Debate about the Place of Remembrance
As in the rest of the city, the GDR began demolishing the border installations at the Friedrichstrasse/Zimmerstrasse border crossing in 1990. The Berlin Wall and border fortifications on the border strip gradually disappeared, along with the checkpoint buildings and the massive overhead construction that covered the GDR border crossing. The Western Allies’ guardhouse was ceremoniously dismantled on June 22 – on the occasion of the Two-Plus-Four negotiations in Berlin – and donated to the German Historical Museum. It is now on display in the Allied Museum.
In response to the rapid dismantling of the border fortifications, some people voiced criticism and called for the creation of a future remembrance site at Checkpoint Charlie. Rainer Hildebrandt, the founder and director of the House at Checkpoint Charlie Museum, was one of the people behind this effort. He had various border fortification elements installed on the vacant grounds at the corner of Friedrichstrasse/Zimmerstrasse. This led to an open-air exhibition that was on display from 1991 until the end of 1993. At the same time, the state of Berlin was negotiating with an investment company that wanted to build an “American Business Center” on the Friedrichstrasse property. Thanks to civic involvement, the 1992 sales contract required the investment company to make a 600-square-meter section of the property available for a memorial on the eastern plot at the intersection of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse. Over the following years, three of the five planned buildings were constructed on the grounds of the former GDR border crossing. The investor, however, ended up declaring bankruptcy and the two empty lots west and east of Friedrichstrasse, at the corner of Zimmerstrasse, remained undeveloped. The control tower – the final surviving remnant of the former border crossing on the eastern plot – fell victim to construction preparation: It was torn down by the investor in 2000 – although the original plans had called for it to be integrated into the building project.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the State of Berlin mounted an installation commemorating the historical site on the former West Berlin side of the border crossing: an illuminated box presenting two large photographs of an American and a Russian soldier, a commemorative plaque with photographs and information about the tank confrontation, and a double row of cobblestones marking the line of the border. The House at Checkpoint Charlie Museum also made its mark at the memorial site by mounting a copy of the four-language sector border sign and a replica of the 1961 version of the Allied control booth.
In the years that followed, there were repeated debates on what qualified as appropriate forms of commemoration at this historic site. These were prompted by snack stands and souvenir shops at the site, as well as actors in uniforms who offered to pose for photographs in front of the control booth for money, and finally, by a controversial action of the House at Checkpoint Charlie Museum: It had placed more than 1,000 black wooden crosses and 120 Wall segments on the vacant grounds in memory of the people who died at the inner German border. Public demands that the State of Berlin take action grew louder. The Berlin Senate responded by developing a general concept for commemorating the Berlin Wall, which was adopted in 2006 and supported by the federal government. The concept called for the many different Wall sites in Berlin to be connected and complementary, with each maintaining its own thematic focus. It stipulated that the international dimension of the Berlin Wall should be conveyed at Checkpoint Charlie and the former border crossing.
Because property claims remained unclarified and the land was by now burdened with debt, this plan has not yet been implemented. Despite extensive efforts and a civic initiative supported by politicians and scholars advocating for a “Center on the Cold War” to be erected at the former Checkpoint Charlie, until now there have only been temporary presentations: an exhibition mounted on a construction site fence and a small permanent exhibition in the Cold War BlackBox.
For a few years now, the Berlin state government has been ramping up its efforts to improve the remembrance site. In 2020, the Berlin parliament passed a development plan for the land, which reserves 1,150 square meters for a common-use area where an educational and remembrance site could be established in a free-standing museum on the property on Zimmerstrasse, east of Friedrichstrasse. The lot on the west side is designated to become an urban plaza, creating more space for visitors at the historic site. As part of the development plan procedure, the spatial structure of the properties with the surviving border crossing relics and the fire walls of the adjacent buildings were added to state of Berlin’s monument list.
In terms of planning law, the course has thus been set for the establishment of a memorial at this world-renowned remembrance site. A political decision is still needed, however, to determine how the educational and memorial site should be realized.