The most famous crossing point between East and West during the Cold War, the iconic outpost in Berlin known as “Checkpoint Charlie” was a symbol of the post-World War II conflict between the Free World and the Soviet Bloc. It played a role in intelligence operations as well as spy movies and books.
The checkpoint was built into the Berlin Wall, which was put up by East Germany in 1961 to keep its citizens from escaping to the West. The layout was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year life, the infrastructure on the eastern side expanded to include not only the wall but also watchtowers, various sheds, and zig-zag barriers. The Allies never erected any permanent buildings, making do with the small wooden guardhouse and the “You Are Leaving the American Sector” sign that are burned into the memory of many Cold War veterans.
Occupied by all four of the Allied victors at the end of World War II but soon divided into East and West, Berlin was one of the spy capitals of the Cold War. Each side used it as a starting point to run spies into the other’s sphere of influence, to exchange captured spies, and to intercept the other’s communications. The Americans and British even constructed a famous tunnel under the border between East and West Berlin to tap Soviet phone lines.
The course of the former wall and border is now marked with a line of cobblestones, the spy operations quietly memorialized in museums and history books.