Germany

Checkpoint Charlie: 30 Years Since Cold War Crossing Was Dismantled

For decades, Checkpoint Charlie provided the only official gateway for western military personnel into East Germany.

Thirty years have passed since one of the Cold War’s most potent symbols was dismantled.

Checkpoint Charlie was the third crossing point into East Berlin from the West, along the infamous Berlin Wall.

“It was the main international crossing point, so if you were in the allied military, in uniform, or you were in a political department and you had the necessary number plates on your car or ID, that was the crossing point that you would use,” Iain MacGregor, author of ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, told Forces News.

In 1961, the communist east erected the wall that divided Cold War Berlin, which initially caught western nations by surprise.

Mr MacGregor added: “You’re probably thinking, 'Well, if they’re building this barrier there’s armed troops all over the border and they’re supported with armoured cars, there’s Russian tanks outside the city, are they actually going to take West Berlin as well'.

"Now, that was the big theory at the time.

"But it soon became obvious to the allies, it was their own people they were trying to stop.

"So, all the border guards that were there, they weren’t pointing their guns at West Berliners, they had their backs to the West Berliners.

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany
Checkpoint Charlie pictured earlier this year (Picture: DPA/PA).

“They were actually guarding the workforce building the barrier and making sure none of the East Berliners were going to try and escape. That was their primary goal.”

Former soldier Dave Butler spent many years stationed in Germany during the Cold War. As a young sergeant in 1978, he regularly crossed into East Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie.

He told Forces News: “Yeah certainly the first time you did it, there was a bit of feeling of excitement because you were going into what was then enemy territory.

“It was a pretty imposing place when you went to it. It was in a really nondescript sort of street, but then you were confronted by the British, or the allied, side of the checkpoint and then on the other side you had the East German side.”

Before being permitted entry, soldiers had to make the crossing in full military uniform and complete all the correct paperwork.

Mr Butler continued: “In fact on one occasion, when I was over there, I was involved in a road traffic accident. A Trabant jumped a set of traffic lights and hit my car in the side. Luckily it didn’t write it off and we were able to drive back over.

“But it did, for about an hour, cause a major hold up”.

These days, Checkpoint Charlie has been reborn as a tourist attraction, something that would have been unthinkable, right up until the fall of the wall in 1989.