October 6, 2009
While the sections of the Berlin Wall still remaining are a poignant reminder to the past, Checkpoint Charlie, a restoration of the only border crossing between East and West Berlin, brings the Cold War to life. With the museum in the former watchtower, the larger than life photograph of Sgt. Harper and the “American guards” standing at the border, Checkpoint Charlie is a great way to freshen up on the history of East and West Berlin. Lining the intersection of Freidrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse is an outdoor museum of sorts—picture and text boards line the streets detailing the political, residential, escape attempts (successful and failed) and the bureaucratic red-tape that circled the sector.
I took my time walking through the history of the area by reading through the boards. It was a great way to see the progression of the Cold War and it’s affects on Berlin. You could read up on the famous “tank-off” between the US and Soviet Union during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. I learned that this was when the Soviet Union demanded that the Western Allies withdraw from Berlin shortly after the Wall was built. In addition, the Soviets went against the Potsdam Conference and were stopping Allied Diplomatic vehicles. This eventually led to the day long stand-off with Soviet Tanks on their side of the sector and American tanks an equal distance away from the checkpoint on their side. Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the tanks. If memory serves me correctly, the Soviets backed up first, followed by the Americans, until all tanks were gone.
Further down the boards you eventually got to a section detailing the deaths of those who failed to escape. In addition they also told you of the successful attempts to escape from the East to the West. The story that hit me the most was that of Peter Fechter. The 18 year old was shot trying to reach the West with a friend (who managed to cross the wall), but fell in what was called “no-man’s-land.” Both sides looked on as Fechter lay screaming and dying along the wall. An hour later, his dead bodied was carried off by the East German Boarder Guards. Here, the ridiculous bureaucratic red-tape prevented human decency from doing the right thing. I just can’t imagine standing there and watching someone die just because he didn’t stumble onto your side of the street. Further down Zimmerstrasse there is a marker memorializing the spot where Fechter died. I made sure to head down to read more into what happened.
I ended my tour of Checkpoint Charlie after looking into the life and death of Fechter. The Cold War seemed more like a reality for me after walking through that sector of Berlin. I was able to get a better feeling for the mentality and what life was like during those 28 years the Wall was up. I definitely recommend walking through the streets and reading the history. While I didn’t go to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (the Museum in the old watchtower) I will do it my next time in Berlin. So if history intrigues you and you have the chance, go to the intersection of Freidrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse and be thankful for the chance to walk freely across the street.
…R, S, Tango, Uniform, Victory, W, X, Y, Z…out.