by Carl Kruse
During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was a border between East and West Berlin or more appropriately, the ONLY border where you could legally cross between the divided city. Named “Charlie” as it was the third checkpoint between East and West Germany and so assigned the third letter of the NATO phonetic alphabet — “C” — corresponding to the word Charlie. Other checkpoints were Alpha, when first crossing between East and West Germany, and Bravo, the crossing into Berlin via a 1930’s autobahn that entered the then American sector of southwestern Berlin. (As an aside, the NATO phonetic alphabet, used in aviation and maritime communications, is here if anyone is interested.)
Guns uncovered and at the ready, American and Soviet tanks face off 50 meters from each other at Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, October, 1961.
Checkpoint Charlie — once considered the most dangerous place on Earth — was the innermost crossing between East and West Berlin, and if approaching from the East you would have met a U.S. soldier, today artistically portrayed by the image of Sgt. Jeff Harper who served with the U.S. Army during the Cold War in Berlin.
Close-up of Sgt. Jeff Harper. Photo: Adam Berry / Getty Images
From the West one would have encountered his Soviet counterpart, whose image is on the reverse. I tried to find the name of the pictured Soviet soldier, only to run into a dead end. No one seems to know what happened to him. In 1994 when the photo was taken by artist Frank Thiel, the soldier was photographed in a Russian not Soviet uniform, as the USSR had by then dissolved into its individual country components.
Approaching Checkpoint Charlie from the West.
Close up of Russian solder at Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
It turns out photographer Frank Thiel photographed soldiers from each of the allied armies that had occupied Berlin after World War II — the USA, Great Britain, France and the USSR — though only the American and Russian men were displayed at Checkpoint Charlie, which was a U.S. Army checkpoint. Portraits of all of the soldiers were later sold at an art auction.
The once most dangerous place on Earth today is a tourist spot with the true victors of the conflict looming large over the diminutive checkpoint, which is the tiny white shed in the lower-middle-right of the photo and where many feared to hear the first salvos of World War III.
Those victors are to the left McDonalds, to the right KFC.
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin / Photo – New York Times