The point is located at one of the main streets in Berlin, Frederick Street (Friedrichstraße in German). From here it tells the historic story of the Berlin Wall and the divided Berlin city.
Today Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist destination, but while the Berlin Wall still stood, it was one of the main tension points between East and West Berlin. During the Cold War era there were many of escape attempts into West Berlin, some through Checkpoint Charlie. Most of these attempts failed, many times ended with the escapee’s death, only every so often a successful escape.
Who is Charlie you might ask? Charlie, as some might think, is not a person that this checkpoint was name after. Charlie is the word that stands for the letter ‘C,’ meaning the number 3 in military terms.
When arriving at the location of Checkpoint Charlie, one sees a small shack in the middle of the street, in front of which are soldiers standing still, actors of course, dressed in an army uniform and big flags waving nearby. The soldiers offer tourists to take photos with them, for a small donation. Around the shack, as if the Cold War has not ended, are placed many sandbags…these show the military tension that used to haunt the spot, between the soldiers of East Berlin and the soldiers of West Berlin. There is also a stand here for passport controls, and permits into East Berlin. This place used to cost some people their lives, today, “only” 5 euros will get you a permit.
After receiving an order from his officers to shoot to death anyone trying to escape to West Berlin, Conrad Schumann decided to abandon East Berlin and escape to the West himself. He did this by bravely jumping above the barbed wire wall, which he was supposed stop others from doing. And in one second he was free.
What is incredible, is that during that jump he was photographed on his way to freedom. The picture of him jumping at Checkpoint Charlie turned into a propaganda sensation. In the battle between the Communists and the Liberals in divided Germany at the time, this picture was like the golden egg of propaganda. “East German soldiers are themselves trying to escape” – the politicians from the West would declare again and again. They had no idea how right there were. The Easter Berliners all felt as if they were in one last prisoner’s camp.
Schumann did not see himself as a hero. At interviews he repeated that again and again. He met a young lady in Germany and married her, found a job and ran a normal life. But life in the West was not easy also, which can be judged by the fact that in 1990 Schumann committed suicide.