Checkpoint Charlie

A view of Checkpoint Charlie in 1963, from the American sector
Map of Berlin Wall with location of Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie (or "Checkpoint C") 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 emigration and defection westward through the Border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from East Berlin into West Berlin. 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.

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.

Background

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

Emigration restrictions, the Inner German border and Berlin

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

Even after 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] Hence the Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape.[3]

The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.[5] The emigrants tended to be young and well educated.[6] The loss was disproportionately great 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 2½ million East Germans fled to the West.[8] The numbers increased during the three years before the Berlin Wall was erected,[8] with 144,000 in 1959, 199,000 in 1960 and 207,000 in the first seven months of 1961 alone.[8][9] The East German economy suffered accordingly.[9]

On 13 August 1961, a barbed-wire barrier that would become the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was erected by the East Germans.[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 mines, as well as channels of ploughed earth, to slow escapees and more easily reveal their footprints.[11]

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