July 16, 2019
I know it’s a touristy thing to do, but I’ve made it all the way to Berlin, and I am going to get my picture taken with a guard at Checkpoint Charlie.
But what is Checkpoint Charlie, and who is Charlie?
Well, Charlie is not really a person but a phonetic alphabet:
When NATO established the checkpoint in August, 1961, it became the third NATO checkpoint. Hence the codename C for Charlie.
It was the only gateway for the Berlin Wall crossing at the time. Allied visitors, such as military personnel or diplomats, could enter East Germany only through the checkpoint. It was armed heavily with Allied forces, whose intent was to facilitate and ensure Allied personnel’s entrance into the Soviet controlled bloc of Germany.
Once past the checkpoint, visitors still had to go through another East German checkpoint.
One of the main purposes of the wall was to prevent emigration and defection to the West. However, it was also the scene of a few dramatic escapes.
Checkpoint Charlie was also the scene of a potentially deadly confrontation between US and Soviet tanks in October 1961. Fortunately, JFK convinced the Soviets to withdraw their tanks and avoided a possible escalation to WWIII. The American tanks retreated shortly afterwards as well to end the tension.
Checkpoint Charlie is a powerful symbol of the Cold War and a Germany divided by the Berlin Wall.
Today, sandbags and a replica of the guardhouse are placed at the original location of the checkpoint. The site is now a popular tourist attraction. You can find the original guardhouse and its fixtures at the Allied Museum in western Berlin.
It will cost you five or ten Euros to take a picture with the “guards” and it is absolutely a touristy thing to do. But I am doing it!