Berlin essential questions

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After viewing Berlin and engaging in the corresponding discussion questions and activities, students will be able to answer the following:

  1. Why did the Soviet Union blockade Berlin?

  2. Why did the United States choose an airlift instead of armed conflict?

  3. How did the decisions made by the Western alliance and the Soviet Union affect the people of Berlin?

  4. How does Berlin shed light on the main themes of the Cold War?

Segment One

At the end of WWII, Germany is divided into four occupation zones: Soviet, American, British and French. Berlin, lying 110 miles inside the Russian zone, is likewise divided into four sections, with each of the four powers controlling one section. These divisions, among other decisions concerning Germany, had been decided at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences and in other agreements before and after the end of WWII. The divisions are meant to be temporary, pending a formal peace treaty for Germany.

  • What were the four sectors of Germany and Berlin? Why were Germany and Berlin divided after the war?

  • How do eyewitnesses describe conditions in Berlin following the war? What was Ernest Bevin's plan for Germany? According to the video, on what issues did the superpowers disagree regarding Germany?

  • Examine the map of Germany and Berlin and predict what might cause the allies to have conflicts of interests in Berlin.

Segment Two

To put an end to rampant inflation, the Western allies allow a new Deutschmark to be issued in West Germany and West Berlin. The Soviets issue their own new currency. The Soviet Union then cuts all the major road, rail and canal links between West Berlin and Western Germany and electricity supplies to factories and offices. The West seeks to counter the blockade with a massive airlift.

  • What did the Western Allies plan for their sectors of Berlin? Why did the Soviet Union disapprove? How was the Berlin city council divided over this plan?

  • What did the Western allies mean by currency reform? What was the D-Mark? According to Edzard Reuter, why was it so important to the West that the D-Mark be introduced into West Berlin instead of the new East German currency?

  • According to the video, what was Stalin's purpose in setting up a blockade between West Berlin and West Germany?

  • Imagine that your own town or city was destroyed by war. What basic items would you need to survive? Determine which products are locally available and which ones would have to be imported. Now consider the goals of the Berlin Airlift.

Segment Three

The airlift begins at the end of June 1948. Americans call the airlift "Operation Vittles," the British call it "Plainfare." General Lucius Clay pushes for an armed confrontation with the Soviet Union but as Clark Clifford says, "the last thing in the world President Truman wanted to do was see our country get into another great war." Suffering from a Western counter-blockade, Stalin agrees to talks with the West. According to eyewitness Vladimir Yerofeyev, Stalin tells the West, "We insist that you should revoke these decisions or at least postpone their implementation until we get together again to discuss the question of Germany."

  • Why did the U.S. opt for an airlift rather than armed confrontation? How much food and coal did the West Berliners have left before the Berlin Airlift?

  • How was the airlift executed? How did the airlift affect the people of West Berlin?

  • How did the Western action affect Stalin's decisions on the blockade?

  • According to Sir Frank Roberts, what was Stalin's goal in negotiating an end to the blockade?

Segment Four

The Soviet blockade does not prevent West Berliners from moving about freely within the city. The Berlin city council meets to rally the support of all Berliners - East and West - to demonstrate that they will stand as Berliners for democracy and freedom. When the rally is over, East Sector police and Soviet soldiers open fire. One young Berliner is killed.

  • Using the eyewitness accounts, describe the effect the blockade had on the people of West Berlin.

  • Why did West Berliners go to East Berlin?

  • Why do tensions flare in the Berlin city council?

  • According to Edzard Reuter, why did 300,000 Berliners assemble at the Reichstag? What was the end result of this assembly? What are your predictions for the course that the blockade takes?

Segment Five

The blockade and the airlift continue. For both East and West, radio is an important weapon in the propaganda war. In December 1948, West Berliners vote for a new council to run their half of the city. The Socialist Unity Party (the Communists), which dominated the old council in the Soviet Sector, boycotts the elections. "Operation Vittles" begins to work.

  • What are your reactions to the archive footage of the young boys in Berlin? How does this scene shed light on the impact of the Berlin Airlift?

  • According to eyewitnesses, how often did planes land in West Berlin? How many missions did some pilots fly each day?

  • Who was the "Candy Bomber" and why is his story significant?

  • What role did RIAS play in the Western Sector?

  • What was the significance of the Berlin city council election in December 1948?

Segment Six

Despite Stalin's blockade, the British, Americans and French remain in Berlin. The Allied counter-blockade continues to hurt the Soviet zone. On May 12, 1949, Stalin ends the blockade. The Berlin crisis results in the formation of two separate governments - the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East. The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty creates a strategic alliance between Western Europe and North America. With the division of Germany, the world is now symbolically split down the middle.

  • Using eyewitness accounts, assess the effect that the airlift had on the relationship between West Berliners and the United States and Great Britain.

  • How does Yakov Drabkin's assessment of the Berlin Airlift offer a glimpse into how it might have affected East Berliners and their relationship with the Soviet Union?

  • How does Sir Frank Roberts assess the success of the Berlin Airlift?

  • Why do you think the conflict over Berlin remained 'cold' instead of 'hot?'

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