Do you remember that murky scene from Octopussy, when James Bond is taken past the GDR border in a black car, passing the famous stating stating that “you are now leaving the American sector” in four languages? Much has changed since 1982, but there is a touch of the cold war still lingering around this place on Friedrichstraße: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin’s most famous border crossing steeped in history.
Let’s be honest, it won’t really make you feel like you’re right in the middle of a spy thriller anymore (if that is what you’re looking for, climb Teufelsberg ), here among expensive boutiques, hotels, and fancy restaurants. In 1961 though, things looked quite different: The surprising construction of the Berlin Wall practically overnight caused fear for escalation when Soviet and American tanks took up position on both sides of the border crossing Checkpoint Charlie. If World War III was ever going to happen, this is where it would have started. The former border checkpoint, now virtually in the core of the re-united city centre, was often in the focus since then, as in the mid-80s when GDR refugee Jutta Fleck protested here against the imposed separation from her children. With her cardboard sign protest she caused a diplomatic crisis and went down in history as the Woman of Checkpoint Charlie.
Thus it is no surprise that Checkpoint Charlie is still seen as an emblem of the Berlin Wall and German partition. Until the fall of the wall in 1989 the border checkpoint was under American control and therefore only foreigners and diplomats were allowed to cross it. Nonetheless this iconic place is part of German collective memory. Shortly after reunification Checkpoint Charlie was a magnet for visitors and became one of the most popular attractions in town. The concrete guardhouse and turnpikes have since been replaced by exact replicas, but you might still run into Soviet and American soldiers here: street performers, dressed up in uniform will be more than happy to pose for your photos if you tip them nicely.
You want to dig a bit deeper in history? Right next to the historic border crossing, Berlin’s Wall Museum at the House on Checkpoint Charlie has a small collection of objects, images, and impressions from the wall period that is worth visiting. The breathtaking escape stories will haunt your memory for a while.
From Industriepalast Hostel it’s a simple 15 minute subway ride on U1 and U6 (change at “Hallesches Tor”) to Checkpoint Charlie.
Living history and a touch of the cold war – don’t miss it!
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.