Posts Tagged ‘Friedrichstrasse’

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

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.

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

Corner hugging Nante – Eckensteher Nante

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

“Corner hugging Nante (Eckensteher Nante in German),” along with painter Heinrich Zille ( and street singer “Harfenjule”, were Berlin archetypes of the 19th and early 20th century. Each is credited with a good dose of the legendary spirit, so unique to the Berliner character: Big heart and big mouth. These Berlin originals were good-natured, quick-witted, exceedingly self-confident, flippant, and sometimes even a little coarse. They came from all walks of life and commented on life around them with the appropriate joke. The figure of Nante became a timeless classic on account of Adolf Glassbrenner’s folksy theater piece, “Eckensteher Nante im Verhoer (The Interrogation of Corner hugging Nante), which premiered in 1833.

Corner hugging Nante

The real name of the historic Eckensteher Nante was Ferdinand ‘Nante’ Strumpf. He was born in 1803, had little education and performed casual work when he ran out of beer money. Once he had earned enough change, he headed for the nearby distillery Eulner. It is said that Corner hugging Nante spent more time in the distillery than at work. To earn beer money, Nante positioned himself on Berlin’s ritzy boulevard, Unter den Linden (then called Koenigstrasse – King Street) and waited for an opportunity to make himself useful. He always stood in the same spot at the corner of Koenigstrasse and Neue Friedrichstrasse. With a strap slung over his shoulder to carry heavy loads, Nante usually stood resting against a post or house wall. For a few pennies, he offered to carry the purchases or luggage of well-to-do passers-by. But don’t think that Corner hugging Nante was loitering. Not at all. He was duly registered as a serviceman with the Berlin police department and wore an official brass armband that identified him as work permit holder number 22. Standing there, waiting, Nante made fun of the world around him. With typical Prussian humor, he commented on the hustle and bustle on the streets of Berlin. His earthy sayings were characterized by sarcasm, a distrust of “those above” and delivered in the grammatical style that is unique to Berlin. Over time, his cheeky proverbs became literary legend.

The archetype of the Berliner

According to “Meyers Konversations-Lexikon des 19. Jahrhunderts” 37 percent of the inhabitants of Berlin during Nante’s time had Germanic origins, 39 percent had Romanesque roots and 24 percent had Slavic blood. This mix and the prevailing circumstances evolved over time into an archetype that pooled the good and the bad qualities of the different nationalities, races and tribes. It resulted in a character that combined the toughness, endurance and obstinacy of their Germanic ancestors; the courage, laissez-faire spirit and hot-bloodedness of the French; and the quick grasp, language skills and moodiness of the Slavs. This mix made the Berliner good-natured and capable of great sacrifices. It also made him short-tempered and opinionated. Above all, it spawned the dry Berlin humor.

Nante Eck

If you wish to catch a bit of the spirit of Eckensteher Nante, drop by the Nante Eck on Unter den Linden at the corner of Friedrichstrasse. This Old-Berlin Restaurant serves traditional German food and offers plenty of ambiance. A statue of Corner hugging Nante greets you outside.

ckensteher Nante (Corner hugging Nante) in front of Nante Eck, Berlin © Photo by J. Elke Ertle. 2014

Eckensteher Nante (Corner hugging Nante) in front of Nante Eck, Berlin
© Photo by J. Elke Ertle, 2014


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 Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.