The Famous, or Infamous Checkpoint
When I first stepped around the street corner and saw the guards standing in front of the checkpoint holding an American flag and a Soviet flag, I was surprised and fascinated. In all of my life I had never seen a street divided by a guardhouse in the middle of a German city. The best known Berlin Wall crossing between East and West was Checkpoint Charlie. I was standing on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, taking in the atmosphere for a moment, looking at the surrounding buildings and imagining how it must have felt like to cross a border within a city.
My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by tourists streaming onto the street, talking to the guards and asking for pictures. I realize the ‘guards’ have a sign hanging from them that photos are two euros. A large tour bus drives by very slowly, with many cameras pointing out of the bus window at the guard house. I realized, that the guards at the checkpoint are students working for tips. I felt tricked when I found out later that the original guard booth has been moved to a museum, and we were looking at a replica staged for tourist pictures. To see the original guard booth, head over to the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, where you can find much more authentic artifacts and documents plus there is no entrance fee.
Asisi's Panorama The Wall
Across the street from Checkpoint Charlie you will find the Asisi Panorama The Wall in a huge, steel rotunda. It depicts a divided Berlin as seen from Kreuzberg to the area described as "Mitte" in the eastern part of the city, as painted by artist and architect Yadegar Asisi. The artist makes the following comment on his work: "During the 1980s I lived in Kreuzberg close to the wall - it was part of our daily lives back then. Many of the scenes and details of the panorama consolidate a part of my personal experience."
Once you are inside you see a 180 degree panoramic picture, as seen from the scaffolding of a building undergoing renovation on the western side of the Berlin wall. The picture is 60 metres long and 15 metres tall, which comes to almost 200 feet long and 50 feet tall. It is overwhelming at first when you are trying to take in the scene playing out in front of you, complete with sound effects from hidden speakers. It's like you’ve been transported to an autumn day in the 1980’s with every day people going by their business on the East and on the West side. Some of them just walk along the street, some move furniture, kids are playing with a ball. All of this is happening only several feet from lines of barbed wire, armed guards and rifles pointing at the wall from a lookout tower. The longer you look at the scene, the more small details you will notice, drawn with such realistic detail that after a while you will forget you are looking at a painting. In between you hear street noise, music and soundbites from important moments in Berlin history, one of them being the speech of East German Secretary Walter Ulbricht during a press conference two months before the creation of the Berlin Wall where he states that "Nobody has the intention of putting up a wall". To immerse you even more into the atmosphere of being right next to the wall, the lighting switches between day and night mode every 10-15 minutes, giving you a whole new perspective of the same picture.
So Is It Worth Seeing the Panorama?
It was pricey to get in at 10 Euros per person, but Denise and I felt it was well worth it. We spent at least 45 minutes inside, soaking up the details, moving around and listening to the sound bits. I felt that this was the closest I will ever get to actually being in Berlin when the wall was still standing. As a work of art, ‘The Wall’ panorama is absolutely mind blowing. Neither Denise and I had ever seen anything like it. It's the closest thing I’ve felt to being inside someone else's memory. For more information on Yadegar Asisi and The Wall panorama in Berlin, click here.
Video To see how large the guard booth had become in the final years leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, watch this ABC news bit from 1990 here.
Podcast How the Berlin Wall Worked by Stuff You Missed in History Class (Denise's favorite podcast).
Have you been to Checkpoint Charlie, or been to see Asisi's Panorama? Tell us about it below in the comments.