Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Berlin

I find the history of Berlin fascinating, and one of the most mind baffling things to me is the Berlin Wall. I struggle to comprehend what it must have been like to wake up one morning to find that you were no longer allowed to the other side of the city. For this reason, my boyfriend and I had to visit the wall and find out more about what it was like for Berlin before the wall went up, while the wall was up and what it was like when the wall fell.

Aside from actually visiting a part of the wall, we had to visit Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie - not the original but a replica When the Berlin Wall was erected, there were a number of points where you could cross from East to West and vice versa. On one side was the Allied checkpoint, and the other side was the Soviet checkpoint. One of the best-known crossings was Checkpoint C, also known as Checkpoint Charlie. This is the only crossing that is still ‘standing’, although the shed-like building which stands now is a reconstruction of the original checkpoint. We managed to visit Checkpoint Charlie on our first visit to Berlin, but we didn’t have time to visit the museum. So on Berlin 2.0 it was a must for our time in the city. We made our way to the museum on our second day in the city, and after a visit to The Wall – Asisi Panorama we were in full history mode.

Checkpoint Charlie sign in BerlinFrom the outside, the museum looks just like any other building. In fact, as we made our way inside it looked like a converted house, and I was a bit concerned with the size of the place considering the €12.50 entrance fee. The first room we entered was a long, oblong room roughly the size of an average lounge-diner. There was a small car at one end and writing all over the walls.

First things first, deep breath before trying to tackle the extensive amount of reading on all the walls. What I’d neglected to notice at first glance is that each piece of text is written in four languages, so while it looks quite intimidating, it’s a reasonable museum-worthy amount. From the first room we made our way up the stairs to find a maze of rooms full of things to look at and read.Checkpoint Charlie at night
Unfortunately there’s a no photo policy in the museum, and so I can only attempt to describe the canoe, hot air balloon, bullet-ridden car and extenda-ladder that were among the contents of the museum. I really enjoyed learning about the different aspects of the wall and the impact it had on people’s lives, whether that be through escape attempts, rescue attempts or just generally living with a massive wall through the middle of a city.

Each room had a focus, and while the rooms were a bit a maze, there were arrows and the content really flowed. Being able to see examples of the methods was really interesting, and the general variation of information meant we spent at least a couple of hours in there with the only sign of the time was backache from standing for so long (there are chairs dotted about for a bit of respite).

I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, so if you’re planning on visiting the museum and want a fresh surprise, scroll down for my tips…now! If you want to hear about some of the things in the museum, then pull up a seat because I loved it and I want to talk about it! I’ll sum up some of my favourite and most memorable things for you:

  • The first room we entered housed a model of a car that had been converted so that a person could hide under the engine. They had to be able to compensate the extra weight of a person that couldn’t be explained with the number of people visible, so it showed how and where parts were removed/modified. The theme of converted cars continued throughout the museum, and some of the tactics were explained, such as people arranging to have heavier, more low-riding cars drive in front and behind them to give the impression that their car wasn’t lower than normal.
  • One man swam through the ocean with a homemade submarine/scuba/water-puller. Yes I may have had to make a word up for it, but the guy jumped in the ocean and swam for 16 hours with the contraption pulling him along until he reached a boat which took him to the safety of another country. He was then approached to work for a top-notch company to develop the device he’d built and has gone on to greatness.
  • Several tunnels were built under the wall to enable people to cross the wall. Many of these are documented in the museum, both those that were successful and unsuccessful.
  • One man was determined to be reunited with his wife who was stuck in East Berlin. He proceeded to meet and date a woman who looked exactly like his wife but lived in West Berlin. He took her to the East for a visit, before heading home with his wife under the guise of being the other lady. Worked well, except for the poor lady who had no idea what was going on and who was stuck in East Berlin for a short period before it was established who she really was.
  • A couple of families were truly desperate to leave the East, and made a hot air balloon to fly them to the safety of another country. The first attempt didn’t go well, but on the second try they made it.

Some of the harder bits to read and see are those relating to the people who didn’t make it, or the crazy amount of effort put into keeping people in the East. For starters there was a great deal of security on the East side of the wall, with dogs patrolling, watch towers and ‘death strips’ where the sand would give away anyone who tried to cross it. When compared with the West side it’s mind blowing, as you could walk up and touch the wall on the West.

I really enjoyed our visit to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and would definitely recommend it if you’re into history or find the wall as fascinating as I do.

Top Tips

  • The Asisi Panorama is just round the corner, and it’s a great thing to team up with a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.
  • There’s a cloakroom downstairs where you can store heavy bags (and other items)
  • Checkpoint Charlie is just outside the entrance to the museum
  • Use your Berlin Welcome Card here for a tasty discount!
  • Put aside 2-3 hours to really enjoy all this museum has to offer.
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