A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Checkpoint Charlie’s new cold war with the hot dog vendors – guardian.co.uk

In Nonsense, Really?!? on April 22, 2012 at 20:25

US 'soldiers' pose with tourists for pictures at Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie’s new cold war with the hot dog vendors 

It was described as the tensest spot in the cold war, a crossing between East and West Berlin that was once the scene of a confrontation between American and Soviet tanks. The incident came close to triggering a third world war.

Now, more than two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie has turned into a more prosaic one between commercial and historical interest groups who are fighting to control the site.

In front of a wooden beach-hut-style shed, a reconstruction of the US army guard house that once stood there, two men pose as military policemen flanked by the US flag next to the legendary sign: “You are leaving the American sector.” They beckon the tourists to pose with them – “Here please, pictures for Facebook” – for €2 a go.

An American tourist clutching a copy of John Le Carre’s novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, part of which was set in Berlin, slings his arm round the neck of one of the “soldiers”.

Elsewhere, Romanian vendors sell ushanka, ear-flap fur hats, gas masks and chunks of coloured concrete which they claim are remnants of the wall, while around them food stalls dish out everything from “allied hot dogs” to cold dog, an East German chocolate pudding. A cyclist swears as he swerves to avoid the throng on the road. “This is a street, not a frigging carnival,” he shouts.

The newest edition to what some have dubbed “Snackpoint Charlie” is Freedom Park, a group of aluminium fast food hutches serving everything from “organic power food” to “checkpoint curry sausage”. It sprang up over Easter and its operators promote it as a place in which to contemplate history.

A growing number of voices are complaining about such scenes, arguing that commercial interests at Berlin’s most popular tourist attraction, drawing up to 4 million visitors a year, have been given precedence over respect for history.

“This place stands more than any other for the division both of our country and the entire world, and it needs … a more dignified manner,” said Kai Wegner, a Christian Democrat MP. He said he was frustrated by stumbling over “snack stands and east German kitsch”.

Alexandra Hildebrandt, who runs the somewhat rundown, private Checkpoint Charlie Museum, said: “It’s supposed to be a place that recalls the cold war; instead, it’s where people come for cold dog, hot dogs and donor kebabs.”


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