Berlin bans snapshot ‘soldiers’ at Checkpoint Charlie
The classic souvenir photo with two “American soldiers” at Checkpoint Charlie, once the border crossing from West Berlin to the East, may be off tourist checklists for good. The people dressed in border guard uniforms charging visitors for snapshots have now been ordered by Berlin authorities to halt their business, Bild daily reported on Monday.
The ban came after plainclothes police found that tourists were being verbally abused if they refused to offer a “donation”. Tom Luszeit, who leads the group of actors called Dance Factory that perform the role of soldiers, told Bild he has had to “fire six colleagues” because of the sudden ban. “But we’re not giving up, we want to go back there,” he said. After all, it is a lucrative business, with earnings at up to 5,000 euros ($5,500) in a single day, according to Bild.
Checkpoint Charlie was the site of one of the tensest moments of the Cold War, as US and Soviet tanks faced off in October 1961. In the years since German unification in 1990, it has turned into a sort of “Disneyland” of history, with vendors selling fake Red Army fur hats and gas masks and people dressed in US military uniforms charging tourists for snapshots. Burkhard Kieker, the head of the city’s tourism agency Visit Berlin, had in an interview with Tagesspiegel daily called the tourist sight “an eyesore”.
Most recently, a debate has erupted again about how to develop the area. After a row over private investors’ building plans including for a Hard Rock Hotel at the site, Berlin has drawn up more restrictive planning rules for the area -- including limiting the height of new buildings as well as requiring 30 percent of apartments to be social housing.