Where the Berlin Wall used to be at Checkpoint Charlie

While I was in Berlin in 1984, we crossed through Checkpoint Charlie from West Berlin into East Berlin. While waiting to pass through the checkpoint, I made this photo of some buildings through the bus window. This was the northeast corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße.

Where West Berlin was a clean, modern city, East Berlin was gray and dingy with many buildings still showing scars from World War II bombings. It was astonishing to me that the Wall went up right down the middle of this street, and that anyone in these buildings had a close-up view of the Wall all day.

Margaret and I visited Checkpoint Charlie on our recent trip to Berlin. It’s a tourist attraction now. All of these buildings are gone; where the “Union Verlag” building stood, you’ll now find a Cold War memorial with lots of photos of this area while the Wall still stood.

Here’s the opposite corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße today.

Berlin - At Checkpoint Charlie

There’s a little pub in the second building down this street. If you squint, you can see the black umbrellas for its sidewalk seating. We sat there and drank a couple of beers before moving on.

On the street, just a few feet from where we sat with our beers, was this two-block-wide strip of cobblestones. It marks where the Wall once stood.

Berlin - Where the Wall once stood

You’ll find this strip of stones in a lot of places around Berlin. The Wall made a jagged path across Berlin’s north-south axis — see a map here. As we explored this part of Berlin, we came upon these cobblestones in all sorts of places we didn’t expect.

Berlin - Where the Wall once stood

When I visited Berlin previously, I could not imagine this sunny day, drinking beer ten feet from where the Wall once stood. I remember having all sorts of complicated feelings about the Wall when I experienced it — frustration, anger, shame, sadness. I had complicated feelings about its absence, as well — shadows of my long-ago feelings overlaid with triumph and a certain bewilderment that the Wall had ever existed.

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Comments

26 responses to “Where the Berlin Wall used to be at Checkpoint Charlie”

  1. Michael Elliott Avatar

    I remember going to Berlin in 2002 (the year of the horrible floods in East Germany) and being surprised when I got to the checkpoint and looking down Friedrichstrasse, and getting confused as to what was East and what was West.

    Even then, some 13 years after the fall, there were still people who lamented the fall of Communism and their state of living in the “West”, especially the older generation, in places like Dresden.

    I never experienced the wall first-hand like this, though, Jim (too young, would have been 4 at the time it came down). Photographs like this are incredibly strange to me as I would have been alive but unaware of the division in the world; and to see the potential for a new Iron Curtain to fall in the wake of the Ukraine/Russia War seems very unreal to me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We stepped into a gift shop in the former East and the fellow behind the counter was a former Easterner who lamented the loss of the easy life under communism. It’s still out there.

  2. Thomas Slatin Avatar

    I went to visit Berlin in 1990 shortly after the walk came down. I remember soldiers still checking passports at the wall even though most of it was torn down and they had no legal reason or authority to do so, as one could literally just find a break in the wall and walk through. In a form of rebellion against what I felt was an abuse of power, I picked up a piece of the wall and put it in my backpack. I still have it to this day.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Really? Passport checking a year after the end of the Wall? Well, I guess the countries hadn’t reunified yet.

      1. Thomas Slatin Avatar

        It was unofficial. It seemed as if the soldiers had nothing better to do, almost as if they were going through the motions simply out of nostalgia or habit.

  3. Khürt Williams Avatar

    I wish I had had the opportunity to see the Berlin Wall. I grew up in the Caribbean and was born on an island that, until October 27, 1979, was a colony of Great Britain. International travel was challenging as our passports were only good for travel between the islands and Great Britain. One had to petition the British Government for a special visa travel visa. Even after independence, most island countries had not established diplomatic ties. I was on a Permanent Resident visa when we immigrated to the United States. I was too afraid to travel outside the Americas. When I became a naturalised US citizen, the wall had come down. My wife is the only one in the family to visit the Berlin Wall.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, what a shame that you were so limited. At least you can go now – Berlin is fun.

      1. Khürt Williams Avatar

        Yep. I want to try the beer.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          In Berlin we saw a lot of pilsener. In Cologne it was Kölsch. In Krefeld/Düsseldorf it was Altbier. If we ever go back to Germany we will go to Bavaria – there it’s Hell and Dunkel (light and dark).

  4. Richard Davis Avatar
    Richard Davis

    I enjoyed this post. You conveyed a sense of reminiscence that touched me. Thanks for the post. Down the Road is always a good way to start the day.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a lovely thing to say! Thank you!

  5. Nenne Karlsson Avatar
    Nenne Karlsson

    Jim, I was in Berlin 1978, and since it almost was “a must” to go to East and look at the divided city I also went there. During my visit there appeared a military convoy of tanks on the streets and drove to Unter den Linden. There were also a lot of marching soldiers. When the tanks was gone, a lot of workers came and fixed the asphalt on the street, that had been destroyed by the tanks.
    I also went by the Berlin U-bahn (subway) and the trains went partly under the east side. The trains slowed down in speed but didn’t stop on the east side. The stations were rather dark and the only people there was soldiers watching. It was like a black and white old movie about spies. Rather gostlike.
    Nenne Karlsson

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I saw a military procession in the East too, marching right in front of the Neue Wache! I have a photo around here someplace.

      The scene in the U bahn must have been chilling!

  6. Marc Beebe Avatar

    In my lifetime the Wall went up, and the Wall came down. This demonstrates the impermanence of ideologies.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      True! Trouble is, sometimes we don’t outlive bad ideologies.

  7. DougD Avatar
    DougD

    I’m glad you had a good experience in Berlin, the missing wall is proof that some things do get better over time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      True! Here’s hoping we see nothing more like it in our lifetimes.

  8. Alex Avatar
    Alex

    Hi Jim, Berlin citizen here, been reading your blog since end of 2021 and enjoying it very much. Glad you got to see Berlin again after all these years. And even we Berliners are still always pointing out the cobblestone strip to one another once we pass from one part to the other. It’s something us older folks that still remember the intimidating wall feel is quite special.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for commenting! I didn’t know that Berliners still strongly notice it when they cross where the Wall used to be. But it makes sense. You’re right, its presence was very intimidating.

      I spent most of my time in the old East. Everything was shiny, gleaming, vibrant, and fun. Except Alexanderplatz — it was as desolate as I remembered.

  9. tbm3fan Avatar
    tbm3fan

    You would think that people leaving would be one less headache for the powers that be but apparently too big of an embarrassment so put a wall up and shoot them. For 25 years I have had a patient by the name of Valeria who is now 86. When 20 years old she, along with a 21 year old man who later became her husband, and another 21 year old male friend snuck across the Hungarian border at night after the 1956 uprising. Both made it to the US due to Eisenhower and eventually became successful engineers. I enjoy talking to her every time I see her.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I always thought that the Wall was proof that communism wasn’t awesome.

      My hometown got plenty of Hungarian immigrants in ’56.

  10. shirley B. Avatar
    shirley B.

    We went back to West-Berlin, through Checkpoint Charlie, in 1983. It marked the end of our school trip. It was quite a tense procedure, with border guards not only checking under the seats in the bus, but also in the luggage compartments and they even used a mirror to check the underside of the bus. Just to see if nobody tried to get out… Driving into West-Berlin after 5 days in East Germany, the billboards and neon lights were blinding.

    We went back to Berlin, about 6 years ago. A changed city, so very vibrant and fun! It was good to return and experience the city like this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like we had similar experiences. I felt like coming back to the West from the East was like using a time machine.

      1. Shirley B. Avatar
        Shirley B.

        I understand. I was just astonished how little time it took to get used to the absence of those bright signs and neon lights.

  11. Alan Peres Avatar
    Alan Peres

    No pictures of today’s Checkpoint Charlie (tourist attraction ) and the neighboring MacDonalds? :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t think they were that interesting. But here’s one photo that contains both.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/52970738032/

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