Berlin Wall (Part I)
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany.
Hopefully, you all recall the basics of the Berlin Wall from history class, but here is a recap if you’d like a refresher:
After World War II, Germany was under the control of the Allies, who divided it in half. West Germany was a capitalist state and consisted of three zones under French, British, and American control respectively. East Germany was controlled by the Soviets and was a Communist state.
Located deep inside East Germany was its capital city, Berlin. Like the country, Berlin was also divided in half. East Berlin was controlled wholly by the Soviets, like the rest of East Germany, but West Berlin was again divided into three zones: French, British, and American.
Before the Wall, Berlin was like a hole through which people could escape to the West. The Americans were VERY eager to collect as many defectors as possible. Any East German could come to the American sector of West Berlin and request to leave the GDR (East Germany). The Americans would fly them to West Germany and set them and their families up with a job and temporary apartment. Easy. Millions of East Germans did exactly this.
This caused a “brain drain” of Communism, with all the young, smart, and ambitious East Germans moving to the West. So, literally overnight in the early hours of 13 August 1961, the GDR officials set up a barbed-wire fence around the entire area of West Berlin. It was insecure and there were many escape attempts, so it was gradually replaced with the concrete wall we know today.
Because people still needed to get into West Berlin, several checkpoints were set up where border crossings were possible. Each was run by whichever Allied power controlled the entering zone of West Berlin. The checkpoints were named by letter and referred to by the corresponding word of the NATO alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, etc). This is where the name “Checkpoint Charlie” comes from; it’s just another way of saying “Checkpoint C”.
Checkpoint Charlie was a border crossing between the Soviet and American sectors, and it was the single East Berlin border crossing that was open to foreigners. So, any non-German wishing to enter East Berlin was obliged to enter through Checkpoint Charlie. This is why it became the most famous East-West checkpoint in Germany.
Photo 1 : Sign entering the American zone from Friedrichstraße.
Photo 2 : Passport check booth. Nowadays, the guy in front of it will pose with you in a photo for €5. For another €5, you can even get your passport stamped with East/West German border stamps.
Photo 3 : View of Checkpoint Charlie from Friedrichstraße on the Soviet side. Note the photo of the American soldier looking out into the former Soviet zone.
Photo 4 : Photo of Checkpoint Charlie from the American zone. You can see the “last Kremlin flag” hanging in tatters from the building. In fact, it’s merely a facsimile; the real flag was taken down and is kept preserved somewhere.
Photo 5 : The famous “you are leaving the American zone” sign.
Personal anecdote: my grandfather moved to Berlin in 1990, just after the reunification of Germany. His first visit to the city was in October 1989… less than one month before the wall came down on 9 November 1989! He was among the very last people to legally pass through Checkpoint Charlie!
(Photos taken by me, 13 May 2012.)