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Berlin History: Top Checkpoint Charlie Facts

April 6, 2017 10:00 am by

The Berlin Wall remains a key figure in the capital’s Cold War past and Checkpoint Charlie, one of its most iconic points of access. Learn more with these Checkpoint Charlie facts

When the Berlin Wall came down on June 22 1990, the infamous Allied guardhouse known as “Checkpoint Charlie” was officially closed after nearly 30 years. Marking the main demarcation point between the Allied-occupied West Berlin and Soviet East, it was a sentry post that saw officials travel between sides and many daring escapes from East to West. Discover more about this famous landmark and Berlin history with these Checkpoint Charlie facts!

Checkpoint Charlie Facts

Checkpoint Charlie was built in 1961

In the middle of the night in 1961, a white line was drawn to divide Berlin into East and West Germany and would soon be replaced with a concrete wall. John F. Kennedy gave the order for three American checkpoints to be built to allow access for military and foreign personnel and Checkpoint Charlie came into existence, built on Friedrichstrasse.

Checkpoint Charlie was where many Germans fled across the border

As one of the gateways between East and West Berlin, many Germans would try their luck in daring escapes across to the other side. Some of the most thrilling escapees include Heinz Meixner, who removed the windshield of his car to zoom straight under the vehicle barrier, and photographer Horst Beyer’s staged photoshoot during which he fled across the border.

A memorial cross was previously resurrected at Checkpoint Charlie

Peter Fechter, an eighteen year old bricklayer, attempted to cross the Berlin Wall illegally nearby Checkpoint Charlie but was shot in the pelvis by guards while traversing it. He was trapped in barbed wire and since he was still technically on Soviet territory, Allied guards were unable to assist him and due to a recent incident in which a Soviet guard had been shot by the West, Eastern guards were nervous about helping him. Fechter bled to death after an hour in full view of the public and his death initiated a massive turning point in public opinion.

It was the site of one of the Cold War’s most tense showdowns

Fraught tensions between Russia and the United States came to a head in 1961, when United States diplomats like Allan Lightner were denied entry into East Germany and had to be escorted in by American military personnel. In retaliation, the Americans moved tanks to the border point and the Russians responded in kind – for 16 hours, the barrels of their tank guns stared each other down and dared the other to blink. It was only when John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev finally negotiated that both sides withdrew their tanks.

Checkpoint Charlie was one of several crossing points on the Berlin Wall

Checkpoint Charlie wasn’t the only crossing point on the Berlin Wall. Checkpoints Alpha in Helmstedt and Bravo in Dreilinden were also famous crossings and all three were named for the phonetic alphabet, used by NATO.

Checkpoint Charlie Facts

Foreigners could only pass between East and West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie

As the only point where foreign diplomats, members of the military and tourists could pass between the divisions of Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie quickly became a key point of interest for both sides. Military police kept a careful eye on the comings and goings of people through the border.

The original Checkpoint Charlie guardhouse now sits in a museum

While tourists can still visit Checkpoint Charlie on its original site, the guardhouse that tourists frequently photograph there is actually a replica. The real Checkpoint Charlie guardhouse now features in the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf.

Berliners were finally allowed to freely cross between East and West Germany in 1989

In November of 1989, restrictions on travel between the Allied and Soviet parts of Germany were relaxed and celebrations broke out all over the capital. East Germans flooded into the Allied sector after a politician mistakenly announced the immediate abolishment of the travel ban, rather than diffusing it over a period of time, and the wall eventually came down the year after.

Checkpoint Charlie has featured in many Cold War spy-thrillers

As an infamous landmark of Cold War tensions, Checkpoint Charlie became a point of intrigue in spy-thrillers. It became a part of the James Bond saga in Octopussy as well as John Le Carré’s novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, amongst others.

A museum named Haus am Checkpoint Charlie now stands nearby

Also known as the Mauer Museum, the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is dedicated to tracing the history of the Berlin Wall. Founded by Dr Rainer Hildebrandt in 1962, it has since served as a point of historical interest for those exploring the legacy of the Cold War.