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A view of Checkpoint Charlie in 1977, from the American sector

Checkpoint Charlie "Checkpoint C" was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Germany and West Germany during the Cold War.

The Soviet Union prompted the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stem the flow of Eastern Bloc emigration westward through what had become a "loophole" in the Soviet border system, preventing escape over the city sector border from East Berlin to West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of east and west, and—for some East Germans—a gateway to freedom. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced off at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin.



Replica of the famous sign at the former East-West Berlin border

Emigration restrictions, the Inner German Border and Berlin loophole

By the early 1950s, the Soviet approach to controlling national movement, restricting emigration, was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc, including East Germany.[1] However, in occupied Germany, up until 1952, the lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones remained easily crossed in most places.[2] Consequently, the Inner German border between the two German states was closed, and a barbed-wire fence erected.

Even after the closing of the Inner German border officially in 1952,[3] the city sector border in between East Berlin and West Berlin remained considerably more accessible than the rest of the border because it was administered by all four occupying powers.[2] Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West.[4] Thus, the Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape.[3]

The 3.5 million East Germans that had left by 1961 totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.[5] The emigrants tended to be young and well educated, leading to the brain drain feared by officials in East Germany.[6] The loss was disproportionately heavy among professionals—engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers.[5]

Berlin Wall constructed

The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that the re-securing of the Soviet imperial frontier was imperative.[7] Between 1949 and 1961, over 2 1/2 million East Germans fled to the West.[8] The numbers swelled during the three years before construction of the Berlin Wall,[8] with 144,000 in 1959, 199,000 in 1960 and 207,000 in the first seven months of 1961 alone.[9][8] The East German economy was on the verge of collapse.[9]

On August 13, 1961, a barbed-wire barrier that would become the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was erected by East Germany.[7] Two days later, police and army engineers began to construct a more permanent concrete wall.[10] Along with the wall, the 830 mile zonal border became 3.5 miles wide on its East German side in some parts of Germany with a tall steel-mesh fence running along a "death strip" bordered by bands of ploughed earth, to slow and to reveal the prints of those trying to escape, and mined fields.[11]

The Checkpoint

Map of Berlin Wall with location of Checkpoint Charlie
Heavy fortifications on the East Berlin side of the Checkpoint Charlie crossing in 1982. A proper checkpoint structure with huge roof, drive-through lanes and checkpoint booths was constructred two years later.
Checkpoint as viewed from the GDR checkpoint (June 1986)

Checkpoint Charlie 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'). It is in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (by foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. (Members of the Allied forces were not allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated for use by foreigners, the Friedrichstraße railway station).

The name Charlie came for the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner of Berlin. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point (КПП Фридрихштрассе). The East Germans officially referred to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle ("Border Crossing Point") Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.

As the most visible Berlin Wall checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie is frequently featured in spy movies and books. A famous cafe and viewing point for Allied officials, Armed Forces and visitors alike, Cafe Adler ("Eagle Café"), is situated right on the checkpoint. It was an excellent viewing point to look into East Berlin, while having something to eat and drink.

The checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However the Allied authority never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the iconic wooden shed, which was replaced in the 1980s by a larger metal structure, now on display at the Allied Museum in western Berlin. Their reason was that they did not consider the inner Berlin sector boundary an international border and did not treat it as such.

Related Incidents

Stand-off between the Soviet and the US tanks in October 1961

Soviet tanks face U.S. armoured vehicles at Checkpoint Charlie, 1961-10-27

Shortly after the erection of the Berlin Wall, a standoff occurred between U.S. and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on 22 October as a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a U.S. diplomat passing through to East Berlin. By October 27, 10 Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 metres apart on either side of the checkpoint. The standoff ended peacefully on October 28.

Early escapes

The Berlin Wall was erected with great efficiency by the East German government in 1961, but naturally there were many means of escape that had not been anticipated. Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate; a citizen of the GDR (East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected. Another escapee approached the barrier in a convertible, took the windscreen down at the last moment and slipped under the barrier. This was repeated two weeks later, so the East Germans duly lowered the barrier and added uprights.

Death of Peter Fechter

The body of East German Peter Fechter lying next to the Berlin Wall just after being shot in 1962 while trying to escape to the west

On 17 August 1962, a teenage East German, Peter Fechter, was wounded in the pelvis, shot by East German guards while trying to escape from East Berlin. His body lay tangled in a barbed wire fence, slowly bleeding to death, in full view of the world’s media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few yards inside the Soviet sector. East German border guards were reluctant to approach him for fear of provoking Western soldiers, one of whom had shot an East German border guard just days earlier. Over an hour later Fechter’s body was removed by the East German guards.

A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint, protesting the actions of the East and the inactions of the West: a few days later, the crowd stoned Soviet buses driving towards the Soviet War Memorial, located in the Tiergarten in the British sector. The Soviets tried to escort the buses with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). Thereafter, the Soviets were only allowed to cross via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing point (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were prohibited from bringing in APCs.

Western units were deployed in the middle of the night in early September with live armaments and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban. None of this ammunition was ever expended, although East German border guards in 1973 opened fire with automatic weapons, leaving bulletholes in Checkpoint Charlie, but no US personnel were hurt.

Checkpoint Charlie today

On the night of 9 November 1989 when the Wall fell.
Checkpoint Charlie as tourist attraction. The ersatz guard house viewed from what was the American sector. Beyond it is a mast with an image of a Soviet soldier. The reverse side shows an American soldier (June 2003)
The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum opened two years after the wall was erected.

Although the wall opened in November 1989, the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification in October 1990 when the guard house was removed; it is now on display in the open-air museum of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf[12]. The course of the former wall and border is now marked in the street with a line of cobblestones. A copy of the guard house and sign that once marked the border crossing was later erected where Checkpoint Charlie once stood. It resembles the first guard house erected in 1961, behind a sandbag barrier towards the border. Over the years it was replaced several times by guard houses of different sizes and layouts (see photos). The one removed in 1990 was considerably larger than the first one and had no sandbags.

Near the location of the guard house is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a private museum opened in 1963 by Rainer Hildebrandt, which was augmented with a new building in the 1990s. The two Soldiers (one American and one Russian) represented at the Checkpoint Memorial were both stationed in Berlin during the early 1990s.

Developers tore down the East German checkpoint watchtower in 2000. This famous symbol of the Cold War was removed in a clandestine manner so as to attract a minimum amount of attention. The watchtower, which was the last surviving original Checkpoint Charlie structure, was demolished to make way for offices and shops. The city tried to save the tower but failed as it was not classified as a historic landmark. As of January 2006, nothing has been built at this site and the original proposals for development have been shelved.

Checkpoint Charlie has become one of Berlin's primary tourist attractions. An open-air exhibit was opened in the summer of 2006. Gallery walls along the Friedrichstraße and the Zimmerstraße inform on escape attempts, how the checkpoint was expanded, and its significance as a focal point of Cold War, in particular the facing off of Soviet and American tanks in 1961. An overview of other important memorial sites and museums on the division of Germany and the wall is presented as well. Tourists can have their pictures taken for a fee with actors dressed up as allied military policemen standing in front of the guard house. Several souvenir stands and stores proliferate as well.


The Wall goes up

Fall of the Wall

The checkpoint post-Berlin Wall

Other uses

See also


  1. ^ Dowty 1989, p. 114
  2. ^ a b Dowty 1989, p. 121
  3. ^ a b Harrison 2003, p. 99
  4. ^ Maddrell, Paul (2006). Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961. Oxford University Press. pp. 56. 
  5. ^ a b Dowty 1989, p. 122
  6. ^ Thackeray 2004, p. 188
  7. ^ a b Pearson 1998, p. 75
  8. ^ a b c Gedmin, Jeffrey. "The Dilemma of Legitimacy". The hidden hand: Gorbachev and the collapse of East Germany. AEI studies. 554. American Enterprise Institute. pp. 35. ISBN 0844737941, 9780844737942. 
  9. ^ a b Dowty 1989, p. 123
  10. ^ Dowty 1989, p. 124
  11. ^ Black et al. 2000, p. 141
  12. ^ "Allied Museum Berlin". 


  • Black, Cyril E.; English, Robert D.; Helmreich, Jonathan E.; McAdams, James A. (2000), Rebirth: A Political History of Europe since World War II, Westview Press, ISBN 0813336643 
  • Dowty, Alan (1989), Closed Borders: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300044984 
  • Dowty, Alan (1988), "The Assault on Freedom of Emigration", World Affairs 151 (2) 
  • Harrison, Hope Millard (2003), Driving the Soviets Up the Wall: Soviet-East German Relations, 1953-1961, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691096783 
  • Pearson, Raymond (1998), The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, Macmillan, ISBN 0312174071 
  • Thackeray, Frank W. (2004), Events that changed Germany, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313328145 

External links

Coordinates: 52°30′27″N 13°23′25″E / 52.5075°N 13.39027°E / 52.5075; 13.39027

Simple English

Checkpoint Charlie was one of three places where people could travel from the Western occupied sectors of Germany and Berlin to the Soviet occupied sectors.

These places were called checkpoints because they were places where passports and identities were checked.

  • Checkpoint Alpha was at Helmstedt in West Germany, in the former British Zone. It was at the eastern end of the main road (autobahn) to West Berlin.
  • Checkpoint Bravo was at Dreilinden at the West Berlin end of that autobahn.
  • Checkpoint Charlie was at Friedrichstraße in West Berlin. It was the most famous. It was the only place were foreigners could walk or drive from West Berlin into East Berlin.

As it was the only crossing point there were sometimes queues of people waiting to cross. But military traffic was never stopped, because Berlin was supposed to be under the control of all four wartime allies.

The Checkpoint today

After the end of the Cold War, and the reunification of Germany the checkpoints were no longer needed. The big concrete buildings of Checkpoint Bravo are now used by the German Customs Service . Checkpoint Charlie was only a wooden hut in the street. It was moved to what is now the Allied Museum at 110 Clayallee, and a small replica put up in Kochstraße. The fake checkpoint is very popular with tourists who have their photographs taken in front of it.

See also


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