BERLIN -- Nowhere did the Cold War burn hotter than in Berlin. And nowhere in Berlin were tensions higher than at the crossroads of Zimmer and Friedrichstraße, known around the world as "Checkpoint Charlie." It was only appropriate, therefore, that Checkpoint Charlie was chosen as the site of upcoming Cold War displays set to open this coming spring in a temporary building dubbed the “Black Box.” The displays will later be part of a full-fledged museum.
Berlin’s secretary of state for culture, Andre Schmitz, publically presented the temporary building last week. It is located on one of the pieces of prime real estate that have stood unoccupied for decades at the crossroads. They were last used by the Berlin Wall Museum for a controversial installation of crosses commemorating those who died at what used to be the border separating the two Germanys.
The “Black Box” really is a deep black, with a white surface shaped like the city of Berlin onto which the different sectors can be projected. Visitors will be able to see exactly how the city was divided on Aug. 13, 1961, along with important historical sites and memorials that have been erected since.
Displays are expected to be housed in these temporary quarters for about three years. Exhibits will deal with the entire Cold War era, from the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition in Europe to the alienation that rapidly ensued, the mutual posturing and threats on both sides, the eventual cautious relaxing of tensions, the halt of the arms race, and finally the break-up of Communist dictatorships.
An epilogue section will feature present-day challenges. The exhibit will make the point that the Cold War has not been laid entirely to rest – as evidenced by the two Koreas and by the fact that tensions remain between the United States and the capitalist but non-democratic states of Russia and China.
Expecting 100,000 visitors per year
The land on which the “Black Box” is being planned belongs to an Irish investor who intends to erect office buildings at the location. Until construction begins, the Berlin Senate – the executive body that governs the city – will continue to lease the land for a symbolic price. Once the office buildings have been completed, 2015 at the earliest, a permanent museum will be built on the site. The exhibitions being prepared for the temporary building are expected to be integrated into the permanent museum display.
Operating costs for the pavilion are expected to be covered by ticket sales. Located in a prime tourist area, the facility is expected to draw over 100,000 visitors a year.
The new museum isn’t expected to give the nearby private Berlin Wall Museum a run for its money – exhibits in the latter, which focus on escapes across the Wall, are so unusual that they will continue to draw significant numbers of visitors. With 870,000 visits in 2010, the Berlin Wall Museum is the city’s fourth most visited.
The “Black Box” displays will be sure not to present the Cold War clash as a conflict between two morally equivalent blocks. It wasn’t. The standoff between the two superpowers was a confrontation between dictatorship and democracy, between a lack of freedom and freedom. Checkpoint Charlie is not the place for mincing words.
Read the original story in German
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