Posts Tagged ‘East Berlin’

Cold War Checkpoint Charlie – Part 2

Monday, April 11th, 2016

For almost 30 years Checkpoint Charlie embodied the Cold War. Only a small shack, erected in the wake of the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, it served as the main demarcation point between Western-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. To read about Checkpoint Charlie’s function and how it came by the name, please visit http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/cold-war-checkpoint-charlie-part-1

Checkpoint Charlie and the East/West Showdown

Checkpoint Charlie became the scene of a nail-biting showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union. I remember it well because I lived in West Berlin at the time. According to Allied agreements, German personnel did not have the authority to inspect travel documents of members of the occupying military forces. But when U.S. diplomat Allan Lightner attempted to cross Checkpoint Charlie in October 1961 to attend the opera in East Berlin, East German border guards demanded to see his passport. Mr. Lightner refused, turned around and returned in the company of military jeeps and armed U.S. soldiers. The East German guards let him pass, but on the next occasion they again denied entry to American military personnel. The United States responded by moving ten tanks into position on their side of Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviets responded by moving three-dozen tanks to the eastern border. Then, on 27 October 1961, ten Soviet tanks rolled forward and faced the American tanks. For 16 hours American and Soviet tanks stood within 100 yards, facing each other. Along with the rest of the world I feared the beginning of World War III. But the standoff ended peacefully on 28 October following an American-Soviet agreement to withdraw all tanks.

Checkpoint Charlie and prisoner swaps

Occasionally, Checkpoint Charlie was also used for prisoner swaps. The best-known exchange occurred in 1962 when American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers was traded for Soviet agent Rudolf Abel. While Powers and Abel were swapped at Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge), Soviet officials released Frederic Pryor, an American student, at Checkpoint Charlie. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/glienicker-bruecke-bridge-of-spies/

Checkpoint Charlie today

On 22 June 1990 the guardhouse at Checkpoint Charlie was removed. It is now on display in the Allied Museum in Berlin’s Zehlendorf district. On 13 August 2000, a replica of the original US Army guardhouse was erected in the Friedrichstrasse location. Today, it is one of Berlin’s most famous tourist attractions. Nearly 900,000 tourists from all over the world visit the replica every year. On one side, the image of a Soviet solder is shown; on the opposite side, the image of a U.S. soldier is displayed.

Checkpoint Charlie guardhouse on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Checkpoint Charlie guardhouse on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

Oberbaumbruecke – mock medieval bridge

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Of the city’s nearly 1,000 bridges, Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke (Oberbaum Bridge) is by far the most striking. Its Backsteingotik (brick gothic) towers, pointed arches, turrets, cross vaults and arched walkways hark back to its city gate past. The double-deck bridge with its seven arches spans the River Spree. Vehicles and pedestrians use the lower deck; Berlin’s bright yellow underground tram, the U-Bahn, uses the upper deck.

  • Berlin's Oberbaumbruecke spans the River Spree between the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

    Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke spans the River Spree between the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

What does the name “Oberbaumbruecke” mean?

The bridge got its name from the spike-covered tree trunk that was lowered into the river each night during Friedrich Wilhelm I, King of Prussia’s reign. The purpose was to prevent the passage of ships without paying taxes. “Baum” means tree in German; thus the name “Oberbaumbruecke” can be translated to mean “Upper Tree Bridge.” There was also an “Unterbaumbruecke,” a “Lower Tree Bridge” downstream. http://berlin-sehen.de/sehenswurdigkeiten-in-berlin/die-oberbaumbrucke/

The Oberbaumbruecke’s history

Archival evidence shows that around 1724 a timber bridge on pilings was constructed close to the location of the current bridge. When King Friedrich Wilhelm I established a customs border in 1732, the bridge formed the border between Berlin and the surrounding State of Brandenburg. Between 1737 and 1860, the Oberbaumbruecke functioned as one of 14 city gates and was an integral part of Berlin’s Custom Wall.

At the end of the 18th century the wooden barriers were replaced with stone walls, and in 1860 the Customs Wall was removed altogether. At the end of the 19th century, when plans for an elevated railway required a reinforced structure, a granite bridge with a brick façade was built. Architectural details included the current mock medieval turrets, reminiscent of the old toll bridge and city gate function.

Backsteingotik mock medieval turrets of Berlin's Oberbaumbruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Backsteingotik mock medieval turrets of Berlin’s Oberbaumbruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

In April 1945 the German military blew up the middle section of the bridge to prevent the Red Army from crossing it. After the war ended and Berlin was divided into four sectors, the Oberbaumbruecke crossed between the American and the Soviet sector. Until the mid-1950s pedestrians, motor vehicles and the underground tram were able to cross the bridge without difficulty.

The Oberbaumbruecke and the Berlin Wall

But with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 the bridge became part of the border between East Berlin and West Berlin. The River Spree at this location belonged to East Berlin so that East German fortifications extended all the way to the shore on the West Berlin side. The West Berlin underground tram, the U-Bahn, was forced to terminate at the previous stop. Between 1963 and 1989, the Oberbaumbruecke served as a pedestrian border crossing for West Berlin residents only. Only pedestrians were allowed to cross. The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990, the bridge was restored and reopened to pedestrians and motorized traffic at the end of 1994.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com