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Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum

- William

 

In the year 1961, the Soviet-controlled area of Germany decided to put an abrupt halt to the thousands of people fleeing to West Berlin, laying down lengths of barbed wire as a temporary fortification. This was soon replaced by the concrete that would become the Berlin Wall. This barrier, erected almost overnight, kept many trapped in communist East Berlin, and many clever people made plans to get past the ever-increasing defenses. Checkpoint Charlie was the ‘main gate,’ through which ambassadors, diplomats, and the few citizens privileged enough to have grants were allowed to travel.

Some parts of the wall were even guarded by automatic projectile launchers, which were triggered by hidden trip wires and would fling hundreds of razor-sharp cubes, which could shred skin and bone. One man during this time actually survived getting hit by one of these and spent the next couple of months dismantling them so that other people could escape. He died during his third such attempt. His brother continued his work, but was caught by East German soldiers and shot while sabotaging his fifth.

Other people made different attempts to be free from the soviet tyranny. These were often difficult because the wall was guarded by determined soldiers and all vehicles were searched at the checkpoints.

People were desperate to escape, and attempts ranged from hiding in car trunks and large suitcases, to creating home-made hot air balloons and diving suits, shown below and above. One couple drove a large truck, smashing through all the barricades, and finally through Checkpoint Charlie itself, before emerging in West Germany. The truck was badly dented, but the attempt was successful.

The Checkpoint Charlie museum is dedicated to everyone who tried to escape, with many of the actual items on display, including a massive welding machine which ferried people across; the suitcases which an intelligent Frenchman created to conceal his girlfriend on the roof of his car; and several vehicles which were used in daring escape attempts. An impressive example is a Volkswagen Beetle with a hidden front compartment, only just big enough for a man to fit inside. A tunnel project was created by a man who ran many other escape attempts, like hiding people inside a welding machine. Someone even hung on a rope and slid across the telephone lines.

 

Art by many different creators hangs on the walls of the museum, and the walls are covered in newspaper bulletins, clippings, descriptions of some attempts to escape, and sections explaining the artifacts actually shown.

If you are ever in Berlin, the Checkpoint Charlie museum is one of the coolest places you can visit. Plus, there’s a Starbucks on the opposite corner!

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