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.
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.