Checkpoint Charlie

Not Tanks but Property Developers Face Off at Cold War Flashpoint

No tanks, just hot dogs. Source: Adrian Purser/Creative Commons
No tanks these days, just hot dogs.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Irish owner is now hoping to sell the property, which has been barren for over 20 years.

  • Facts


    • Buildings on the site were long planned to house a Cold War museum by the city.
    • The money used by the developer to buy the property is on the books of Ireland’s bank bank, holding non-performing loans.
    • The wasteland is on the coveted shopping street Friedrichstrasse.
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The snack bars and shops on vacant lots by Checkpoint Charlie could give way by the end of the year to new commercial buildings, filling up a once highly guarded area used as a major point of entry into the former communist-controlled East Berlin.

The Irish owners, who purchased portions of the land in the mid-2000s but never undertook construction, now want to sell them. Finding a buyer shouldn’t be a problem, given the city’s current real estate boom.

Carsten Spallek, a Berlin city counselor for construction, welcomed the prospect of something finally happening on the land, which has been vacant for the past 20 years. He does not want to place any hurdles in the way of investors. He is particularly annoyed by what he calls the “inappropriate temporary solution” at the historic site, where at the height of the Cold War Soviet and U.S. tanks faced down each other at the infamous East-West checkpoint.

Mr. Spallek said he hopes the cocktail booths and hot dog stands currently standing on the property will soon give way to a “permanent use through real buildings.”

According to Mr. Spallek, the land is governed by a building code. That means anyone planning to construct residential or commercial buildings in line with the height and proportions of other structures in the area can expect to receive a quick permit.

The developer explained to The Irish Times that he wants to focus on business in Britain, and that the time seemed ripe to sell the land because of the boom in the Berlin real estate market.

Nearly seven years after the Irish investors, Michael and Cathal Cannon, announced plans to construct two new buildings at Checkpoint Charlie covering an area of about 9,000-square-meters, the brothers have signalled an interest in selling the property. In an interview with the newspaper The Irish Times, Michael Cannon said the time seemed ripe to sell the land because of the boom in the Berlin real estate market and would focus on business in Britain.

Whether the developers’ decision was prompted by pressure from Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency is unclear. The money used by the Cannons to purchase the land is listed as debt on the books of the Irish “bad bank” for non-performing loans. The agency hopes to be able to recoup some losses through the sale of some of its existing liabilities.

Berlin officials are familiar with the plans to sell the property. They are holding tightly to plans for a “Cold War Museum,” which would rent rooms in the previously planned new buildings on the site. The Senate Administration for Culture is pushing to establish such a museum, according to spokesman Günter Kolodziej.

The director of the nearby privately run Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which is a starting point for many visitors to Berlin, is not surprised about the developers’ intention to sell the property. “You hear that now and again,” said Alexandra Hildebrandt, who has been excluded from the plans for a Cold War Museum. “Ms. Hildebrandt and her museum are not playing a role in the discussion process,”  Mr. Kolodziej said.

This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. It was translated by Mary Beth Warner. To contact the author: 

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