Checkpoint Charlie, one of the ultimate symbols of the Cold War, came to epitomize the separation between east and west. For nearly thirty years, this checkpoint represented not only a divided Germany but a world in political turmoil.
Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 by the East German government to prevent its citizens from fleeing to the more prosperous West. Shortly after the wall was built, President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. forces to build three checkpoints at different points in the wall through which diplomatic corps and allied forces could enter West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous.
Checkpoint Charlie got its name from the phonetic alphabet. (The others were Alpha and Bravo… a, b, c). By 1962, this checkpoint was the only place at which foreigners visiting Berlin could cross from West to East and back again. Located in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood in the heart of Berlin, the checkpoint was the subject of many movies and appeared frequently in spy novels penned during the Cold War era.
In the early years, Checkpoint Charlie was the site of a few stand-offs between East and West, America and the Soviets, most notoriously in 1961 when American and Soviet tanks faced each other at the checkpoint.
Both Kennedy and his Soviet nemesis Nikita Khrushchev visited the checkpoint shortly after it was erected.
Checkpoint Charlie was removed in June of 1990, when German reunification was almost complete. Removal was not difficult as the Americans never built any permanent structures at the site.
Checkpoint Charlie Today
Today, a line of bricks traces the path where the Berlin Wall once stood and visitors will find a replica of the Checkpoint Charlie booth and sign at the original site. The original booth is in the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf. The watchtower, also part of the original checkpoint, was removed in 2000 to make way for stores and offices though, currently, no commercial buildings occupy the space.
Visitors can also browse through the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (also known as Mauermuseum), located just meters from where the booth once stood. Built shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected, the museum was expanded in the 1990s and recounts the history of the Berlin Wall, escape attempts and other aspects about the Wall.