Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie set for dramatic facelift

Berlin's controversial and overcrowded Cold War landmark Checkpoint Charlie is set for a major overhaul, after the city government agreed a contested redevelopment plan Tuesday.

Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie set for dramatic facelift
A tourist poses with 'soldiers' at Checkpoint Charlie in the summer. Photo: DPA

Located at the very heart of the once divided city, the border crossing between then-communist East and democratic West was famously the scene of a dramatic stand-off between Soviet and American tanks in October 1961.

Since German reunification in 1990 it has welcomed thousands of visitors per day to a bewildering hotch-potch of private and public museums and memorials.

READ ALSO: Berlin bans 'soldiers' at Checkpoint Charlie

Widely derided by Berliners as a “historical Disneyland”, the attraction also has problems with overcrowding and hustling of tourists.

In November, the local authorities cracked down on actors dressed as US soldiers posing for selfies, in response to reports of aggressive touting.

Now plans drawn up in consultation with Berlin residents would replace the chaos with a public square, a Cold War museum and a residential block with around 300 new apartments.

“With the involvement of citizens, tracks have been laid for a future-oriented development for this special place,” said Berlin's urban development senator Katrin Lompscher in a statement on Tuesday.

High-rise holdouts

Photo: DPA

While there is little love for the landmark in its current form, plans to redevelop the 1.3 hectare site have stirred controversy.

The city-state government took control of the process last December, effectively rejecting plans from a local developer to build office spaces and open a Hard Rock hotel near the site.

Since then, Left party politician Lompscher's plans have faced criticism in turn.

Music producer and former Berlin culture senator Tim Renner suggested installing two tanks at the site to memorialize the 1961 stand-off.

Meanwhile the ruling left-of-centre coalition is divided over whether to allow construction of skyscrapers at the site.

Debate over whether to expand upwards echoes battles over Berlin's housing supply that have made headlines across Germany and beyond.

Pressure on accommodation has soared as the population has grown by tens of thousands annually over recent years.

In 2019, the senate has introduced harsh rent controls and bought back thousands of former social housing units from the private sector.

“I'm happy to scare off some investors” who stand accused of profiteering from the living space squeeze, Lompscher said earlier this year.

Despite differences over Checkpoint Charlie, the executive rubber-stamped the plan for fear of allowing the private sector free rein when a temporary development freeze on the site expires early next year.

Berlin's parliament is expected to vote the scheme through before February, but it remains unclear when work will start on the redevelopment.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.