New Cold War Museum Planned For Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie

An exhibit about the Cold War will open this spring in the “Black Box,” a building that now fills the space where American and Russian tanks faced off in 1961. It will eventually be part of a permanent museum exploring the Cold War, in the city where it b

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany (marabuchi)
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany (marabuchi)
Sven Felix Kellerhoff<

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

Photo - marabuchi

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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