You all should know by now that I’m a total history geek, so I was pretty excited to visit Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. Unfortunately, it’s totally turned into a tourist trap, so we took a few pictures and quickly moved on.
Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. According to Wikipedia: “It was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall located at the junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße, (which for older, historical reasons coincidentally means ‘Wall Street’).”
Just for a frame of reference, this is what the place looked like in 1977:
There was a simple wooden shed with patrol officers on foot. Along the pavement on the right side you can see the iconic “You Are Now Leaving the American Sector” sign. In the distance, you can just make out the watchtower and the wall. Interestingly, the West did not consider this to be an international border crossing, and there were few formalities for westerners here. On the other side however, the East heavily fortified the crossing, with the wall, a two-storey watchtower, zig zag barriers, and a shed for checking cars for stowaways. I think it’s interesting to note that the East Germans were very concerned with people LEAVING, whereas almost all border control today is concerned with people ENTERING. It puts an interesting spin on travel, doesn’t it?
Now look at what Checkpoint Charlie looks like today:
You can still see the small shed, although here they’ve placed an earlier and smaller version that was replaced in the 70s with the larger metal shed in the above photo. You still see the flag pole, but behind it you see a giant photo of a Russian soldier. From the other side you see an American soldier. I guess it’s supposed to show you what you would have seen back then? I don’t know. It seems pretty silly. The most offensive thing about it was the stores in the background. Yes, that is an Einstein Coffee house. And check this out:
Yes, indeed. It’s actually a McDonald’s. So you can have your McMuffin and contemplate the Cold War at the same time. How sad is that? I mean, I support globalization and all, but you’ve got to be kidding me. This is just offensive.
This was an interesting phenomena that I’ve never encountered before, but I’ve just discovered that it’s quite common at sights of historical military interest: guys dressed up in uniform for the photo op. That’s right. This is not a real soldier. He’s just a guy wearing (probably incorrect) uniform, and he’ll gladly pose with you for pictures for a tip of a few Euros. There were Americans, Russians, and Germans in uniform also, so you could get pictures with the whole crowd. One other thing we saw, but didn’t get a picture of, were the “passport stamping” booths. Some enterprising individual has made stamps identical (or so they say) to the original country stamps of East Germany and the Soviet Union, and for 10 Euros they will stamp your passport with them. Alex and I were highly skeptical of this, until we saw a number of people handing over their documents for a tourist souvenir. I would be okay with it if they were stamping fake passports, but I think it’s a real and official document! Don’t go messing around with that!
This post is making me sound a bit sceptical, isn’t it? One of the saddest things I saw in Berlin were the many, many, MANY pieces of the Berlin Wall that are for sale. I’m quite serious when I say that if all these pieces were put together, then the Berlin Wall must have stretched to the moon and back, because there are WAY too many pieces floating around out there. Every single store had them in spades! Some of them even come with Certificates of Authenticity! But I want to know WHO authenticated them? Because otherwise I just don’t buy it. But anyway, this is a picture of Alex standing in front of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (which we didn’t go into), with one of the surviving, “authentic” sections of the Wall. I kind of believe this one, just because it’s still whole. It’s all the little pieces that I doubt (also — all the little pieces are ALL spray painted, and I don’t believe that the wall had that much surface material. SOME of the pieces would be interior, and therefore lacking color, don’t you think?)
Argh! Sorry! Off on a tangent again.
Apparently on the ground, streets, and sidewalks throughout Berlin you can see a bronze plaque or stone line showing the original location of the Wall. Unfortunately there was too much snow on the ground, so we ended up guessing a lot of the time. In this instance, some nice person scraped away the snow so we could see the plaque.
The usual place to take this pic is from the other side, where it says “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR” — but it was too crowded to get Alex in the frame as well, so we went to the other side. I think it’s funny that they ask you to obey the traffic rules, because that is clearly very important!