But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the communists. They want a museum elsewhere in the city that they say celebrates freedom.
In the meantime, the empty land at Checkpoint Charlie has been covered over with food stands offering “Checkpoint Curry” and “Organic Power Food.” About 700,000 tourists visit every year, according to city authorities, snapping photographs with actors dressed as Soviet and American troops and walking through an eccentric private museum that was built by a man who helped East Berliners escape to the West.
With fewer and fewer traces of Berlin’s division left every year, supporters of the Cold War museum say, it’s time to take a scholarly approach to the story of a major geopolitical conflict that had some of its most dramatic clashes in this city.
“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the museum effort. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”
The Cold War “is full of crises and confrontations and spies, but the ending is quite positive, which is that people are sensible with each other,” Jarausch said. “You can actually resolve conflicts, and you don’t need World War III.”
American Cold Warriors
Supporters of the museum have included prominent American Cold Warriors such as former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Lawrence Eagleburger, as well as an international panel of scholars. Exhibits would look at the entirety of the conflict between the East and the West and would try to correct misconceptions on both sides, advocates say. Eagleburger died last year.
But some local Berlin politicians — many of whom spent much of their lives fighting on the front line of the Cold War, West against East — say that the museum won’t represent history as they lived it.
“The Americans saved Berlin,” said Stefan Schlede, 71, a spokesman for the cultural affairs committee of Berlin’s city parliament and a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Party. During years of division, he was the principal of a school in Neukoelln, a peninsula of West Berlin that was walled off from the east on three sides.
“To neutralize the efforts toward German unification and to present the Cold War equidistantly, saying both sides are responsible for it in the same way, we don’t feel that this should be done in such a prominent location in Berlin,” Schlede said.