Checkpoint Charlie

For many years visitors to the campus used to pass the characterful reception desk ‘Charlie’, until its demolition in 2011. It was built in 1996 according to a design by Peter Defesche, and (though no one can remember why) it was made to resemble a tugboat.

The Charlie reception desk at the entrance to the University of Twente campus used to house the Campuswacht (campus security). For visitors approaching the campus through the main entrance, Charlie was the first building they passed – hence its designation of building number 1. It got its nickname from the historic Checkpoint Charlie, the key checkpoint between West and East Berlin during the Cold War, and was widely referred to as such on campus.

Right from the start, when Technische Hogeschool Twente (‘Twente Technical College’, THT) was founded, the campus ideal was the most important consideration: students lived in an enclosed community and had little interaction with the outside world during their studies. However, in the 1990s that ideal seemed to become less and less relevant. Now there was a very different message: the campus had to be ‘socialized’. The residences where staff and lecturers lived were sold off, and the campus was even added to a public bus route. The university took on more and more of the character of a public space.

Strangely enough, at the same time the administration was also taking measures that impeded this new philosophy: all roads leading in and out of the campus, except the main entrance, were fitted with barriers to close off the campus to through traffic. Visitors could only gain access to campus if they had an appointment or with a special pass. The construction of the reception desk – an actual, physical barrier between the campus and the outside world – in 1996 was emblematic of this counter-movement.

Then, 15 years after it was built, in 2011 Checkpoint Charlie was demolished. The University of Twente wanted to promote greater integration between the campus and the Business & Science Park, and the campus itself was to be opened up. In an effort to make the campus more accessible the roads were widened, making the campus more inviting, which in turn increased the number of parties and activities organized in the university grounds.

Some staff members still refer to the main entrance as Charlie, although if you suggest to a current student that you meet at Charlie you’re likely to be met with a blank stare. Just like the reason for its tugboat-shaped construction, eventually the university icon that was Checkpoint Charlie will fade from memory altogether.

How Charlie ended up on the bar...

The cubicle where the doorman was posted until 2011 was called Charlie; a reference to the historic Checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin. Martin Versteegh, a student of mechanical engineering since 2009, saw that abandoned booth and the letters C-H-A-R-L-I-E that adorned it. He was able to restrain himself at first, but after the C disappeared he gave in to temptation and took the H and the L, leaving the rest. The heist has been so easy that it wasn’t belong before he took the remaining letters back to his student house NGTV21 as well.

“Later on, I grabbed a C from the Faculty Club to make Charlie whole again. I kept the letters in my room for a while and we mounted them onto the bar later. When I visited the house for the reunion, I saw that they are still there to this day.” Martin had a wonderful time in the house between 2009 and 2016. “It was always a lot of fun. Even if you didn’t go home for the weekend, there was usually someone else there too, so you were never alone.” Over time, he outgrew this thievery. Today, Martin is an upstanding citizen who works for a company in Culemborg that develops machinery for the food industry.

This text was published in the December 2019 edition of the UT magazine. 

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