by Emma Featherstone, The Telegraph, November 8, 2019
Critics say Checkpoint Charlie has become a tourist trap crowded by souvenir shops, tour buses and fast-food restaurants in the 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Some say it has been "Disney-fied".
But a new ban on performers posing for paid photographs as "soldiers" at the attraction in the German capital could signal the start of a more respectful attitude towards the historic site.
The actors claimed they only accepted voluntary donations. However, an undercover investigation revealed that they demanded €4 (£3.50) for a photo and were making up to €5,000 a day in doing so, the German newspaper Bild reported.
The public order office in Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood has accused the actors of exploting tourists and informed their theatrical agency that performing there is illegal, unless supported by a special permit, which the office will not issue.
Performers have been plying their trade at Checkpoint Charlie for around 17 years. The authority’s decision is seen as part of a wider plan to give more appropriate historical treatment to the Berlin Wall crossing point.
Paul Sullivan, Telegraph Travel’s Berlin expert, said that the actors are known to sometimes be rude and aggressive.
“Various reports led to the local civic enforcement office to take action and ban them," he said.
"Others say the city didn’t like them earning money tax free. But, in my experience, they’ve been problematic for many years and I always personally advised visitors to avoid them. It also made a mockery of a sensitive historic area and a serious political situation.”
The actors come from a group of 10 performers called Dance Factory. Tom Luszeit, who leads the group, told Bild that he would have to let six of them go. He added that they would fight the ban and hoped they would return to performing at the attraction.
It is not the first time concerns have arisen about the atmosphere at the site. In 2008, the Telegraph reported that it had become "a grotty Disneyland".
A former US army Colonel Vernon Pike said: "The use of fake soldiers is an unacceptable spectacle which is inappropriate for the location and its historical importance."
Checkpoint Charlie was established in 1947 and became the only official crossing between East and West Germany when the wall was built by the East Germans in 1961.
Two months later it was the scene of a standoff between Soviet and US tanks, known as the Berlin Crisis. It began with a dispute over whether East German guards had authority to check the documents of a US diplomat who was crossing from West to East Berlin.
During the division of the city, the Allied forces maintained only a wooden shack at their side of the checkpoint, a symbol of the view that the Berlin Wall was not a legitimate border. It was replaced by a metal hut in the Eighties, which is now on display in the Allied Museum in Berlin.
The Allied forces built three checkpoints along the border, which were named using the phonetic alphabet – checkpoints Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known as it was the only of the three through which American military, non-German visitors and diplomatic personnel could pass.
More than 3,000 East Germans were killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Checkpoint Charlie was a backdrop to escape incidents, including that of Peter Fechter. The 18-year-old East German was shot by Communist forces while attempting to flee to the West and died in the no-man’s land.
When the East German government eased travel restrictions in November 1989, East Germans flooded through Checkpoint Charlie.