Checking on Charlie in Berlin

Not far from Potsdamer Platz along Nierderkirchner Strasse, a short stretch of the Berlin Wall still stands today. It is actually one of the few remaining walls that is still in its original location. Also here is the permanent exhibit, Topographie des Terrors. As right on this very spot, once stood the feared Gestapo Headquarters and the SS Central Command.


I had not planned to visit this exhibit but my nephew highly recommended it. Since we had already walked a fair bit today and it might offer some rest for our tired legs, we decided to go in. There is no entry fee but they take donations if you wish. They also provide lockers for you to store your shopping bags or backpacks, which is another bonus!


Inside, hung on the walls and from the ceilings are large full scale photos from the era with a detailed chronology of the history of the Gestapo and the SS. It is a thoroughly engaging exercise, drawing you in to the period when it all happened. It is also a chilling account of the entire operation. From the faces of the Nazi chiefs and the SS soldiers carrying out orders to the victims and the persecuted. It is totally gripping.


We could have kept going if not for our aching legs begging for a rest. As we expected, there were seats around and so we stopped for a while to re-charge our batteries. Noticing the time, and that Checkpoint Charlie was only just down the road, we reluctantly left without finishing the entire exhibit although I felt I’ve already seen enough.

Our nephew was right in saying the Topography of Terror was well worth the stop and he was also right in saying Checkpoint Charlie was underwhelming. Arriving at this infamous checkpoint, we were faced suddenly with the tackiest of tourist spots. Even the man did not know what to do. Here you can get a stamp for your passport as in days past when this checkpoint was a gateway between the East and the West or if you so fancy, get your photo taken with dress up actors.


I guess we were not the only ones feeling this way as others were standing on the sidelines, looking on, as the actors paraded back and forth waiting for photos. All the while traffic is whizzing back and forth on the road! The whole setup reminded me of LA where where within ten feet, you can have Wolverine, Batman and Captain Jack Sparrow waiting for photos with tourists. But out here, it just seemed out of place.

So, for a while there we were standing confused at the intersection with other confused tourists trying to avoid eye contact with the actors for fear they would run up to us and shove a flag into our hands.

Then someone blinked. A group showed a glimmer of interest or maybe they were just asking for directions but that was enough for the “checkpoint guards” to immediately descend upon them and escort them to the red carpet at the front of the booth.


If they weren’t sure before, they certainly were now as they were offered all sorts of props to wear and hold. Then it was onto various poses which was where we called it quits. I think tacky is almost too kind a word in this instance. It is completely overdone and in contrast to what Berlin has to offer, you could do much better anywhere else.


After this anti-climax, I had to break the news to the man that we now have to walk ALL THE WAY BACK to the Hotel. He, of course, had wondered if we had walked in some kind of a loop and that the hotel was just round the next corner or just 50 metres down the street. (As usual he has absolutely no sense of direction). I think his feet almost turned to jelly when he learnt that was not the case. But with the promise of going to the Berlin Philharmonic that night and not missing out on the performance, it was enough for him to double his efforts. Of course, we could have also just taken a taxi but we made it back in good time with still a bit to spare in the tank!



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