Checkpoint Charlie Museum

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The Checkpoint Charlie Museum (German: Haus am Checkpoint Charlie or Mauermuseum) is a museum in Berlin. It is named after the famous crossing point on the Berlin Wall, and was created to document the so-called "best border security system in the world" (in the words of East German general Heinz Hoffmann). On display are the photos and related documents of successful escape attempts from East Germany, together with the escape apparatus: hot-air balloons, getaway cars, chairlifts, and a mini-U-Boat.

History[edit]

It began as an exhibition by human rights activist Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt on 19 October 1962, just outside the Berlin Wall, "in an apartment with only two and a half rooms in the north of Berlin. The street was divided along its whole length; the buildings in the east had been vacated and their windows were bricked up."[1] The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie opened in its present location in 1963.

The museum is operated by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13. August ("13 August Consortium" – the date on which construction of the Berlin Wall began), and the director is Alexandra Hildebrandt, widow of Rainer.

It is one of the most frequently visited museums in Berlin, with 850,000 visitors in 2007.[2] Through its presentation of the many ways in which people tried to escape East Germany, it aims to bring that period of history to life and ensure that it is not forgotten.

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl: „Mauermuseum – Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie“ impressively documents the erection of the Wall and the injustice of the SED-regime. It is more than a museum; as an establishment which is known far beyond the borders of our fatherland and portrays the disregard of human and civil rights past and present it reminds its visitors to defend freedom and democracy wherever and whenever it is threatened.“ [3]

In 2004, Alexandra Hildebrandt was publicly criticised for creating her Freedom Memorial to the victims of the border forces, on the site of the former Checkpoint Charlie. While some considered this public exhibit to be appropriate, others considered it a form of cheap populism. The following year, the crosses which made up the memorial were removed, following a court order enacted by the owner of the site.[4]

In 2008, the museum gave the total number of people killed up until 1989 on the Berlin Wall and the East-West German border as 1,303. However, one source, in a right-wing publication, claims that this total includes victims trying to escape via the Baltic Sea, Germans killed on the country's exterior borders, the deaths of East German soldiers and Soviet deserters, suicides of family members of the border troops, and people who successfully escaped from the East but were subsequently captured and killed by the Stasi or the KGB.[5]

Exhibitions[edit]

Origins[edit]

From the museum, escape helpers could observe all movements at the border crossing; escapees were always welcome and supported, escape plans were worked out, and injustice in the GDR was always fought against. The aim was to document the "best border security system in the world" (GDR general Karl-Heinz Hoffmann) and the support provided by the protecting powers – until the tank confrontation between the USA/USSR. Further exhibitions followed: 1973: "Artists interpret THE WALL", 1976: "BERLIN – from a front-line city to Europe's bridge", 1984: "FROM GANDHI TO WALESA – non-violent struggle for human rights".

The wall from 13th August 1961 to its fall[edit]

Original objects from successful escapes demonstrate the courage and creativity of the escapees. Photos and objects show the development of the GDR's border security system, from the first breeze blocks to the 4th-generation Wall, whose L-shaped segments became the longest concrete art canvas in the world. A spring gun for the dismantling of which they had risked their lives, and other elements of a former "border security system" that used to encircle a city and seal off a country illustrate the Wall's historic singularity.

Due to the museums friendly relations with escape helpers the museum was given hot-air balloons, escape cars, chairlifts and a small submarine, a spring gun, a piece of the wall's tubular top-cladding and the Charta 77 typewriter, Mahatma Gandhi's diary and sandals and Andrei Sakharov's death mask.

Berlin from front-line city to bridge of Europe[edit]

The exhibition presents the history of both parts of the divided city – their contrasts and similarities – from the end of World War II onward. Further stages in the exhibition show the building of the Wall, the Four Power Agreement, the 750th anniversary celebrations, the fall of the Wall and German reunification.

It happened at Checkpoint Charlie[edit]

Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known border crossing between East and West. In October 1961 American and Russian tanks engage in a face-off following the USA's intervention to defend the fundamental rights of Berlin's occupying powers. Again and again Checkpoint Charlie is the scene of demonstrations. Escape attempts are either successful (e.g. in an Isetta, a small car modified for escape purposes, which is displayed in the museum) or fail just in front of the white borderline. On 17 August 1962, Peter Fechter bleeds to death before the eyes of the world. Finally, on 22 June 1990, in the presence of the foreign ministers of the four victorious powers of World War II and both German states, Checkpoint Charlie is demolished in a formal ceremony.

NATO[edit]

In 2007, the Museum created a new permanent exhibition on the history of NATO. In the run-up to the opening of the exhibition Charles C. Clay, grandson of US General Lucius D. Clay, and Sergei Khrushchev unveiled the commemorative plaque at the Allied control post at Checkpoint Charlie. In 2012 NATO General Secretary Anders F. Rasmussen visited the exhibition. [6]

Ronald Reagan[edit]

An exhibition on US President Ronald Reagan shows him as both a public figure and provides insight into his personal life.

From Gandhi to Walesa Non-violent struggle for human rights[edit]

This exhibition includes 14 loans from the Gandhi family, the typewriter belonging to "Charta 77" from the former Czechoslovakia and the hectograph of the illegal periodical "Umweltblätter" ("Environmental Pages") from the GDR. Examples from various countries show how justice was achieved without wrongdoing, using either humour or non-violent demonstrations.

The museum also has a section dedicated to the situation for today's freedom and human rights activists throughout the world, many of whom face intimidation and persecution. This is a section of the museum that will be constantly updated throughout the years to come.Current focuses of this section include the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case, Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky, North Korea, Cuba, Ukraine.

Inventive Escapes[edit]

Between 1961 and 1989 more than 5,000 people were able to escape across the Berlin Wall. In the course of time the aids they used to overcome the increasingly perfected GDR border security system became more and more inventive, and many of them have found their way into the museum's collection: several modified cars, a mini submarine used to tow an escapee across the Baltic Sea, hot-air balloons and homemade, motorised hang gliders equipped with a Trabant engine or the tank of a Java motorbike. People also escaped hidden in loudspeakers or in a radiogram. Full documentation is available on numerous escape tunnels. The most successful of them enabled 57 people to reach West Berlin on two evenings in October 1964. In addition to many photographs of the tunnel, the car in which the excavated earth was disposed of is also on view. One of the escape helpers was Reinhard Furrer, who later on became one of the first Germans in space and who died in 1995 in a plane crash.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky[edit]

Mikhail Khodorkovsky held his famous press conference upon his release in December 2013 at the Mauermuseum. He gave thanks to former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Guido Westerwelle, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Chairwoman of the Mauermuseum, Alexandra Hildebrandt.[7] [8]

Nadiya Savchenko[edit]

The Mauermuseum helped to arrrange the release of Nadiya Savchenko. [9]

Quotation[edit]

We can also call ourselves the first museum of international nonviolent protest. Our exhibits include: The Charta 77 typewriter, the hectograph of the illegal periodical "Umweltblätter" ("Environmental Pages"), Mahatma Gandhi's diary and sandals and from Elena Bonner the death mask of her partner Andrei Sakharov.

— Rainer Hildebrandt, "Origins - Development - Future", from mauermuseum.de[1]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°30′28″N 13°23′26″E / 52.50778°N 13.39056°E / 52.50778; 13.39056