Checkpoint Charlie

From Academic Kids

YOU ARE LEAVING
THE AMERICAN SECTOR

ВЫ ВЫЕЗЖАЕТЕ ИЗ
АМЕРИКАНСКОГО СЕКТОРА

VOUS SORTEZ
DU SECTEUR AMERICAIN

SIE VERLASSEN DEN AMERIKANISCHEN SEKTOR

US ARMY

Wording on sign at Checkpoint Charlie

During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was one of the gates of the Berlin Wall located in the city centre of Berlin, Germany (for foreigners there was only one more: the Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn station) [1] (http://www.wall-berlin.org/gb/mur_tex2.htm). The wall was erected on 13 August 1961; the GDR (East German) gate in that wall facing Checkpoint Charlie was soon reinforced to prevent East Germans leaving.

Contents

Background

With the construction of the wall from 0001 on Sunday 13 August 1961, the Americans erected this checkpoint in the Friedrichstraße. It was named Charlie, following the NATO phonetic alphabet. Checkpoint Alpha was at Helmstedt, the autobahn checkpoint passing from West Germany into East Germany; Checkpoint Bravo was at Dreilinden, where motor traffic left East Germany and entered West Berlin. During the remainder of the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie became a synonym for both separation, and - for the East Germans - freedom. John le Carré used Checkpoint Charlie in his novels. The Berlin wall fell in 1989 and Germany was reunified in 1990.

Early escapes

The Wall was erected with great efficiency, but naturally there were many things that the Soviets hadn't thought of in advance. So Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate; a citizen of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik: East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected; another ingenious citizen approached the barrier in a convertible, took the windscreen down at the last moment and slipped under the barrier. A second, lower bar was duly added.

US Diplomat stopped

The four powers governing Berlin had agreed at Potsdam that their personnel could not be stopped by German police from any zone. But on 22 October 1961, the US Mission Chief, Minister E. Alan (Allen?) Lightner was stopped in his car (which had occupation force licence plates) while going to a theatre in East Berlin. General Lucius D. Clay, Kennedy's Special Adviser in West Berlin, decided to demonstrate American resolve.

Clay responds

He sent an American diplomat (Albert Hemsing) to the border again, and again it was stopped by East German transport police asking to see his passport, but this time military police were rushed in, in Jeeps (with .50 calibre machine guns) and on foot, and ran alongside and in front of the diplomatic car as it drove into East Berlin. The shocked GDR police got out of the way. The car continued and the soldiers returned to West Berlin. A British diplomat - apparently either out of the loop or attempting to conciliate - was stopped the next day and just handed over his passport, and Clay was furious.

Perhaps this contributed to his decision to try his stunt again: on 27 October 1961, Mr. Hemsing again approached the zonal boundary in a diplomatic car. But Clay didn't know how the Soviets would respond, so just in case, he had brought tanks with an infantry battalion to the nearby Templehof airfield. To everyone's relief the same routine was played out as before. The US troops and Jeeps went back to West Berlin, and the tanks waiting behind also went home.

Tank Stand-off

But immediately afterwards, 33 Russian tanks drove to the Brandenburg Gate. Curiously, Khruschev claimed in his memoirs that as he understood it, the American jeeps had seen Russian tanks coming and retreated. Col. Jim Atwood, then Commander of the US Military Mission to West Berlin, disagreed in later statements.

10 of these tanks continued to the Friedrichstrasse, and stopped just 50 to 100 yards from the Checkpoint. The US tanks turned back towards the Checkpoint, stopping an equal distance from it on the American side. And they just waited. From the 27th at 1700 until the 28th at about 1100, the respective troops faced each other.

As per standing orders, both groups of tanks were loaded. The US Garrison in West Berlin, then NATO, and finally the US Strategic Air Command (SAC), were brought to increased alert (Defense Condition 3?). Both groups of tanks had orders to fire when fired upon. If there had been a negligent discharge, the consequences might therefore have been very serious indeed, although both superpowers' premiers understood that Berlin wasn't worth general war.

Stand-off resolved

John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev (according to one source, via a channel established just a month before), agreed to reduce tensions by withdrawing the tanks. The Soviet checkpoint had direct communications to General Anatoly Gribkov at Soviet Army High Command, who in turn was on the phone to Khruschev. The US checkpoint contained a Military Policeman on the telephone to the HQ of the US Military Mission in Berlin, which in turn was in communication with the White House. A Soviet tank moved 5 yards backwards first; then an American followed suit. One by one the tanks withdrew. But Gen. Bruce Clark, US Commander in the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany: West Germany), was said to have been concerned about Clay's conduct and Clay returned to retirement in May 1962. But such an assessment may have been incomplete: Clay's firmness had a great effect on the German population, led by Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt and FRG Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Missing image
Berlin_checkpoint_charlie.jpg
Checkpoint Charlie (April 2005)

Death of Peter Fechter

On 17 August 1962, Peter Fechter was wounded in the hip, shot by East German guards while trying to escape. His body lay in the barbed wire fence, slowly bleeding to death, in full view of the world’s media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few yards inside the Russian sector; East German border guards did not want to risk provoking Americans because one of their number had been shot just a few days earlier. Only an hour later was Mr. Fechter’s body removed by the East German guards.

Angry Demonstration

A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint: a few days later, the crowd stoned Soviet buses driving towards the Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial, in the British sector. The Soviets tried to bring in guards with APCs. After that, Soviets were only allowed in via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing point (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were not allowed in APCs.

Western Response

To enforce this, units were sent out in the middle of the night, about early September, with live 7.62 mm ammunition and grenades and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban. None of this ammunition was ever expended, although East German border guards in 1973 fired with automatic weapons, leaving bulletholes in Checkpoint Charlie, but no US personnel were hurt.

Checkpoint Charlie (June 2003)
Checkpoint Charlie (June 2003)

Fall of the Berlin Wall

The checkpoint was dissolved after the fall of the wall in late 1989, and nothing remains of the original site. Instead, modern office buildings have been erected in recent years. The course of the former Wall is now marked on the street with a line of bricks (as in many places of Berlin). A copy of the booth and sign that once marked the border was erected later. The original booth is in the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf. Near the location of the Booth is the House of Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

External links

A more peaceful photo from 1983 (http://www.restless-soul.co.uk/images/chkptch.JPG) do use this to replace sign at top of page if you can get permission.

Obituary of Albert Hemsing (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2584/is_n3_v17/ai_20769331)

cs:Checkpoint Charlie de:Checkpoint Charlie fr:Check Point Charlie it:Checkpoint Charlie nl:Checkpoint Charlie sk:Checkpoint Charlie sl:Checkpoint Charlie

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