Checkpoint Charlie

RETRO-BERLIN WALL-CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

Checkpoint Charlie was first set up in August 1961, when communist East Germany erected the Berlin Wall to prevent its citizens from fleeing to the democratic West. While it was only one of several crossings in and around Berlin—there was also a Checkpoint Alpha and Bravo—Charlie was notable for its location on Friedrichstrasse, a historic street in the American-occupied city center. Even more important was that it was the only gateway where East Germany allowed Allied diplomats, military personnel and foreign tourists to pass into Berlin’s Soviet sector. In response, the United States, France and Britain stationed military police at Checkpoint Charlie to ensure their officials had ready access to the border. The Allied guards spent most of their time monitoring diplomatic and military traffic, but they were also on hand to register and provide information to travelers before they ventured beyond the Wall.

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In February 1962, Checkpoint Charlie played a supporting role in one of the most famous prisoner exchanges of the Cold War. The main swap took place at the nearby Glienicke Bridge, where captured American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, 9f35beb531f97202853c706e36a65438a Soviet who had been arrested in New York and convicted of espionage. As Powers and Abel were crossing the bridge, Soviet officials at Checkpoint Charlie also released Frederic Pryor, an American student who had been arrested by the East German Stasi and mistakenly branded a spy. Checkpoint Charlie was later used for a few other prisoner swaps, and its role as a Cold War trading post became a popular motif in spy novels and films. One of the most famous depictions came in the 1965 film version of author John le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” which opens with a British agent being gunned down as he tries to cross the checkpoint.

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Since Checkpoint Charlie was one of the few gaps in the maze of barriers, barbed wire and guard towers that made up the Berlin Wall, it attracted many desperate East Germans looking to flee to the West. In April 1962, an Austrian named Heinz Meixner snuck his East German girlfriend and her mother across the border by lowering the windshield on a rented Austin-Healey convertible and speeding underneath the checkpoint’s vehicle barrier.

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Another man later repeated the stunt before the East Germans added steel bars to the crossing. In another famous getaway, photographer Horst Beyer set up a photo shoot at Checkpoint Charlie and then hopped across the border while pretending to snap pictures. U.S. military personnel were officially forbidden to give aid to escapees, but shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, an American serviceman named Eric Yaw successfully smuggled an East German father and daughter through Checkpoint Charlie in the trunk of his car.

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Shot for trying to go to another part of the City.

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Erected in the dead of night on August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall (known as Berliner Mauer in German) was a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany. Its purpose was to keep disaffected East Germans from fleeing to the West.

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When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, its destruction was nearly as instantaneous as its creation. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall had been a symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain between Soviet-led Communism and the democracies of the West. When it fell, it was celebrated around the world.

During 1961 and 1989 many people were killed for trying to escape to West Berlin. The exact number of casualties is unknown, because some were categorized as “suicide”

Below are some pictures of some of those who didn’t make it or were wounded.

A refugee runs during an attempt to escape from the East German part of Berlin to West Berlin by climbing over the Berlin Wall on October 16, 1961.I don’t know  if he survived

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East German border guards carry away a refugee who was wounded by East German machine gun fire as he dashed through communist border installations toward the Berlin Wall in 1971.

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Dying Peter Fechter is carried away by East German border guards who shot him down when he tried to flee to the west in this August 17, 1962 photo. Fechter was lying 50 minutes in no-man’s land before he was taken to a hospital where he died shortly after arrival.

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East German border guards carry away a 50 year old refugee, who was shot three times by East German border police on September 4, 1962, as he dashed through communist border installations and tried to climb the Berlin wall in the cemetery of the Sophien Church.

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West Berlin’s regulatory authorities gave fugitives covering fire if they were being fired at by GDR border guards. This resulted in at least one lethal incident on 23 May 1962, when the border guard Peter Göring was shot dead by a West Berlin policeman.

Newspaper story about Peter Göring

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A leap into freedom

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Hans Conrad Schumann (March 28, 1942 – June 20, 1998) was an East German soldier who famously defected to West Germany during the construction of the Berlin Wall on 15 August 1961.

Conrad Schumann was immortalized in this photograph as he leapt across the barricade that would become the Berlin Wall. The photo was called “The Leap into Freedom”. It became an iconic image of the Cold War.

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Born in Zschochau, Saxony during the middle of World War II, he enlisted in the East German state police following his 18th birthday. Since he had always shown himself to be a loyal and hardworking young citizen of the German Democratic Republic, local military officials offered him an elite position in the paramilitary Bereitschaftspolizei or BePo (“riot police”), which was specifically conceived to suppress rebellion.

On 15 August 1961, the 19-year-old Schumann was sent to the corner of Ruppiner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse to guard the Berlin Wall on its third day of construction. At that time, the wall was only a low barbed wire fence. At the same spot, on the West Berlin, was standing the 19-year-old photographer Peter Leibing. For more than an hour, Leibing stood watching the nervous young non-commissioned officer as he paced back and forth, his PPSh-41 slung over his shoulder, smoking one cigarette after another. “Come on over, come on over!” (Komm’ rüber!) the West Berlin crowd on Bernauer Strasse chanted. “He’s going to jump!” one passerby remarked.

And at four p.m. on August 15, 1961, Leibing got lucky. Schumann tossed aside his cigarette, then turned and ran for the coil of barbed wire that marked the boundary between East and West. He jumped, flinging away his gun as he flew, and Leibing clicked the shutter.

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall he said, “Only since 9 November 1989 [the date of the fall] have I felt truly free.” Even so, he continued to feel more at home in Bavaria than in his birthplace, citing old frictions with his former colleagues, and was even hesitant to visit his parents and siblings in Saxony. On 20 June 1998, suffering from depression, he committed suicide, hanging himself in his orchard near the town of Kipfenberg in Upper Bavaria.

In May 2011, the photograph of Schumann’s “leap into freedom” was inducted into the UNESCO Memory of the World programme as part of a collection of documents on the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A sculpture called Mauerspringer (“Walljumper”) by Florian and Michael Brauer and Edward Anders could be seen close to the site of the defection,but has been moved since then to the side of a building on Brunnenstraße, several meters south of Bernauer Straße.

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East Berlin to West Berlin- The 3.6 Metre journey that took decades to finish.

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When we hear the stories of Berlin wall, we don’t often realize that basically the dimensions weren’t that great, and it is often forgotten that it was actually West Berlin that was surrounded by the wall and not East Berlin.

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The height of the wall was 3.6 Metres (11.8ft). On August 13 1961 the works to build the wall started.

In November 1989 the wall came down. So for 28 years the people from Berlin were divided by a 3.6m high wall. The collapse of the Eastern European communist regimes didn’t start in Germany though.

In May 1989 the Hungarian government began dismantling the electrified fence along its border with Austria (with Western TV crews present).

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in September, more than 13,000 East German tourists escaped through Hungary to Austria.This set up a chain of events. The Hungarians prevented many more East Germans from crossing the border and returned them to Budapest. These East Germans flooded the West German embassy and refused to return to East Germany.

Below are some pictures of the events of late 1989 when the people from East Berlin were finally free again to travel to the west which eventually resulted in Germany to be re-united and Berlin to become one city again.

People crossing Bronholmer Road to get to West Berlin.

By the time this photo was taken, the Soviet Ministry had already given out 10 million visas for travel and 17,500 permits to permanently emigrate from East Berlin.

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A line of thousands make their way toward the Berlin Wall, ready to leave East Berlin.

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East German ruling party spokesman Günter Schabowski announces that people can pass freely across the Berlin Wall.

Berlin. November 9, 1989

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East German border guards demolish a section of the Berlin Wall.
November 11, 1989.
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A worker tearing down a statue of Vladimir Lenin sneaks in a quick kick to its head.

Berlin, Germany. November 13, 1991.

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Crowds in East Berlin help one another climb over the Berlin Wall and into the freedom of West Berlin.

November 1989.

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The dismantling of Checkpoint Charlie

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During the Cold War, Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie was one of the crossing points between West and East Berlin (and West and East Germany). It was operated by members of the U.S. military in the American Sector of the city.

Located by the Berlin Wall, which divided the German city during the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was at the junction of Friedrichstrasse with Zimmerstrasse and Mauerstrasse.

Checkpoint Charlie was dismantled on the 22nd of June, 1990, about seven months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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The checkpoint, marked by a beige-painted metal shack, was built on the Western side of Friedrichstrasse shortly after the Berlin wall was begun in 1961. The East German Communist Government, with Soviet approval, had designated Friedrichstrasse as the only crossing point between East and West Berlin for non-German vehicles and pedestrians.

It was the scene of a tense confrontation between Soviet and American tanks in October 1961, and later of successful and unsuccessful attempts by East Germans to escape to the West.

RETRO-BERLIN WALL-CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

On June 22, 1990 the guardhouse at Checkpoint Charlie was removed with great ceremony.
The former Allied guardhouse is now located in the Allied Museum.
A copy of the US Army guardhouse was errected on the original place on August 13, 2000

CHARLIE.

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The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (1)

Checkpoint Charlie  was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).

East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union’s permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration and defection westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into West Berlin.

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Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

In October 1961, border disputes led to a standoff and for 16 hours the world was at the brink of war while Soviet and American tanks faced each other just 300 feet (100 meters) apart. On August 1961 Washington and its British and French allies had failed to prevent the Soviets building the Berlin Wall. On October 27, after several days of escalating U.S. rebuffs to East German attempts to get American officials to show identification documents before entering East Berlin (thus indirectly acknowledging East German sovereignty, rather than Soviet occupation authority) ten U.S. M-48 tanks took up position at Checkpoint Charlie.

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (3)

By now, American officials were deeply alarmed by the potential consequences. General Clay of the American troops was reminded by Washington that Berlin was not so “vital” an interest to be worth risking a conflict with Moscow. President Kennedy approved the opening of a back channel with the Kremlin in order to defuse what had blown up. As a result, the Soviets pulled back one of their T55s from the eastern side of the border at Friedrichstrasse and minutes later an American M48 also left the scene. Soon the rest of the Soviet tanks withdrew, followed shortly by reciprocal withdrawal of the U.S. tanks.

Khrushchev had been equally uninterested in risking a battle over Berlin. In return for Kennedy’s assurance that the west had no designs on East Berlin, the Soviet leader tacitly recognized that allied officials and military personnel would have unimpeded access to the East German capital.

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (4)

The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie Soviet tanks facing American tanks, 1961 (5)

The Berlin crisis arose from what one may term “objective factors” – the fact that West Berlin was an anomalous Western enclave well to the east of the Iron Curtain, precipitating a clash of concrete interests of the Soviet Union and the West. The confrontations of armed tanks facing off at Checkpoint Charlie is, however, an excellent illustration of how “subjective factors” such as differing perceptions and beliefs of the two sides also contributed to tension – and could even have precipitated war.

The standoff ended peacefully on October 28 following a U.S.-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks. Discussions between U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.

 

Although the wall was opened in November 1989 and the checkpoint booth removed on June 22, 1990,the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification during 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.

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Ida Siekmann & Günter Litfin-The first two victims of the Berlin Wall.

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There were numerous deaths at the Berlin Wall, which stood as a barrier between West Berlin and East Germany from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989. Before the rise of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin, from where they could then travel to West Germany and other Western European countries. Between 1961 and 1989, the Wall prevented almost all such emigration.

Ida Siekmann (23 August 1902 – 22 August 1961) was the first person to die at the Berlin Wall, only 9 days after the beginning of its construction.

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Ida Siekmann was born in Gorken near Marienwerder (West Prussia) (now Górki, Kwidzyn County, Poland). She had moved to Berlin where she worked as a nurse, and lived at Bernauer Straße 48 in the center of Berlin.

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As of August 1961, she was already a widow; it is not known when she was actually widowed.

After World War II, Berlin was divided in four Allied sectors. While the street and the sidewalk of the Bernauer Straße lay in the French sector of West Berlin,

Berlin, Bernauer Straße, Grenze

the frontage of the buildings on the southern side lay in the Soviet sector of East Berlin. Until 13 August 1961, the day the Berlin Wall was built, Siekmann crossed the sector’s border just by leaving her house.Her sister’s apartment was also in the French sector of West Berlin.

Immediately after the border between East and West Berlin was closed on 13 August 1961, numerous families and individuals from 50 Bernauer Straße addresses fled to the West. On 18 August 1961, Walter Ulbricht ordered the East German border troops to brick up the entrances and windows on the ground floor of the houses on the southern side of the street.

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Members of the Combat Groups of the Working Class and police controlled every person who tried to enter the houses and the residents were subject to rigid controls, even in the hallways.

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Many residents of such tenements still fled to West Berlin: residents of the upper floors were often rescued by jumping-sheets of the West Berlin fire department. On 21 August, the entrance and windows of Bernauer Straße 48 were barred. In the early morning of 22 August, Siekmann, living on the fourth floor (by North American standards, third floor/dritter Stock/Obergeschoss by German standards), threw eiderdowns and some possessions down onto the street and jumped out of the window of her apartment before the firefighters were able to open the jumping-sheet.She fell on the pavement and was severely injured. Siekmann died shortly after on her way to the Lazarus Hospital, thus becoming the first casualty at the Berlin Wall.

Günter Litfin (19 January 1937 – 24 August 1961) was the second victim at the Berlin Wall, and the first to succumb to gunshots.

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A tailor from the borough of Weißensee, like his father, he was a member of the illegal local branch of the West German Christian Democrats. Litfin was already working in the West, near the Zoological Garden, and had already found a flat in the western part of the city. Even on 12 August, one day before the first barbed wire fences were built, he had driven to Charlottenburg with his brother, to furnish his new flat. His intention to escape East Germany was abruptly halted the next morning, as road blocks had already been built. Therefore, around 4pm on 24 August, he undertook the escape attempt that would prove fatal to him.

Starting from Humboldthafen, a small harbour in the River Spree, his plan was to swim through a small canal branching off from the river westwards. However, upon crossing the railway bridge that constituted the border, he was discovered by officers of the transportation police, and was ordered to swim back. He lifted his hands from the water and was then fired upon and mortally wounded.

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In memory of Günter Litfin as well as all other victims of the Wall, a memorial was installed in 1992. Additionally, a street in his home district of Weißensee was named after him. One of the crosses at the White Crosses memorial site next to the Reichstag building is devoted to him.

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