Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
Aug. 27, Day 19 – Checkpoint Charlie
Today we took a double decker bus (there are tons of them) and visited the museum, Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie on the corner of Freidrichstraße and Kochstraße, in what used to be the American Sector in the former West Berlin.
Here’s a view of the checkpoint, looking from what used to be West Berlin to East Berlin:
And from East to West:
What struck us immediately was the amount of new construction happening on the “East” side vs. the “West”. In 1989 the Wall came down; it takes time to rebuild a city and Germany is putting a lot of effort into making Berlin a great city once again.
The museum was started in the ‘60s by Rainer Hildebrandt, in a 2 ½ room apartment right on the border between East and West Berlin, to document the history behind the formation of the wall and the successful and failed attempts at escape from the GDR. Here’s a link to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Neil and I were once again struck by how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum, although we saw a few people taking pictures with their pocket-sized digital cameras or their cell phones. At the end of our visit, Ingrid snuck a picture of a huge circle of passports behind the front desk. We’re not certain what the significance of it is, so if anyone knows, please tell us.
The museum was very interesting and highly informative, and overwhelming in the amount of information and text. We found as we slowly picked our way through the museum, there were quite a few images and text panels duplicated, and sometimes the text didn’t correspond with the images very well. But, if you didn’t know very much about the history of the Berlin Wall before you came, you certainly knew a lot more by the time you left. For example, a family escaped from the GDR over the wall in a home-made hot air balloon, and another man made a kind of scuba gear and swam across, and yet another welded together a special ladder that was self-supporting and wouldn’t touch the barbed wire or electric fence. Then there were the feats of getting through the “death zones”, swaths of space between one side and the other where people seldom got through alive.
There were also rooms dedicated to people who championed human rights, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and rooms that highlighted other human rights’ violations, such as the Ukrainian Famine in the ‘30s. Click on Wikipedia Ukraine famine for more info.
By the time we left the museum, we were hungry, dizzy with information and needed time to process what we had just seen. We went to an Italian restaurant across the street from the museum, and compared notes. We concluded that all in all it was really interesting, but that the museum was trying too hard to impart too much information on too many subjects at once. It felt a little jumbled and confusing at times. If you go, go on a full stomach and give yourself about 2-3 hours to get through it all.
Outside the building there were more text panels, graphics and memorabilia/artifacts, parts of the Wall, lots of Wall souvenirs,
and the famous sign “You are now leaving the American Sector”.
On the former East side, long murals obscuring construction zones had text and graphics highlighting moments during the Wall’s history. Here’s Neil in front of a part of the mural. The kid crouched down behind him is touching a strip of cobbled stones that denotes where the Wall used to stand. This strip runs all through Berlin, a memory of the boundary that separated people that can now be passed over freely.
From the mural, a great picture of Keith Haring painting the Wall in 1986. The caption reads: “The New York artist Keith Haring paints the Wall, 23 October, 1986. The picture on the left comes from the Ullstein picture archive, the one on the right from the files of the East German secret police, the Stasi, photo not dated (23 October, 1986).” I wonder where this section has gone?
Our hosts at the pension suggested we go to a section of the wall that was still standing, where there was a lot of original art. So, we continued our exploration of Berlin with this in mind, but not before bumping into all sorts of other great things along the way.