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Camouflaging Berlin's Cold War Past

DW staff (sp)June 4, 2004

Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall's legendary border crossing is the scene of a new Cold War -- only this time it's pitted drama students in East German police uniforms against the curator of the popular Wall museum.

Halt! That photo will cost you five eurosImage: dpa

Tourists flooding to Checkpoint Charlie on Berlin's Friedrichstrasse this week were confronted with a strange sight: the control towers, which used to house U.S. soldiers guarding West Berlin, were swaddled in blue plastic sheets while people wearing the trademark cap of East German police were walking around draped in toilet paper.

The reason for the confusing wrap-up wasn't art, but a row between the curator of the Berlin Wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie, Alexandra Hildebrandt and a group of drama students.

Dressed as East German border police complete with jackboots and peaked caps, the drama students were for months apparently charging tourists up to €5 to pose with them for pictures in front of the former border crossing next to a boxy East German Trabant car, the national anthem of former East Germany ringing out from loudspeakers behind them.

That has infuriated Hildebrandt, who is also in charge of running Checkpoint Charlie. "We can no longer just watch while this symbol of (Germany's) division is abused," said Hildebrandt, whose late husband, Rainer Hildebrandt established the Wall museum during the Cold War.

Berlin: Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
The last Soviet flag at Checkpoint CharlieImage: Bilderbox

Checkpoint Charlie, the world-famous former East-West border crossing in divided Berlin was the scene of tense standoffs in the early 1960s with American and Soviet tanks facing each other.

In protest Hildebrandt has covered the former border crossing with plastic, saying the students didn't have any permission to pose there. She has also threatened legal action against them.

An information brochure in the Wall museum tells tourists, "We'll only uncover the control towers once the undignified spectacle that is being played out around the towers ends."

In reply, the students wrapped themselves in toilet paper Thursday to hide their uniforms. The reason for the choice of camouflage is not quite clear. But what is, is that it's definitely not East German toilet paper.