Public order office accuses actors of exploiting tourists by charging for passport stamps and photos
Berlin authorities have banned a group of actors from posing as US army soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous former cold war border post.
The public order office in the central district of Mitte has accused the actors of exploiting tourists by demanding fixed fees in return for passport stamps and posing for photographs with them next to the wooden hut of the Checkpoint Charlie crossing point.
The actors demand 4 (3.50) per photo, despite claiming they only accept voluntary donations, according to police who reported the performers after carrying out an undercover operation in which they posed as tourists. On good days the actors can earn up to 5,000, according to the tabloid Bild, which broke the story.
The public order office has informed the theatrical agency the practice is illegal, unless supported by a special permit, which it is not willing to issue.
Long-term observers are well aware of the practice, which has been going on for 17 years and involves about 10 actors working in rotation. They believe the move is part of a broader strategy to give appropriate historical treatment to the Berlin Wall border point that has been immortalised in countless cold war thrillers and films.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Checkpoint Charlie has been a magnet for tourists and the focal point of what has been described as the Disneyfication of Berlin Wall history. The streets on either side of the crossing heave with souvenir shops, fast food outlets and kiosks claiming to sell pieces of the wall and other related paraphernalia.
Dance Factory, the agency providing the actors, said it would fight the ban. I am faced with having to let six of my colleagues go, said Tom Luszeit, who leads the group of performers. I dont understand the sudden decision to ban us. But we wont give up, we want to return. The agency denied allegations that tourists who refused to pay the voluntary charge were verbally abused and pushed away.
Checkpoint Charlie, named after the letter C in the Nato phonetic alphabet by western allies, became far better known than its counterparts Alpha and Bravo because it was the most visible of all the checkpoints. It was the sole crossing point, on foot or by car, designated for foreigners and members of the allied forces.
Tourists also visited the crossing during the cold war, often sitting in Cafe Adler situated next to the checkpoint, which provided an ideal place from which to view East Berlin over coffee and cake.
In 1961, two months after the construction of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie became the focal point of world attention when Soviet and US tanks faced each other in a tense standoff in what became known as the Berlin Crisis and might have lead to the third world war. The confrontation was triggered by a row over whether East German authorities should be allowed to check the documents of a US diplomat who wanted to travel from West to East Berlin to watch an opera.
The metal Checkpoint Charlie hut, which in the 1980s replaced the temporary wooden hut there from 1961, is now on display in the Allied Museum in Berlin. What will become of the current site is not yet known.