Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main gateways for crossing between the two halves of Berlin during the Cold War. The naming of the checkpoints was based on the phonetic alphabet, and as this was the third such checkpoint it was given the name of Charlie.
It became a symbol of the Cold War - representing the division of East & West - and was seen as a gateway to freedom for the East Germans.
The checkpoint ceased operation when the wall was opened in 1989, and the checkpoint booth was removed in 1990. These days a replica of the booth has been erected in the same place the original once stood, along with a copy of the sign that used to mark the border crossing.
Right near the checkpoint is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a private museum which opened in 1962, not long after the wall was built. The museum chronicles the history and horror of the Berlin Wall, with some amazing stories about how some people attempted to escape and in some cases succeeded.
There are two reasons why i reccomend visiting this museum in the morning. Firstly, because there is quite often a queue so ts better to arrive early to avoid the crowd. Secondly, there is so much information that it is better to read the small text displayed on the walls with fresh eyes than tired ones after having spent a day visiting other sights in Berlin.
The information contains fascinating accounts of the history of the wall itself, the operation of the American Checkpoint Charlie as well as details of many escape attempts, both the triumphant successes and the tragic faiulres. There is also a section of the museum that is devoted to anti-war leaders, an exploration of fascist leaders from many other nations and a short section on world religions.
All in all a great museum that is worth the admission price even though I still think its a bit steep 9.50 Euro. Also I was there in summer and the ventilation and air circulation was not great and got very stuffy with all the people in there but was bearable.
One of the highlights of our previous trip to Berlin was a visit to this museum. Privately run, it documents the story of the Berlin Wall, and in particular the individual stories of those who sought to escape from the East by risking their lives to cross it. As the website explains:
”The first exhibition opened on the 19 October 1962 in an apartment with only two and a half rooms in famous Bernauer Straße. The street was divided along its whole length; the buildings in the east had been vacated and their windows were bricked up. We suggested that tourists be thankful to those border guards who do not shoot to kill: “See through the uniform!” Some guards saw that we understood, and after their own escapes came to work with us. The large number of visitors encouraged us to look for new premises: on 14 June 1963 the “Haus am Checkpoint Charlie” was opened and became an island of freedom right next to the border. From here, through a small window, escape helpers could observe all movements at the border crossing; escapees were always welcome and supported, escape plans were worked out, and injustice in the GDR was always fought against."
The most interesting of the exhibits are those that relate to these escape attempts. We were fascinated by a small car from which everything that could possibly be considered unnecessary had been removed, leaving space for an escapee and just enough petrol to cross No Man’s Land. There are kites powered with Trabant engines, hot-air balloons, and even a mini-submarine used in an escape via the Baltic Sea. The museum also calls itself “the first museum of international nonviolent protest”. Exhibits relating to protest elsewhere include Mahatma Gandhi’s diary and his sandals.
The Wall came down in 1989, but the Mauermuseum lives on, its exhibits a tribute to those who fought against the harshness of the GDR regime. And having enjoyed it so much last time round we were tempted to go in again. But in the end we decided that our time was too limited to visit again something that would only have changed in its details – and I confess we were also put off by the hefty €12.50 admission charge. But if you can spare the cash and have time to really look round at everything and get your money’s worth, do visit, as there really are some incredible stories told here. And one addition since our 1985 visit is the original of the “You are now leaving the American sector sign” – the one that now stands at Checkpoint Charlie (photo 2) is a replica.
Photography is not allowed, but I had snapped this photo of a display of international passports behind the ticket desk before anyone pointed that out to me!
Nowadays the Checkpoint is pretty much a tourist trap (complete with purveyors of the usual Eastern European kitsch). If you want to get a feel for the tense atmosphere which arises when a city street is divided by a military-esque control point, head on up to the American Embassy, which is surrounded by its own little Berlin Wall.
Numerous legends and agent stories are told about Checkpoint Charlie. The former border crossing point between East and West Berlin was the place where Soviet and American tanks stood face to face, after the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
From 1961 to 1990, Checkpoint Charlie in the »Friedrichstraße, was the only border crossing point for the Allies, foreigners, employees of the Permanent Representation and officials of the GDR. Today, the checkpoint is commemorated by a border sign and a soldier's post. A copy of the former Western Allied guardhouse was erected on the original place in 2000.
For one Euro you can get your photo taken with the guards, and also there is a stand that will stamp your passport with East German entry stamps and visas. I wasn't that impressed but my girlfriend loved it, especially when the Russian officer tried to take her away claiming their was a problem with her freshly stamped Soviet visa.
Be aware that some governments are not happy with 'toy' visa stamps in passports, but we have used hers many times since and no one has ever pointed them out at passport control and asked "What the hell is this?" so chances are they won't be a problem.
Ten days after closing the border on August 13, 1961 tourists from abroad, diplomats and the military personnel of the Western Powers were only allowed to enter East Berlin via the crossing point at Berlin Friedrichstrasse. Soon the US military police opened the third checkpoint at Friedrichstrasse. The other two checkpoints were Helmstedt at the West German-East German border and Dreilinden at the West Berlin and East Germany border. Based on the phonetic alphabet the Helmstedt checkpoint was called Alpha, Dreilinden Checkpoint Bravo and the checkpoint at Friedrichstrasse got the name Charlie.The main function of the checkpoint was to register and inform members of the Western Military Forces before entering East Berlin. Foreign tourists were also informed but not checked in the West.
The German authorities in West and East Berlin were not allowed to check any members of the Allied Military Forces in Berlin and in Germany.
In London, where there’s an intersection, they put in a roundabout and sometimes call it a circus, like Piccadilly Circus for example. Checkpoint Charlie is an intersection with no roundabout but is still a circus - and this time I mean it in the truest sense of the word.
A plethora of attractions have sprung up around this famous crossing point that it’s in danger of losing the appeal for why people want to come here.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that you shouldn’t visit the site of what could have started World War 3 but I would have preferred it if there had been a more subdued approach to this sensitive area.
A fair few years ago when I came here all you had was the Checkpoint Charlie Museum - and very good it was too. It’s still here but a number of other attractions/museums have sprung up as well, and the junction has become very congested.
Some people may think that its location deserves to be all hustle and bustle, and for all I know it may have been well like that before the Iron Curtain went up, but it doesn’t matter which side of the old borderline you’re looking from, the capitalist ideology seems to have won hands down.
This isn’t all about my opinion of course, so come and judge for yourself - but you do have to come.
At this former checkpoint – which was one of three controlled by the Americans – you cannot avoid the impression you are in a big city LOL It is flooded with tourists, tour buses spitting out visitors, like at Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag.
They are all heading towards a tiny replica booth in the middle of the street. Above this you see the oversized portraits of an American and a Russian soldier, and on the footpath the famous sign saying in four languages: “You are entering the American sector.” And leaving.
There are man-high neatly stacked piles of sandbags in front of the booth, and two guys dressed as an American and a Russian soldier with the flags of their countries stand in front of those sandbags. Of course, everybody wants to take a photo of them – but they charge you. So just take the photos from the footpath while they are busy posing with other tourists.
The name of the checkpoint was nothing nice but just the alphabetical numeration. The three checkpoints controlled by the Americans had the names Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Only foreigners and officials of the East and West German consulates were allowed to pass here. We, the idiots, had to use Bahnhof Friedrichstraße.
The amazing thing is that they do not keep this neuralgic spot traffic-free. On the opposite. Tourists crossing Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße are walking around public buses, tourist buses, cars, trucks, and bicycles – and just trying to survive this most dangerous part of their Berlin tour.
If you succeed to cross Friedrichstraße without being hit by a car you find the Wall Museum (Mauermuseum) just some metres from the checkpoint booth. It is a good documentation centre, telling the stories of the people who tried to flee over the Wall and succeeded or got killed by GDR soldiers. They also exhibit objects the people used to flee to the West.
Open daily 9am – 10pm
Entry fee 9.50 Euro, guided tours possible
The Wall in this area was located right on Zimmerstraße, and you could not see the footpath on the other side.
Alfa, Bravo, Charlie ( from the Nato phonetic alphabet )
Checkpoint Charlie was without doubt a very important military post during the cold war
But now a days i feel that it is more an attraction point or even say a tourist trap.
Nothing more to see than a container of 3 by 6 meter, some sandbags - a russian and US flag and two people standing there to be photographed with tourists (fee 1 euro)
In the neighbourhood some tourist shops selling old DDR or Sovjet Union stuff
The cold war museum is maybe of any interest, but i have my doubts.
If you have really some spare time, visit this place, but there are much more interesting places to visit
The most well-known crossing point of eight in the Berlin wall, Check-point Charlie (Charlie for C; at least 3 allied checkpoints were named alphabetically) was restricted to Allied personnel and foreigners - one of only two open to non-Germans.
Checkpoint Charlie was removed in 1990, and the Allied guardhouses are now in the Allied museum. A replica of the border post, erected in 2000, is now a tourist attraction on the site at Fredrichstraße.
After the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 a number crossing points were introduced, the third was Checkpoint Charlie. The crossing point became a symbol of the cold war and featured in a number of books and films. The building was basically a large shed, as the Americans who controlled the Western side did not want a permanent structure unlike the Eastern side that had more substantial buildings. After the fall of the ‘Wall’ the original building was removed to the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf and this copy put in its place. There is a museum close by that documents the history of the Berlin Wall.
Following the erection of the Berlin Wall and the closing of the border between East and West Berlin the East Germans constructed three crossing points which the Allied forces named A, B and C (Alpha, Bravo and Charlie).
Of these Checkpoint Charlie became the best known as this was the only crossing designated for foreigners, diplomats and members of the Allied forces and has developed a sort of immortality having been featured in many spy novels and films.
The East Germans built a fortified infrastructure of sheds and dog-legged through roads and were meticulous about checking documentation and searching vehicles for possible contraband goods. The Allies on the other hand simply built a wooden hut and checks were perfunctory.
After the fall of the Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany the Eastern infrastructure was demolished but an ersatz copy of the original Allied wooden hut was put in place as a tourist attraction. Here you can get your picture taken being checked through by an actor posing as a member of the US Military Police - for a fee of course.
Also in the area is an exposition of the former checkpoint and the privately-owned Wall Museum whose website is below.