Checkpoint Charlie Berlin Germany James Bond
Travel

Writings on the Wall

GERMANY – Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie // Octopussy (1983)

Back in the 1980s, Berlin was cool, but had a wall. Today, male strippers reenact soldier duty at the iconic Checkpoint Charlie border crossing. It’s good to have an exit plan for that wall tourism.

Why Bond was here
007 (Roger Moore) needs to sneak into the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), to infiltrate a (nuclear equipped) circus train in Karl-Marx-Stadt. After a short briefing by M (Robert Brown) at Kurfürstendamm in the heart of West Berlin, he crosses the border at Checkpoint Charlie, one of Berlins most famous crossings, only allowed for diplomats and foreigners.

Checkpoint Charlie Octopussy James Bond

Back in 1983 Checkpoint Charlie was still a used border crossing

How you gonna get there
What was a highly secured border checkpoint some 25 years ago is now a famous touristic spot in the center of modern Berlin. Closest subway station is Kochstraße to the south, frequented by the north-south-running subway line U6 – or Stadtmitte to the north, hit by both U6 and east-west-running U2. Local bus line M29 also runs along Kochstraße. The checkpoint itself is situated along Friedrichstraße right between the two subway stations.
A small wooden replica of an US Army checkpoint marks the spot. Male strippers dressed as Soviet and US soldiers pose here during the day for some extra money – before returning to their other profession at night. Next to the barrack, a replica of a warning sign is erected. “You are leaving the American sector” is written in English, Russian, French and German. The sign is positioned from south to north, marking the course of the border at this location in Berlin: north was East, the Soviet sector, and south was West, the US part. Consequential, the scene in Octopussy had been filmed on the southern parts of Friedrichstraße, looking into the Soviet part.

Berlin Wall Octopussy James Bond

The Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz – and what the Bond crew made of it

Good to know
In the movie, also the Berlin Wall itself makes its appearance. Bond’s colleague 009 tries to escape two henchmen in East Berlin and can barely make it across border. The scenes had been filmed at this location on Potsdamer Platz, this time looking southeast on the wall.* You won’t be recognizing the spot today, as Potsdamer Platz had been part of a massive restoration process after the wall came down. The movie tricks its viewers to be staged in East Berlin, but one can easily recognize the GDR watch towers on the other side of the wall – thus meaning, that everything had been filmed from the US side. To get an authentic look, the crew painted the whole wall plain white – as it was covered with lots of graffiti back in 1983. But after the filming was done, the crew felt remorse, leaving such a white wall at Potsdamer Platz. In green they wrote: “007 WAS HERE – OCTOPUSSY”.
From the Eastern side no such graffiti would have been possible: a so called 100 meter wide “Death Strip” with barbed wire, watch towers and trenches prevented East Berliners from coming even close the the wall.

Don’t miss
Most of the Berlin Wall is gone today – but a good part got preserved at the Topography of Terror documentation center. The museum is just 500 meters west of Checkpoint Charlie and a little walk south of Potsdamer Platz along Niederkirchnerstraße. It exhibits Germany’s darkest hours, as on this location stood the headquarters of the “Third Reichs” Secret State Police, the “SS” – and later on the Wall that separated East and West. Some meters of this wall are visible today, while underneath the interrogation chambers of the “SS” had been excavated.
Other parts of the wall have been renovated at the Berlin Wall Memorial along Bernauer Straße in Mitte. The area tries to show both the wall and its “Death Strip”, a visitor center shows the cruel history and the numerous attempts of East Berliners to cross the border. Closest subway station is Bernauer Straße, closest S-Bahn station is Nordbahnhof.
A more cheerful approach to the Berlin Wall is possible at the famous East Side Gallery. This section of the Berlin Wall is full of colorful graffiti (though not the original, but repainted ones). Best option is to get to Berlin Ostbahnhof via subway or S-Bahn and then walk east along the Spree river to Warschauer Straße.

There are no good restaurants close to Charlie, as it became a big touristic hub – hated by most Berliners. A local bakery chain, “Back Factory”, has some Bond memorabilia along with bad coffee. If Bond himself would come here, he would rush to nearby Borchardt’s, one for the high society, or find his way into the secretly hidden Cookies Cream, one for the cool society!

* To compare the actual spot, see this production picture of Roger Moore posing at the Berlin Wall on mi6-hq.com. The factory with the chimney can be found on this historic photo as well. While the factory is now gone, the white building to the left – the Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin – is still there. But brand new housing on Leipziger Platz had been built in the vista nowadays.

© 2015 Huntingbond (1,4), © 1983 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2,3)

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