The Wall, watch towers, barbed wire, tanks, heroes and spies are all part of the history surrounding Checkpoint Charlie.
From 13 August 1961 until it fell. The Soviet occupation zone, the GDR and the Berlin Wall.
13 August 1961: Armed GDR units hermetically seal the city surrounding West Berlin, and construction of the Wall begins.
9 November 1989: Politburo member Günter Schabowski announces the GDR government’s decree that “private trips abroad and without the fulfilment of requirements may be applied for”. Just a few hours later the border checkpoints can no longer manage the crowds and open up …
These two historic dates mark the cornerstones of our exhibit on the Berlin Wall, the history of which is presented through photos and text. Numerous original artefacts from successful escapes illustrate the boldness and creativity of the refugees. Photos and displays show the development of the GDR border security system, from the first hollow blocks to the fourth-generation Wall that, with its L-shaped segments, became the longest concrete canvas in the world.
It happened at Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie was the most well-known border crossing between West and East. In October 1961 American and Soviet tanks faced each other while the USA defended the fundamental rights of the status of Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie continuously finds itself the site of demonstrations, and escapes succeed (the museum also houses an Isetta repurposed for escape purposes) or fail shortly before the white border line. On 17 August 1962 Peter Fechter bleeds to death in the death strip before the eyes of the world.
On 22 June 1990 Checkpoint Charlie is demolished in a festive ceremony in the presence of the foreign ministers of the four Allied powers of World War II and the two German states.
Escape gives way to innovation
Over 5,000 people successfully escaped past the Wall between 1961 and 1989. In order to be able to overcome the constantly perfected GDR border security system, the means of escape always had to be refined. Many of them found their way to the Mauermuseum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. These include multiple repurposed cars, a mini submarine that a refugee used to cross via the Baltic Sea, hot-air balloons, and self-made motorised hang-gliders.
The numerous escape tunnels are extensively documented. On two evenings in October 1964, 57 people escaped to West Berlin through the most successful one. Along with numerous photos of the approx. 140 metre long tunnel that was constructed over multiple months, visitors can also see the wagon that was used to transport the earth. For this we thank one of the accomplices, Reinhard Furrer, later one of the first Germans in space and who perished in a fatal plane crash in 1995.
The courage to escape
In early November 1964 I was asked if I would help a young man get to West Berlin from the GDR. Sigfried was the name of the aspiring escapee who had been caught during his first escape attempt, was imprisoned, and now had to perform forced labour in a mine.
A colleague who knew that I come from West Germany and was allowed to travel to East Germany with my West German ID (when West Berliners were authorised to do so) asked if I could muster up the courage.
I agreed when I knew how the escape could work…
The death of 18-year-old refugee Peter Fechter on 17 August 1962, as he was struck by a bullet at the last border obstacle, shook the world. Frantic groups and protesters had gathered on this side of the Wall by the time the salvage party had finally arrived 50 minutes later. Police officers hazarded to climb onto the Wall and toss bandages to the young man bleeding atop the Wall. That night, and over the following two years, the Wall had to be guarded by West Berlin police every 13 and 17 August. The afternoon demonstration marches that came from all over West Berlin, shouting “The Wall must go!” through their loudspeakers, were heading for Checkpoint Charlie. At Kochstraße the street had to be barricaded by staggered police ranks.
Harold E. Schwartz – born 1937, son of an American diplomat, military education in the intelligence service. Stationed in West Berlin from 1961 to 1964.
From September to November 1964 Harold Schwartz worked with 4 other soldiers as an escape accomplice. They were able to bring 7 refugees (students at Humboldt University) to West Berlin in the boot of a vehicle in 6 trips via Checkpoint Charlie. When they were caught in December 1964, Harold Schwartz was tried by a military court and ordered to leave West Berlin immediately.
“I’m Austrian,” said a man at the border checkpoint, out of breath. “I just received a telegram, my mother is on her deathbed in West Berlin.” “I forgot my passport, what should I do?” The officer brought a colleague over and then went to the control booth to enquire. The “Austrian” now told the new officer and guard, “I received the telegram. My dying mother is in East Berlin and I’ve forgotten my passport. Do you think I can be let through without a passport?” “Probably not,” said the officer. “I live really close by, so I would just like to go back and get my passport,” he said, and was now in West Berlin.
One of the successful escapes was that of three youths, all younger than 20. One worked at an electrical company’s facility on the border, just 50 metres from the crossing. The spaces created for the Wall were sealed, but the key to the doors was in the porter’s lodge. With a hammer, shovel and knife they constructed a tunnel between Christmas and New Year’s 1971/72 and kept a logbook…
BERLIN - From frontline to the Bridge of Europe
The history of the divided city
Berlin in ruins, reconstruction, blockade, Airlift and 17 June 1953, the construction of the Wall and the Four Power Agreement, up to the fall of the Wall and Reunification are the stations of this exhibit.
The post-war history of the two sections of Berlin, their differences and similarities, is told here in keeping with Ernst Reuter’s appeal from 1948, “Look upon this city and see that you should not, cannot abandon this city and this people!” Events in West Berlin are compared with those in the East.