoint Charlie?

A: The Berlin Crisis of 1961 saw U.S. and Soviet tanks face off at Checkpoint Charlie, creating a tense standoff that lasted 16 hours and brought the world to the brink of war before being peacefully resolved.


Q: Is the photo of the soldier at Checkpoint Charlie, Charlie?

A: No, that is Sergeant Harper, who volunteered for a photo project that would help visitors of Checkpoint Charlie understand which direction they are looking. Thus if you can see Sergeant Harper, you are looking towards the old American Sector/West Berlin.

 

Your Trip Berlin


Want to add the Checkpoint Charlie to your group trip or team event? Contact Your Trip Berlin or book an obligation-free 30-minute meeting to get your trip started!


 

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Alexander La Rocca


Photo of Alexander La Rocca with the Mauerpark in the background

Alexander La Rocca has been creating experiences for

visitors to Berlin since 2012 when he began in the tourism industry. Having organized and led thousands of tours, trips, and events, he started his own company yourtripberlin.com.


Whether for large groups or company or team events, he offers his expertise to make a trip to Berlin a memorable experience. Visit him at https://www.yourtripberlin.com/ 

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