Checkpoint Charlie and the Zoo
Berlin Travel Blog› entry 6 of 9 › view all entries
On our second day in Berlin I make use of the hop on hop off bus tour and visit Checkpoint Charlie and it's nearby museum and the World Famous Berlin Zoo.
Checkpoint Charlie, along with the Glienicker Bridge was the best known border-crossing of Cold War days. The sign, which became a symbol of the division of Cold War Berlin and read like a dire warning to those about to venture beyond the Wall which read "You are now leaving the American sector" in English, Russian, French and German - stood here. It is today an iconic marker of territorial boundary and political division. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, it signified the border between West and East, Capitalism and Communism, freedom and confinement.
The spot remains a must see sight in Berlin with huge historical and emotional resonance, even accounting for the fact that there is remarkably little left to recall the atmosphere of pre-1989 days. An enormous amount of debating went into deciding what should be left here and preserved for Berliners and visitors to see in the future.
Historically, the site is important because from 1961 to 1990 it functioned as the main entry and departing point for diplomats, journalists and non-German visitors who used to be allowed to enter East Berlin on a one day visa after exchanging their Deutsch Marks on a one-to-one basis for East German currency. More dramatically, US and Soviet tanks had a close encounter here in October 1961 when J.F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev’s tanks faced each other in an acrimonious moment feared around the World as a possible lead up to World War III.
The wooden barrack where visitors to the Russian Sector (East Berlin) were once obliged to pass through for vetting was removed. Reconstruction has included a US Army guardhouse and a copy of the original border sign. The original white booth which served as the official gateway between East and West can be seen in the Allierten Museum in Berlin-Dahlem. Cobblestones mark the exact spot of the former border and the poignant photograph by Frank Thiel of an American and Soviet soldier can be seen here. Memorabilia includes the nearby Café Adler (eagle), a hotspot for journalists and spies in the past where informers met their counterparts.
The Museum, known as Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, contains documentation and exhibits of the many varied and sometimes bizzare escape attempts from East to West.
I next visit the Zoo.opened in 1844 it is the oldest zoo in Germany. Located in west Berlin and covering an area of over 35 hectares. The Asian themed front gate makes an impressive front entrance to this remarkable and popular zoo.
The zoo is renowned internationally for its collection of over 15000 animals including pandas, hippos, orangutans, polar bears, king penguins and elephants. There is also a well stocked bird aviary containing over 500 birds.
Like so many other German buildings, the zoo was completely destroyed in World War II and only a handful of animals survived. A new modern zoo was constructed in its place displaying many of the animals in enclosures that mimic their natural environment.