WEST BERLIN, JUNE 22 -- One of the most famous Cold War gateways between East and West was dismantled today and carted off to be placed in a museum, a relic of an age of confrontation that is rapidly vanishing from this long-divided city.
Checkpoint Charlie stood for 29 years on Friedrichstrasse, a narrow street near the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Western determination to keep open freedom of movement between East and West Berlin. "You are leaving the American sector," a sign warned all those who ventured out of West Berlin and into the East.
Today, a huge crane lifted the guardhouse from the street as the foreign ministers of the two Germanys and the four victorious World War II powers -- the United States, France, Britain and the Soviet Union -- applauded and delivered tributes to what they described as the dawn of a new era of cooperation.
On a cool, gray morning, Germans cheered from their windowsills high above the checkpoint, military commanders took turns photographing each other in front of the guardhouse, 1,000 reporters from around the world craned their necks to watch and an American band struck up "Berliner Luft," an unofficial Berlin anthem.
The festive air was punctuated by speeches that would have startled anyone just a year ago.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, whose nation had long backed the hard-line Communist regime in East Germany and then suddenly stood aside as it collapsed last fall to a wave of popular protest, praised the joining of two once-hostile worlds, using terms that echoed those of his counterparts from the West.
"One more of the emotionally charged and at times dramatic pages in Berlin's post-war history has been turned," Shevardnadze said, describing the dismantling of Checkpoint Charlie as "yet another concrete proof" of the "gradual removal of the confrontational legacy."
Shevardnadze said the Soviet Union would propose that all troops of the four Allied powers be removed from Berlin six months after German unification is complete.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III heralded "a new journey" away from Cold War tensions and said it was brought about "with the help of a new generation of Soviet leaders," a reference to Shevardnadze and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
"We are not forgetting," said West German Chancellor Hans-Dietrich Genscher, "that it is 49 years today that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in an inhumane war that brought immeasurable suffering upon the peoples of the Soviet Union."
Genscher said it was the Allies who had stood behind West Berlin in times of tension and it was "the new Soviet leadership" that brought "a new policy that ended these times of distress."
Checkpoint Charlie was erected in 1961 in response to East Germany's efforts to seal off the western sectors of Berlin under the control of Britain, France and the United States. East Germany designated the opening at Friedrichstrasse as the sole crossing point for all foreigners. The Allies established the checkpoint to demonstrate support for the right of free access to all of Berlin. The station was designed to replicate two others, Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo.
The checkpoint later became the scene of many attempted escapes from the East. Some ended tragically. On Aug. 17, 1962, East German border guards shot Peter Fechter, 18, as he tried to escape near Checkpoint Charlie and left him to bleed to death as a lesson to those who would try to escape. In total, 77 people died trying to escape to the West. Almost 5,000 made it, but more than 3,000 were arrested at the wall.
Maj. Gen. Raymond E. Haddock, commander of U.S. forces in Berlin, closed the station today, saying that many who had visited it over the years found it made a "strange impression" on them.
"There was something unfinished, something temporary about it," he said. "These impressions, however, were altogether accurate, for the temporariness of the structure reflects the permanence of the determination of free men to uphold the freedom of movement in all Berlin."