Cold War Checkpoint Charlie – Part 1

For almost three decades – from 1961 to 1990 – Checkpoint Charlie was an important border crossing point between East and West Berlin. It was located in the Friedrichstrasse, near Zimmerstrasse, on the western side of the border. Along with Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) Checkpoint Charlie was the most prominent border crossing point during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie’s Function

Checkpoint Charlie was a sentry post of the Western Allies and the main demarcation point between Western-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. Its main function was to register and brief Allied military personnel prior to entering the eastern sector. It was also the only point where diplomats, journalists and foreign tourists could cross into Berlin’s Soviet sector. Germans were prohibited from using this checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie could be passed by foot or by car. Any visit to the eastern sector required a one-day visa and the exchange of a specified amount of West German Marks for East German Marks. The exchange rate was set at 1:1 even though the official rate of exchange was 4:1.

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Where did Checkpoint Charlie get its name?

The name “Charlie” came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet. There were two other Allied checkpoints in Germany: Checkpoint Bravo at Drewitz-Dreilinden (the border between East Germany and West Berlin) and Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt-Marienborn (the border between West Germany and East Germany).

Checkpoint Charlie operated for 29 years

During most of that time, the western side of Checkpoint Charlie consisted of nothing more than a tiny wooden shack and a few sandbags. In the 1980s, the original guardhouse was replaced by a larger metal structure. But it, too, was modest compared to the East German checkpoint. The unassuming appearance of the western side was intentional. With this simple shack, the Western Allies tried to convey that they did not consider the Berlin Wall to be a legitimate border. The East German side of Checkpoint Charlie, on the other hand, included guard towers, cement barriers and a building where the inspection of vehicles and passengers took place. Searches included heat scans to detect fugitives. To read about Checkpoint Charlie’s role in the East/West showdown in October 1961 and the current location of the old guardhouse, please visit


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


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