Until 1952, the East/West border was easily crossed in most places. Then, the “Inner German Border,” made of barbed wire fencing, was erected. In spite of this, the city sector crossing point remained much more accessible than the rest of the border, due to its being administered by the four occupying powers. Checkpoint Charlie served as a “loophole” for Eastern Bloc citizens trying to emigrate to the West, especially among the young and best educated. In 1961, construction of the Berlin Walk began in order to counteract this “brain drain” from the East.
Checkpoint Charlie was designed as “THE” official crossing point for foreigners and Allied Forces. The Soviets simply called it “Friedrichstrasse Crossing Point” (after the street on which it was located), while the East Germans called it the “Border Crossing Point.” Because of its symbolism, Checkpoint Charlie was frequently in books and spy movies. During its twenty-eight year existence, this border crossing was unbalanced. While the West did not recognize the boundary as as an international border, they kept it simple by not constructing any permanent structures. The Eastern side not only had the Wall, but also a watch tower and zig-zag barriers where everyone and everything was inspected.
On October 22, 1961, shortly after the erection of the Wall, a stand-off occurred between Soviet and American tanks on both sides of the border, following a disputes over East German guards trying to examine travel documents of a U.S. diplomats, Allan Lighter. Five days later, ten Soviet tanks and ten U.S. tanks faced each other only 100 yards apart. Diplomatic discussions the next day ended the stand-off. Tensions again escalated in August of 1962 with the death of Peter Fechter, a teenager who was shot trying to escape to the West. This all disappeared when the Wall was dismantled in 1989.
While the Wall was gone, Checkpoint Charlie remained an official crossing point for foreigners and diplomats until German Reunification. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction and open-air museum, with actors posing as border guards. The route of the former Berlin Wall, as it passed only a few yards from this border crossing, is marked in the street by cobblestones. Since this was such a big part of our formative years, we felt we just had to visit this site. It was well worth it.