History - Cold War, Berlin
During the period of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie was one of two crossing points for visitors between East and West (the other being Friedrichstraße Station); in fact it was both border crossing and destination in its own right. We went there in 1985, as I imagine all tourists did, to photograph the famous signs ("You are now leaving the American Sector"), to see what the border and its barriers looked like, and of course to cross. Photo 3 was taken nearby.
Returning now to a no longer divided city I was a little surprised to learn that Checkpoint Charlie still exists, but today only as a tourist attraction. We hadn't planned to visit, but finding ourselves very near one afternoon, curiosity drew us there.
The Wall and Crossing have of course long disappeared but the sign remains, though only as a replica (the original is in the Mauermuseum, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) and slightly relocated. And the border guards' hut is still here, with "guards" outside it. But these are not soldiers but actors, here to pose with eager tourists for a photo that to them will symbolise Berlin. Remember though that no real border guard would be likely to pose like this, especially on a border so heavily sealed as the Iron Curtain. Your Checkpoint Charlie photo will be a false image of Cold War Berlin, and an inaccurate one of today's city. Do it if you must, but for me this was the one place where I felt the city had taken a wrong turn in its efforts to commemorate the past respectfully and appropriately.
Fun Alternatives: Just along the road from the border hut is the very good (if pricey) Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. See my Things to Do tip for information about a much more rounded picture of Cold War Berlin.
I was also interested to see the other side of that sign "You are now entering the American Sector" (photo 2), though not sure it would be worth going out of the way for.
Checkpoint Charlie was the third ("C") crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin, and the only one designated for foreigners and members of the Allied forces.
Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War during the protests against the Berlin Wall, during the tank stand-off in October 1961, and again in 1962 when East-German student Peter Fechter, in an attempt to escape to the west, was shot in the hip and slowly bleeded to death, tangled in barbed wire.
Despite being located in a shopping street, Friedrichstraße, this all makes Checkpoint Charlie a more contemplative place for visitors to reflect on the so-called Cold War.
But the museum turns this place into an overpriced souvenir shop that tells the story of the Cold War through overly simplistic exhibits.
Although I have to confess that some exhibits are interesting, it's probably Berlin's worst museum, and admission fee really is on the steep side.
Unique Suggestions: While I'm not trying to keep you from visiting Checkpoint Charlie, "the hottest place in the Cold War", I'd indeed suggest to skip the museum and to not purchase any of the memorabilia. If you want one, chances are that you can find them someplace else and cheaper.
Just see the place, imagine that there was a young man bleeding to death and that there was a tank stand-off which ranks as one of the major confrontations of the Cold War.
Maybe have a coffee at Café Adler across the street, formerly a meeting point for spies and diplomats, which is now kind of a tourist trap itself, but a more convenient one than the museum. UPDATE: Café Adler has closed for good. From what I know, Starbucks - of all coffee houses possible - will take its place.
And if (happens very, very rarely) somebody sneaks up to tell you that taking pictures were prohibited - ignore him. Taking pictures inside the museum may be prohibited for a reason, but you can of course take pictures of the street scene. Period.
Fun Alternatives: If interested in the history of the Cold War and the Wall, visit the
Berlin Wall Documentation Center
Bernauer Strasse 111
Berliner Unterwelten provide guided tours of which one focuses on the Cold War:
Slightly off-topic, but interesting as well is the Stasi Museum:
Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Normannenstr.
Ruschestr. 103, Haus 1
Last time I checked, exhibits in the Stasi Museum lacked English descriptions.
This "must" is just a waste of time and money. After 5 minutes inside you get the idea, but then you've paid so much, that you must stay and waste at least an hour in this crowded, poorly organized and badly ventilated place.
Unique Suggestions: Taking a few shots of the replica guardhose should be definetly enough.
Fun Alternatives: A much better alternative is visiting the remains of the wall at Warschauerstr. (U1, U15)
The old traffic control point between east and west Berlin is one of the most important sights in Berlin. What you get is a small control station in the middle of upscale shopping street. You can take some pictures wearing an old army hat if you pay enough money. Not very interesting sight after all.
Unique Suggestions: Nearby is a museum showing how people escaped from east to west Berlin. It is fairly interesting and worth of visiting.
Fun Alternatives: Go to old east Berlin, and have a beer in a local small pub. This way you will experience the real atmosphere of Berlin and its people.
everyone says this is a tourist trap- but to be honest if you don´t visit checkpoint charlie - have you really been to berlin?
Unique Suggestions: get your photograph taken after the actors go away - then you can stand right next to the hut and get a good picture. you won´t have to tip or pay the actors either.
Fun Alternatives: visit the checkpoint charlie museum. I really found it interesting as it tells a lot of stories that even i (the second world war enthusiast) didn´t know about.
it is a bit small and cramped - so go later on when the crowds have gone! but since they could hardly rebuild the building just to put a museum in (it would ruin the whole thinG) -just put up with it
Do not look for the wall. It is not there. I could not even see a sign of it, not a line on the map, not a sign on the street. Totally vanished.
Well, not exactly. It is still there, in the numerous shops which sell pieces of it, pictures, souvenirs and any kind of replications of it. I bought a page bookmark with a piece of the wall in a tiny glass case!
And it is of course in the hearts and the minds of the people ...
In August of 1989 I was seized by the STASI- The Staatsicherheitspolizei- staffeldienstabteilung shot, hung AND sent to the Gulag! I am eternally grateful to the Embassy of the sovereign Marxist state of Shqipëria- or Albania, whose tireless diplomats labored relentlessly to see my release. Kidding! I was DOA.
~Here's how (p1/24)
I've gotta be honest here, Checkpoint Charlie was a disappointment. It was pretty expensive (11 Euro, I think) and there really wasn't all that much to see. It was super crowded, too.
Unique Suggestions: Well, I guess if you have a gun to your head and absolutely have to go, tell them you're a student - you may get a discount if they believe you.
East Side Gallery has once been a great piece of history with beautiful art-painting. Today it's just another piece of the Wall left in Berlin with just some flakes of paint on them. Not worth seeing anymore. It was OK when I visited it in 2003, but in 2007 it has lost its glory.
Unique Suggestions: Best way to make this tourist trap bearable: Skip it!