Cold War museum plan prompts row over Berlin's past

Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:24am EDT
 
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By Sophie Duvernoy

BERLIN (Reuters) - More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, differences over how to represent the Cold War past are hampering plans to build a new museum at the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing.

Every day thousands of tourists flock to the site of a dramatic standoff between Soviet and American tanks in 1961 in the center of what is now the capital of a reunited Germany.

Though still a potent symbol of the confrontation between communist East and capitalist West, the checkpoint today looks rather ramshackle and has been dubbed "snackpoint Charlie" by local media because of a proliferation of food stands.

The site features a rebuilt guard house and a cramped private museum focused on the methods used by East Germans to flee over the Wall. Drama students pose in U.S. and Soviet army costumes and hawkers assail tourists with ersatz Red Army hats.

From September, a "Black Box" installation will provide more information and images of the checkpoint, but this is just a placeholder for the much larger museum project.

"Wall memory is local and specific, but the confrontation behind it is a global one. We need a wider international frame for understanding the Cold War," said Konrad Jarausch, head of the museum initiative, which is backed by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) in the city government.

The Communist East presented the building of the Wall as a response to Western attempts to undermine the East German economy and infiltrate spies and saboteurs. Soviet bloc histories and school books called it the "Anti-fascist Protection Barrier".

The museum, which has the backing of former statesmen such as James Baker, U.S. Secretary of State when the Wall fell, would try to explain what the Wall meant for both East and West Germany and also show how conflicts in Korea, China and Vietnam fed into superpower rivalry in the Cold War, said Jarausch.   Continued...

 
Tourists walk near the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing in Berlin, August 25, 2012. More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, differences over how to represent the Cold War past are hampering plans to build a new museum at the former border crossing. Picture taken August 25, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter