Checkpoint Charlie The Cold War, the Berlin Wall, and the most dangerous place on earth

Iain MacGregor

Book - 2019

"Checkpoint Charlie is the story of the men and women - from both sides of the Cold War's political divide - who lived, served on, or escaped through the Berlin Wall during its life span (13th August 1961 - 9th November 1989). This physical monstrosity created by the East German communist state was to divide one of the most beautiful and by 1961, ruined cities of the world; dividing families, friends and lovers. Its creation, and its sudden collapse twenty-seven years later, were the k...ey moments of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie was the one place in a paranoid continent where East faced West across one hundred yards of No Man's Land. Where soldiers served, spies watched through trained binoculars, escapees fled, politicians made speeches, people died and, mothers wept. The Wall was seen by many as permanent as the Himalayas. Across the Wall's almost three decades of existence, over two hundred people died trying to escape through it to the West, and these are just the recorded deaths. Many more who attempted and failed to break to freedom, would later die of their wounds in an East German hospital or prison. Historian Iain MacGregor travels to America, Britain, Germany and France to talk to the many people the Berlin Wall affected and who found themselves at the gates of Checkpoint Charlie - either on the Allied, or Soviet side. He interviews soldiers, politicians, journalists, spies, policemen, refugees and escapees to build a picture of what life was like in the city that was universally seen as the "hot spot" of the Cold War for four decades"--

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Subjects
Genres
History
Published
New York : Scribner 2019.
Language
English
Physical Description
viii, 340 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 309-326) and index.
ISBN
9781982100032
1982100036
9781982100049
1982100044
Main Author
Iain MacGregor (author)
  • Prologue: October
  • Island in the Communist stream
  • The spook in Berlin
  • In a mousetrap now
  • Split asunder
  • A new border to patrol
  • Who blinks first?
  • Elvis is dead
  • Let them come to Berlin!
  • The secret army
  • Searching for a grain of truth
  • Catch me if you can!
  • A soldier's death
  • The singing Jew of Checkpoint Charlie
  • Chimes of freedom
  • At the edge of control
  • The last escape
  • A family in Berlin
  • The memo that ended the Cold War
  • The flood
  • Lights, cameras, action!
  • Aftermath
  • Goodbye Checkpoint Charlie
  • Epilogue: four memories.
Review by Booklist Reviews

For Americans growing up during the 1950s and 1960s, Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie was the all-too-familiar symbol of the Cold War confrontation between East and West, between communism and the free world. If World War III were to break out, it often seemed that this unremarkable little hut might be the flashpoint igniting universal conflagration. Briton MacGregor details the significance of this history-laden fulcrum as part of the larger story of Berlin. When the wall went up in 1961, dozens of crossing points from one sector of the city to the others were sealed, and Checkpoint Charlie figured in the tense 1961 display of brinkmanship between Soviet and American tanks. There President Kennedy delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" address, followed years later by President Reagan's challenge to tear down the wall. When finally the wall fell in 1989, celebrations centered at the old guardhouse, which now sits in a Berlin museum. MacGregor chronicles the tragic stories of those who died trying to escape the suffocating East German regime. Includes maps, illustrations, and a bibliography. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

During the Cold War, the best-known crossing between East and West Berlin was famously called Checkpoint Charlie. Editor/publisher MacGregor revisits the tensions that led to the construction and operation of the 11-foot-high, 79-mile-long wall, interviewing individuals who built it, escaped across it or lost loved ones trying to escape, or served as guards at the various checkpoints—not to mention the politicians, journalists, and CIA, MI6, and Stasi operatives for which it was a main focus. With a 100,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

British publisher and historian MacGregor (To Hell on a Bike) delivers a colorful, kaleidoscopic history of the Berlin Wall from the perspectives of soldiers, military police, journalists, spies, and citizens from England, America, and West and East Germany. Highlights include the story of a top-secret American special forces unit stationed in West Berlin and tasked with sabotaging the Soviet army in case of invasion; in such a scenario, the soldiers' life expectancy was estimated to be 72 hours. MacGregor also unearths little-known facts, including the average amount West Germany paid from 1961 to 1989 to ransom more than 30,000 East German political prisoners (250,000 marks, or €100,000 in today's money), and the nickname for the area near Dresden that was the only part of East Germany without access to West German TV ("Valley of the Clueless"). The book's strongest sections are set during and immediately after the wall's construction and in the years leading up to its fall. MacGregor's dramatic reconstruction of the night the wall fell features the enlightening viewpoint of Maj. Gen. Robert Corbett, commandant of Berlin's British sector. This is a readable yet cursory account; those seeking a more comprehensive picture will find it in Frederick Taylor's The Berlin Wall. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Nov.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Published to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and drawing on never-before-heard interviews, this groundbreaking history of the famous military gate on the border of East and West Berlin brings to life the nerve-wracking confrontation between the West and USSR. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"Checkpoint Charlie is the story of the men and women - from both sides of the Cold War's political divide - who lived, served on, or escaped through the Berlin Wall during its life span (13th August 1961 - 9th November 1989). This physical monstrosity created by the East German communist state was to divide one of the most beautiful and by 1961, ruined cities of the world; dividing families, friends and lovers. Its creation, and its sudden collapse twenty-seven years later, were the key moments of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie was the one place in a paranoid continent where East faced West across one hundred yards of No Man's Land. Where soldiers served, spies watched through trained binoculars, escapees fled, politicians made speeches, people died and, mothers wept. The Wall was seen by many as permanent as the Himalayas. Across the Wall's almost three decades of existence, over two hundred people died trying to escape through it to the West, and these are just the recorded deaths. Many more who attempted and failed to break to freedom, would later die of their wounds in an East German hospital or prison. Historian Iain MacGregor travels to America, Britain, Germany and France to talk to the many people the Berlin Wall affected and who found themselves at the gates of Checkpoint Charlie - either on the Allied, or Soviet side. He interviews soldiers, politicians, journalists, spies, policemen, refugees and escapees to build a picture of what life was like in the city that was universally seen as the "hot spot" of the Cold War for four decades"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A 'constantly captivating'well-researched and often moving' (The Wall Street Journal) history of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous military gate on the border of East and West Berlin where the United States confronted the USSR during the Cold War. In the early 1960s, East Germany committed a billion dollars to the creation of the Berlin Wall, an eleven-foot-high barrier that consisted of seventy-nine miles of fencing, 300 watchtowers, 250 guard dog runs, twenty bunkers, and was operated around the clock by guards who shot to kill. Over the next twenty-eight years, at least five thousand people attempt to smash through it, swim across it, tunnel under it, or fly over it.In 1989, the East German leadership buckled in the face of a civil revolt that culminated in half a million East Berliners demanding an end to the ban on free movement. The world's media flocked to capture the moment which, perhaps more than any other, signaled the end of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie had been the epicenter of global conflict for nearly three decades.Now, 'in capturing the essence of the old Cold War [MacGregor] may just have helped us to understand a bit more about the new one' (The Times, London)'the mistrust, oppression, paranoia, and fear that gripped the world throughout this period. Checkpoint Charlie is about the nerve-wracking confrontation between the West and USSR, highlighting such important global figures as Eisenhower, Stalin, JFK, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedung, Nixon, Reagan, and other politicians of the period. He also includes never-before-heard interviews with the men who built and dismantled the Wall; children who crossed it; relatives and friends who lost loved ones trying to escape over it; military policemen and soldiers who guarded the checkpoints; CIA, MI6, and Stasi operatives who oversaw operations across its borders; politicians whose ambitions shaped it; journalists who recorded its story; and many more whose living memories contributed to the full story of Checkpoint Charlie.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A “constantly captivating…well-researched and often moving” (The Wall Street Journal) history of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous military gate on the border of East and West Berlin where the United States confronted the USSR during the Cold War.

In the early 1960s, East Germany committed a billion dollars to the creation of the Berlin Wall, an eleven-foot-high barrier that consisted of seventy-nine miles of fencing, 300 watchtowers, 250 guard dog runs, twenty bunkers, and was operated around the clock by guards who shot to kill. Over the next twenty-eight years, at least five thousand people attempt to smash through it, swim across it, tunnel under it, or fly over it.

In 1989, the East German leadership buckled in the face of a civil revolt that culminated in half a million East Berliners demanding an end to the ban on free movement. The world’s media flocked to capture the moment which, perhaps more than any other, signaled the end of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie had been the epicenter of global conflict for nearly three decades.

Now, “in capturing the essence of the old Cold War [MacGregor] may just have helped us to understand a bit more about the new one” (The Times, London)—the mistrust, oppression, paranoia, and fear that gripped the world throughout this period. Checkpoint Charlie is about the nerve-wracking confrontation between the West and USSR, highlighting such important global figures as Eisenhower, Stalin, JFK, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedung, Nixon, Reagan, and other politicians of the period. He also includes never-before-heard interviews with the men who built and dismantled the Wall; children who crossed it; relatives and friends who lost loved ones trying to escape over it; military policemen and soldiers who guarded the checkpoints; CIA, MI6, and Stasi operatives who oversaw operations across its borders; politicians whose ambitions shaped it; journalists who recorded its story; and many more whose living memories contributed to the full story of Checkpoint Charlie.