You can still feel the awkwardness and fear of the Cold War at Checkpoint Charlie. It was the main checkpoint to cross the border between West and East Berlin for foreigners during the Cold War. Some Berliners tried to flee the city through Checkpoint Charlie and died there cold and alone.
Infamous Checkpoint Charlie
During the Cold War crossing Checkpoint Charlie was exciting in a most unpleasant way. All foreigners who had to go through Checkpoint Charlie to enter East Berlin were trembling because the inspection of the Russians was very strict.
Checkpoint Charlie was the most talked about checkpoint during the Cold War. One of the scariest stand-offs between the two states was in 1961, after the Berlin Wall was built. The Soviet-Union and the United States got into a big row about letting American Diplomats pass through Checkpoint Charlie.
The diplomats didn’t want to have their passports checked all the time by the Russians. They wanted to be able to walk from West to East Berlin without being troubled. After the wall was built the Russians became more strict and wanted to see the passports of all who passed the border.
Both countries showed their muscles: at Checkpoint Charlie it came to a standoff with tanks at the American and Russian border.
This aggressive move nearly turned the Cold War into a real war. In the end the crisis was settled, the American diplomats could still cross the border without being hassled by Russians.
There were a lot of others who tried to climb over the Berlin Wall. Stories of narrow escapes, refugee tunnels under the city of Berlin and victims of the Berlin Wall can be found at Haus am Checkpoint Charlie.
For example the story of a family who fled the GDR by using a self made air balloon, the man who tried to swim to the West-Berlin shore thanks to a self made oxygen tank, a surfer who sailed away in the mist of the Berlin lakes, people who hid in secret compartments in cars or suitcases and the people who didn’t succeed and died. The original white building at the checkpoint is gone, but a replica shows tourists what Checkpoint Charlie looked like during the Cold War. To make it more realistic – or surrealistic – actors still parade along Checkpoint Charlie. www.mauermuseum.de
Checkpoint Charlie did see blood. Some East Germans, like Peter Fechter, tried to climb the Berlin Wall there. Fechter and his East German friends had planned a massive break out, but on the 17th of August he and his friend were the only ones who dared to get over the Berlin Wall. They dodged the patrolls that were watching the area around Checkpoint Charlie. Fechter and his friend hid in a unused building, waiting for a good opportunity to make the run to the Berlin Wall.
Death at Checkpoint Charlie
When they had gathered enough courage, they ran for it. His friend went first and climbed over the first wire barrier of the East German border. Fechter was right behind him when he East German border patrols fired at them with their automatic fire arms. They were only fifty yards behind the teenagers. Fechter and his friends didn’t have time to dodge the bullets, they rand for their lives. His friend launched himself over the last part of the Berlin Wall and ended safely on the American side of the Wall. He heard the bullets thudding into the concrete. Only inches from him. Fechter was unlucky and got shot in his leg. He slid back into the noman’s land between the Berlin Wall. There he lay screaming. First in a loud voice. Later, it became weak and very desperate. The bullet had hit an artery and Fechter slowly bled to death. But no one came near the dying teenager.
The Western police were stictly forbidden to tresspass on East Berlin soil. The Eastern border soldiers later claimed they were afraid of getting shot by the West Berlin police. A western crowd gathered and saw the boy dying, but could do nothing as well.
1961: erection of the Berlin Wall
Crossing point for members of the allied forces by car or on foot
1961: October stand-off Soviet and USA tanks
1962: death of Peter Fechter
1963: museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie openened
1989: November Berlin Wall opened
1990: June 22nd checkpoint booth removed
2000: demolishing of the watchtower to make room for shops and offices
Symbol of the Cold War
Famous crossing point Berlin Wall
Nickname: Checkpoint C
Visit: junction of Freidrichstrasse, Zimmerstrasse and Mauerstrasse