Why is it called Checkpoint Charlie?The official name of Checkpoint Charlie was Checkpoint C, but in the NATO phonetic alphabet, the letter ‘C’ is designated the word ‘Charlie’. When the checkpoint was referred to in radio transmissions, operators would use the phrase Checkpoint Charlie, and the name stuck. There were also Checkpoints A and B (Alpha and Bravo), but as Checkpoint Charlie became the only place where Allied forces and other foreigners could cross between East and West Berlin, it became the more famous checkpoint internationally, featuring prominently in films, books and TV series about the divided city.
What should I know before visiting?If you’re only intending to visit the checkpoint and not the nearby museum, you won’t see many educational materials about the border crossing. It’s useful to know that the reconstructed guard point shows you the view from the American sector, later West Berlin. On the Soviet side, the defenses were far larger and more complicated, with a watchtower, zig-zag barriers, walls, and a shed for checking cars which passed through the checkpoint. The checkpoint in West Berlin was never considered a permanent structure by the Allies and West Germany, and the small and relatively accessible structure was meant to express that. Another thing to be aware of is that the checkpoint was the site of several escape attempts from East Berlin, some successful, many not. The most disturbing was the attempt of Peter Fechter in 1962, an 18-year-old who was shot by East German guards and was unable to make it past a barbed wire fence, where he died in full view of the guards on both sides, none of whom intervened. His death caused demonstrations in West Berlin and led to further restrictions being placed on Soviet troops as they moved through the city. He is officially listed as the 27th person to die attempting to cross the Berlin Wall. The checkpoint was also the site of many other important events from the Cold War - in October 1961 there was a stand-off involving tanks after Soviet soldiers insisted on examining the papers belonging to an American diplomat and his party, which was only resolved after a day of high tension and negotiation. The checkpoint was also the site of several prisoner exchanges between Soviets and the Western powers, which provided inspiration for several spy novels throughout the last 50 years.
What’s there to see at Checkpoint Charlie?The checkpoint stands on a traffic island in the middle of a busy street, so watch out for vehicles passing! At the checkpoint itself, there’s a replica of the guardhouse which stood on the border of the American Sector, with sandbags and US flags. It’s sometimes manned by actors who play the part of border guards. On the sidewalk, there are also large replica signs which warn you that you’re leaving the American Zone. There are several good photo opportunities here, but not very much historical information. Further up the street, there’s the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Das Mauermuseum - Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie), which is worth a visit if you want some more historical context for the site.
What’s there to see and do nearby?Aside from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, you can easily reach several other museums and attractions, most on the subject of life in East Berlin and during the Cold War. If you continue walking on Friedrichstraße you can visit Die Mauer, a panorama built inside a rotunda so you can feel as though you’re standing in the Berlin of the past, or the BlackBox Kalter Krieg, which looks like a temporary exhibition but is there all year round and presents Cold War-related stories, documents, and objects from Berlin and the rest of Germany. You’re also only a short walk away from some intact remains of the Berlin Wall on Wilhelmstraße, and the Topography of Terror, which includes exhibits about the Third Reich (specifically the Gestapo, SS, and other internal security forces from 1933 to 1945).