Plans for a Berlin Cold War Museum Boasts Famous Supporters | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.06.2008
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Plans for a Berlin Cold War Museum Boasts Famous Supporters

Several prominent Cold War-era politicians and diplomats have called for Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie to be accompanied by a museum dedicated to the tense period of East-West relations.

A defecting East German soldier, Conrad Schuman, leaps over a barbed wire barricade

Berlin was ground zero in the Cold War

Downtown Berlin has undergone a massive transformation in the 18 years since the Berlin Wall fell. As vacant lots sprout new buildings, there's concern that it has become easy to forget the role Berlin played in the Cold War.

A group of famous politicians and diplomats has proposed building a museum at Checkpoint Charlie, a US military crossing that has become a symbol for the separation which existed between the Soviet bloc and western Europe.

Several prominent figures have signed on, urging the German and Berlin state governments to build a Cold War museum, according to a report in the Tuesday, June 17 edition of Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The signers include former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former Polish Foreign Minister Vladyslav Bartoszevski, Czechoslovakia’s former President Vaclav Havel, the American diplomat John Kornblum and the former head of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) Hans-Jochen Vogel, among others.

Remembering a changed city

Tourists at Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie has become a tourist attraction

The world has changed so drastically in the two decades since the end of the Cold War that it's important to have a museum that will remind future generations of the struggle, the signers said. The museum is seen as a place where people can learn about the "mechanisms of escalation and de-escalation."

Germany Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann will meet on Wednesday, June 18 to discuss the best way to commemorate the Cold War. SPD parliamentarian Markus Meckel, who also signed the document, said he believes the Cold War museum would fit perfectly into Neumann's plans.

An unused piece of land is still available near the checkpoint, but Meckel, who was a dissident in East Germany and the country's last foreign minister after the first free elections in 1990, told the newspaper that the government will need to act fast if it wants to keep the spot from being developed for other purposes.

There is also the Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie, which tells the 28-year history of the Berlin Wall mostly through the stories of thousands of daring attempts to escape to the West. The museum has approximately 800,000 visitors each year, showing there's a big interest in this part of Berlin's history.

"Berlin was the symbol of the division not only in Germany but in Europe and the world," Meckel was quoted as saying. "If you want to understand the separation in Europe in the second half of the 20th century, where should you do it if not in Berlin?"

Famous supporters

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel

Havel has put his support behind a Cold War museum

The signees make up a veritable Who's Who of Cold War diplomacy.

Genscher, 81, left East Germany at the beginning of the Cold War and join West Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP). He served as West Germany's foreign minister from roughly 1974 to 1992, during which time he helped shape the government's Ostpolitik, which was a policy of deescalating tensions with the communist East Germany.

Havel, a writer and playwright, was swept into power in Czechoslovakia by 1989's "Velvet Revolution." He oversaw the country's transition to multi-party democracy, its break with Slovakia and negotiations to enter the European Union.

Long-time SPD member Vogel was the leader of the Social Democrats between 1987 and 1991.

John Kornblum served various US Foreign Service posts in Germany starting in 1964 and was the US ambassador to Germany between 1997 and 2001.

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