Checkpoint Charlie may return

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Uncle Sam wants to bring Checkpoint Charlie back to Berlin. The notorious crossing between East and West is now a bright shopping complex, but the United States government is hoping to rebuild fortifications next to the city's main tourist attraction: the Brandenburg Gate.

The plan, revealed in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, calls for two bullet-proof sentry posts to be manned by US Marines, bollards, metal barriers, and a checkpoint where cars driving past the US embassy can be inspected.

This is America's compromise solution to the two-year dispute that has pitted the former occupiers against Berlin's government.

The US wants a new embassy on its pre-war site next to the Brandenburg Gate. But the blueprint fell foul of safety restrictions imposed by the US after the attacks in East Africa against US embassies. These insist the building is surrounded by a 30-metre wide security zone. That would mean rerouting one of Berlin's busiest thoroughfares along the Tiergarten, closing side streets and encroachment on the site for the Holocaust monument. Berlin said no, and for two years the city and Washington have been arguing.

The latest version is said to be the Americans' last offer. At the Brandenburg Gate, only Russian hawkers selling fur hats remind visitors of the Cold War and the Wall. Whether Berliners want to be confronted again by gun-toting troops of a superpower on their Sunday stroll is doubtful. The US might have to build its embassy elsewhere.