One of Berlin's most famous landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate, is being exploited by actors wearing Cold War-era uniforms who are lowering the tone by posing for tourists for money, some Berlin politicians are saying.
"It's inappropriate and out of place," Rainer Klemke, the Berlin city official in charge of managing public memorial sites, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper.
Michael Braun, the cultural affairs spokesman of the conservative Christian Democrats, said the fake soldiers were turning the area into "Disneyland."
"Such soldiers never stood there," he told the paper. "It's a falsification of history."
The soldiers dressed in American, East German or Soviet military uniforms, stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate holding flags. Some offer to stamp fake visas to provide tourists with a memento of their visit.
The Brandenburg Gate and its elegant Pariser Platz have been restored in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. They're flanked by the US and French embassies, museums and office buildings.
Berlin's city government has banned sausage sellers and souvenir stalls from the area, hoping to preserve the decorum of a site that symbolizes the nation's history of division and unification like few others. But there's not much it can do about street performers, who don't require official permits to pose for tourists.
One such performer, a student wearing a Soviet-style uniform, said he didn't see what the fuss was about.
"What's wrong with what we're doing? Tourists like us and we makes this area more of an attraction," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "A few years ago, this square was totally deserted. Besides, performers like us stand elsewhere in the city too, and it's not meant to be totally accurate, it's more symbolic."
The student, who declined to give his name, said he asked people who photographed him for a small fee, usually a €1 or less.
A few steps away, a woman in a Soviet military uniform holding the red banner of the Soviet Union stood on a box next to a man dressed as a US soldier. The theme, presumably, was reconciliation, and crowds of tourists from all over the world were happily taking pictures of them.
Indeed, tourists in search of a bit of Cold War chill frequently complain that one of Berlin's biggest attractions -- the Berlin Wall -- is virtually absent from what is now a pristine, even sterile, city center.
Another key Berlin site, Checkpoint Charlie, came in for criticism last year with politicians calling for the removal of fake soldiers from the famous border crossing between what used to be East and West Berlin. Many tourists agree that Checkpoint Charlie has deteriorated into a tacky tourist trap unworthy of its historical significance.