Key Words: Cold War, divided Germany, quadripartite status, Soviet sector, German Democratic Republic

Download 50.77 Kb.
Size50.77 Kb.

Berlin Wall

Key Words: Cold War, divided Germany, quadripartite status, Soviet sector, German Democratic Republic

Abstract: The scarcity of labor, which was stabilized but not entirely removed by the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the problems of technical progress, determined the conditions under which the German Democratic Republic could achieve further economic growth. Since no additional labor was available, growth could only take place with increased labor productivity. Politically, the East German regime incurred a perennial “legitimacy deficit.”


It was a logical historical consequence that Berlin would become one of the primary problems of international relations in the post World War II period if the allied coalition which affected the defeat of Nazi German failed to continue to function as a cooperative enterprise. The turbulent course of the city’s history in the years following the war was in large measure dictated by two factors: the location of the city as an enclave within the Soviet zone of occupation, and the four-power agreements which made Berlin a special area apart from the zones of occupation and divided the city into four separate sectors of occupation. Berlin’s symbolic value as the capital of Germany seemed to demand that some special status be created for the city in the postwar occupation regime.

In the sections of Germany controlled by the three Western powers, the revitalization of German politics proceeded from the local to the regional level. In the American zone, occupation authorities permitted local elections beginning in January 1946. In February 1946, American authorities sponsored the first conference of minister presidents from the American and British zones. By June, the three states in the American zone had all elected assemblies to draw up their own constitutions and continued to form Land (state) governments. French and British authorities promoted similar political activity. By the summer of 1947, all 11 German states in the three western zones had governments representing the electoral strength of democratically pluralist parties.1

In June 1947, leaders from all the German state governments met in Munich to discuss forming a new all-German state. Delegates from the five states that composed the Soviet zone in eastern Germany came to Munich, but left after one day when the other German leaders rejected their agenda for the discussions. The representatives of the states in the western zones continued the conference and, over the next two years, crafted the political documents to establish a German national government. Concurrently, relations between the Western powers and the Soviet Union degenerated.

Political developments thereafter reinforced the division of the country. The process that led to the Federal Republic of German (FRG) in 1949 also placed this new state squarely on the western side in an increasingly divided Europe. In its zone, the Soviet Union sponsored the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a thinly veiled one-party dictatorship. The GDR became in effect a satellite state of the Soviet Union, and a “people’s police,” nucleus of an army, carefully watched all dissenters. In June, 1953, there was a serious uprising against communist rule in east Berlin, which spread to over 200 other areas of the GDR. And strikers’ demands escalated to include free elections. What had begun as protests against working conditions turned into a rebellion against the state.2 This was the first revolt of the century by the workers themselves against a government claiming to be based on the working masses.


Year after year beginning in 1950, between 200,000 and 300,000 persons fled the GDR for the west—among them thousands of workers and technical intelligentsia who saw greater opportunities in a free market economy.3 Hundreds of writers, artists, ideologists, and party officials bolted the GDR as well. The philosopher Ernst Bloch, the editor of the GDR’s literary magazine Sinn and Form Alfred Kantorowicz, the Marxist thinker Rudi Dutschke, the Marxist critic Hans Mayer, novelist Uwe Johnson, member of the GDR’s Central Committee Erich Gniffke all exited the GDR.

In the early 1950s the GDR laid waste a five-kilometer-wide strip of land along its border, and guarded it, to prevent illegal exit from what had been the Soviet zone of occupation. There was still the Berlin exit route, however, and an East German needed only to take the subway from the Soviet sector to the American sector, register there in a reception center, and be taken by air to the FRG. Physicians, engineers, agronomists, electricians, economists, and other experts fled by the thousands, which was a drain of needed skills and a loss of educational investment. The more the authorities resisted this brain drain, the more urgent they seemed to make it for people to flee. By 1961 more than 2.5 million had gone; late in July 1961, the migration swelled to 10,000 a week; in the first week in August to 20,000.4

On August 13, 1961, the GDR began to build a fence, which by the end of the month became a wall and would develop into a two-block-deep fortification that thwarted flight for all but the most daring or desperate. The sudden interruption of traffic on August 13 caught many people unawares. Thousands of East Berliners who were in the West on business could not get back to their families. Those who lived in one sector and worked in another lost their jobs. Streets that were arteries of traffic were cut into dead ends. The leadership of the GDR thus made its point: the two Germanies were definitively and effectively divided. Whether or not the West recognized the status quo de jure, there would be no doubt for citizens of the GDR where their de facto government was located.

The sudden closure of the escape hatch to the West caught the Western Powers flatfooted.5 Critics demanded to know why American armor had not forced entry and pushed down the fortifications before they could be more solidly built. Berliners for their part were stunned by the construction of the Wall. Overnight they had been cut off from family, friends, and coworkers. East German border guards stopped the 53,000 East Berliners employed in West Berlin from traveling to work.6 No West Berliners were allowed to pass through the Wall. Buildings that straddled the border were sealed. Even a Huguenot cemetery with entrances on each side of the sector border was closed off, and West Berliners were not allowed to visit family graves in East Berlin.

In the first ten days after the construction of the Wall, many West Berliners took to the streets, and a crowd assembled menacingly at the Brandenburg Gate. On August 17, protestors threatened to vent their anger by attacking the Soviet soldiers stationed as an honor guard at the Soviet War Memorial, located in the British sector. British troops had to surround the memorial with barded wire to protect the Soviets from the hostile crowd.

Within days, construction workers, guarded by East German soldiers, built a second, sturdier barrier behind the first, laying concrete blocks, stringing additional barbed wire, and erecting watch towers. The East Germans installed a machine gun at the top of the Brandenburg Gate. Soldiers on guard along the Wall had orders to shoot anyone trying to escape.

The reaction of the U.S. government to the Wall was limited to rhetoric and troop deployment. President John F. Kennedy protested but took no steps to remove the Wall, which the East Germans had carefully set up on their side of the sector border. Kennedy ordered the reinforcement of the American military presence in Berlin, and he dispatched Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and General Lucius Clay to the city.

Johnson and Clay arrived on August 19. The next day, the U.S. Army sent the First Battle Group, 18th Infantry, across the autobahn from Helmstedt to Berlin. The 1500-man battle group arrived on the afternoon of August 20 and paraded through the streets for review by the general and the vice president.7 But Berliners were angry and confused by the American response because none of the measures taken challenged the physical reality of the Wall. They were deeply troubled that 29 miles of barbed wire and cement block brutally divided their city. The barrier also encircled the city for an additional 70 miles, shutting West Berlin off from the East German countryside. The realization that the Western powers were unwilling to risk a world war to remove the Wall sobered and troubled them. They took some assurance, however, from President Kennedy’s selection of Clay to accompany Vice President Johnson to Berlin. They remembered Clay with affection for his steadfastness during the blockade. After Clay and Johnson had returned to Washington to report to the president, Kennedy appointed Clay as his personal envoy to Berlin.

Even before Clay’s return to Berlin, the beginnings of a tense confrontation were developing. Within days after the Wall went up, the East German regime reduced the number of points of passage from 13 to 7 street crossings and one rail crossing.8 On August 22, they announced that only the crossing at Friedrichstrasse in the American sector would be open to foreigners, including members of the American forces, to enter East Berlin. The following day, U.S. Army military police established an ad hoc station at the Friedrichstrasse control point to monitor traffic and to watch for problems.

By agreement and precedent, members of the military mission of any of the four occupying powers in Berlin moved freely about the city. Uniformed military passed without inspection of their identification papers. Civilians in vehicles with allied military license plates had the same privilege. On August 30, East Germans challenged that privilege. They detained an American military vehicle trying to enter East Berlin at Friedrichstrasse. The U.S. commander dispatched an armored unit with tanks to the sector border. The East Germans gave way and released the vehicle and its occupants, and the American tanks retired. The incident showed, however, the potential for armed confrontation.

Following the difficulties on August 30, U.S. Army military police requisitioned space on the Friedrichstrasse so they could post sentries to monitor the checkpoint more regularly. They had never needed such an installation before because their monitoring patrols had been intermittent. They set up a temporary trailer in front of the apartment at 207 Friedrichstrasse.9 They used the apartment as an office and a desk inside the trailer as the checkpoint. On the north end of the trailer, the side closest to the Wall, they positioned sandbags to form a protective bunker for riflemen.

The military police also oversaw the checkpoints at either end of the autobahn that ran through East German territory to Berlin, points Alfa and Bravo. Because the position at Friedrichstrasse was the third control point under their command, the sentries put a wooden sign over the door of the apartment with the two-line inscription: “U.S. Army Checkpoint Charlie.” Within weeks, the name became known worldwide as a focal point of Cold War tensions in Berlin.

Through all the probing, no one was quite sure what the Soviets would do if provoked. People feared another blockade. The United States had taken steps to prepare for that possibility. President Kennedy activated United States reserve forces in September and moved many of them to forward positions in Western Europe. He also authorized preparation for an airlift if necessary. Under the code name Bamboo Tree, U.S. Army engineers supervised hurried construction and the installation of electronic navigation devices at airfields in West Berlin. Tegel airfield in the French sector received much of the construction because its 7,800-foot runways were long enough to accommodate jet transport aircraft.10

The Wall made painfully public the willingness of the East German regime to kill its own citizens rather than let them escape. West Berliners observed 50 victims shot by East German guards in the first year of the Wall’s existence. Escapes dropped from the hundreds of thousands a year to just 12,000 in the first year after the Wall’s construction, and to far fewer in subsequent years.11 Each time refugees found an escape route, the East Germans took measures to close it. East German frogmen fitted waterways with obstructing nets and mines, for example. Under supervision of East German police, workers bricked up windows and entrances to buildings on the border. At times, entire structures were razed. Work on the Wall seemed constant.

The GDR regime claimed it built the Wall because the Western powers and West Germany had planned to launch a military offensive into East Germany through Berlin. They called it the Friedensmauer (Wall of Peace), alleging that it had prevented the invasion.12 The six-to-one ratio of forces in the Soviets’ favor made such an attack improbable, if not absurd. The regime failed to explain, of course, why the barriers and the killing zone hindered access to the Wall only from the eastern side.

Kennedy and the Wall

The Wall became the potent symbol of Berlin as an outpost of the Cold War. West German and American spokesmen kept this image before the public. In June 1963, President Kennedy made a trip to Berlin, underscoring the city’s role as a beacon of freedom. In a day-long visit, Kennedy walked the streets of the American sector, visited the Berlin Command, reviewed the troops, and delivered several public speeches.

In remarks delivered during his visit to the Schöneberg City Hall, the seat of the West Berlin City government, Kennedy acknowledged his hosts, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. He also recognized General Clay’s role in the history of the city. Kennedy acclaimed the contributions that each man had made to democracy in Germany, to the will of the Berliners to remain free, and to the bond between Berliners and American. Kennedy then paid tribute to the Berliners themselves:

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “Civis Romanus Sum” (I am a Roman citizen). Today in the world of freedom the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.” There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin.13
Kennedy’s rhetoric brought no concrete changes to Berlin, but it affirmed West Berliners’ sense of the significance of their plight in a much larger struggle. It boosted their moral. It also won for Kennedy their admiration and devotion.
Real Existing Socialism”

Though it stopped the GDR from hemorrhaging to death, the Wall was an architectural monstrosity and a communist monument to failure. On one side lay freedom and prosperity; on the other side a gruesome police state. Hundreds of East Berliners would risk their lives—and often lost them—in tunneling, jumping, swimming, driving, or running to freedom, frequently amid a hail of bullets.14 The Wall proclaimed the GDR to be little better than a vast prison, with nearly 18 million people locked inside. The West could hardly have asked for a better propaganda exhibition.

The Wall made it possible for the GDR to develop its economy to a remarkable extent, at least by East Bloc standards. It stabilized by force a state whose nature had already changed in a number of ways since its establishment. From the legal point of view, the texts and symbols of the GDR came to reflect what had already occurred in practice. For example, the 1949 constitution specified that “there is only one German nationality,” but on February 20, 1967, a citizenship law was adopted putting an end to a legal situation that no longer bore any resemblance to the facts. The preamble to the law stated that:

Citizenship of the German Democratic Republic came into existence in accordance with international law, with the foundation of the German Democratic Republic. It is an expression of the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic and contributes to the general further strengthening of the Socialist state. Citizenship of the German Democratic Republic consists in the fact that its citizens belong to the first peace-loving, democratic, and Socialist German state, in which the working class exercises political power in alliance with the cooperative farmer, the Socialist intelligentsia, and other productive classes.15

By this formulation, essential change was embodied in a basic legal instrument. In 1949, the official slogan had been democracy and anti-fascism. This was more prudent as far as the outside world was concerned, and the transformation of society lay too far in the future to justify the language of Marxist socialism. The “national” anthem, written by the poet Johannes Becher, a Spartacist in 1918 and a leading militant of the German Communist Party from 1923, Minister of Education from 1954-1958, spoke only of reconstruction, peace, and liberty.16

The GDR’s economic record improved markedly beginning in the 1960s. The development of foreign trade was steady and considerable, so much so that the GDR emerged as an economic power in Europe. This success was achieved in part at the expense of internal consumption, but the resulting prestige led to a new feeling of self-satisfaction expressed in the phrase “Wir sind wieder wer” (We are somebody again). The feeling was encouraged by the improvement in living standards, though housing and automobiles were perennial weak spheres of production. In many areas real progress occurred, though comparisons between West and East were more difficult to make than was admitted by either side. Many symbols of an affluent society became conspicuous. The standard of living in West Germany remained much higher, proof of this being the continued existence of the Wall. But East Germans made two comparisons with gratifying results: with their own past situation and with the other countries of the East Bloc, including the Soviet Union.


U.S. heavy weapons were deployed to Berlin to support the soldiers and airmen defending the rights and prerogatives that American policymakers sought to maintain. American units practiced urban combat skills in the mock city training area. They received instruction in hand-to-hand fighting and riot control. And they patrolled the Wall. The patrols along the Wall generally consisted of three soldiers in alert gear traveling in a jeep fitted with a mounted machine gun. Patrols operated around the clock, each patrol covering 16 miles. The soldiers searched for changes in fortifications, observed troop and vehicle movements on the other side, and inspected the crossing points in the Wall to see that warning signs remained readable and in place. Along the way, they exchanged information with West Berlin police in their observation posts and with other U.S. Army patrols.

The atmosphere of crisis engendered by the Berlin Wall did not end, but it did slowly wind down. In January 1966, the last of the reinforcement battalions that had rotated to Berlin every 90 days since August 20, 1961, withdrew from the city. The Berlin Brigade maintained its high state of readiness, but the need to push a convoy of reinforcements across the autobahn had receded. For all their training and equipment, though, American personnel were hostages in an international contest of wills. If the Soviets and East Germans decided to attack, the Berlin Brigade could only slow them down. The American soldiers and airmen accepted the risk.


The Wall forced West Germans to realize that, unless, they came to terms with the Soviet Union, the situation of their compatriots in the GDR would never improve. Neither the barrier dividing Berlin nor the East German state would go away anytime soon.17 Since the establishment of the FRG, West German foreign policy had subordinated unification to forging a solid alliance with the United States and Western Europe. As a cornerstone of foreign policy, West German governments had refused to recognize either the loss of German territory resulting from the German defeat in the war, let alone the legitimacy of the GDR. The international situation, and the Berlin Wall, made it clear by the early 1960s that a policy of denial had led to a dead end.18 Yet changes in West German foreign policy proceeded only grudgingly. Tentative efforts towards a new policy suffered a major disruption when the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968 to suppress that country’s modest program of reform.

Federal elections of September 1969 accelerated the pace of change in West German foreign policy. The Social Democratic Party took control of the cabinet, and party leader Willy Brandt, mayor of Berlin when the Wall went up in 1961, became chancellor. He firmly believed that improvements would come only through a foreign policy of opening to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Theoretically, West Germans might assert a right to territories held by the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Practically, Brandt contended that it was time to emphasize realities rather than outworn legal claims to land lost because of the German defeat in the war.

With great energy, Brandt pursued talks with the Soviet Union and Poland. At the same time, he explored contacts with a reluctant GDR government. He encouraged the three Western powers with troops in Berlin to negotiate with the Soviet Union concerning the city’s status.19

Brandt’s actions quickly brought results. In August 1970, he signed the Treaty of Moscow with the Soviet Union and before the end of the year the Treaty of Warsaw with Poland. In the treaties Brandt renounced the use of force to modify any frontiers in Eastern Europe and recognized the Polish and Soviet borders as “inviolable.” He also suggested a willingness to come to terms with the GDR so long as he could preserve the right to reunification through a free vote of the German people.

Brandt carefully informed the Western allies in NATO as he carried his negotiations forward. He also delayed West German ratification of the Moscow Treaty until the four powers could reach an agreement on the status of Berlin. By linking reconciliation with the Soviet Union to settling the status of Berlin, Brandt urged the four powers to compromise on the divided city.


In early September 1971, the four powers signed an accord on Berlin. The parties excluded any clear definition of Berlin in the text of the agreements to avoid the controversial distinction between East and West Berlin.20 Instead, the text affirmed the individual and joint responsibilities of all four powers “in the relevant area.” The Soviet Union recognized the Western powers’ right of access to the city. The Western powers affirmed the exclusions of the western sectors of Berlin from the territories of the FRG. The accord did not mention East or West Berlin at all, and the Western powers maintained their claim to four-power rights throughout the city.

The Soviet Union abandoned its contention that West Berlin lay on East German territory and conceded to the West German government the right to represent West Berlin diplomatically. The Soviets extended to West Berliners the right to travel to the GDR and East Berlin, prohibited since the construction of the Wall. They also promised to end the slowdown of traffic between the FRG and Berlin. All four powers also renounced the use of force in Berlin and committed themselves to resolve through negotiations all future problems concerning the city.

The quadripartite accord did not really solve the Berlin problem, but the agreements did defuse Berlin as a point of international tension.21 They laid out terms that all parties could accept as a tolerable environment for everyday life. The accords provided the framework for solving a number of practical matters.

In December 1971, Brandt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his success in reducing cold war tensions. Through the spring of 1972, his Ostpolitik (opening to the East) knit together the skeins of a broader settlement. The last element was an accord between the two German states that included the specific arrangements concerning Berlin. The Basic Agreement between the Germanies opened the way for the ratification by the West German parliament of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties. The implementation of the four-power accord on Berlin followed shortly thereafter.

In the years after the quadripartite accord, freedom of movement improved for West Berliners and the risk of war declined, but the Wall remained. Initially, the Wall represented a diplomatic defeat for the United States. It forced West Germany to make changes in its foreign policy as the 1960s progressed. By 1973, the West German government had concluded treaties that confirmed the existing territorial arrangements in Eastern Europe. The West German government had also learned to speak of two German states in one German nation. The West Germans held tenaciously to the right of the German people to vote at some future date for German unification—one state and one nation—but they had to come to terms with existing realities.

For the Soviet Union and the GDR, the Wall still represented an embarrassment. All their sophistry could not justify the need for a barrier to keep their population from fleeing. The Wall stopped the migration, but at a moral cost that became increasingly burdensome. The cold war did not end with the agreements stemming from West German Ostpolitik. Tensions in Berlin subsided after 1973, but the city remained a center of intrigue and a point of passage for international terrorists moving between East and West.

To be sure, the quadripartite agreements and the Ostpolitik improved the lives of West Berlin residents. Within two years of the agreements, travel across the autobahn to West Germany increased by two-thirds. West Berliners could take vacations, even weekend trips, by automobile. A two-hour drive brought them to West Germany, and many began to make the trip regularly. To speed the handling of peak traffic, the East Germans expanded checkpoints to multiple lanes at their borders. West Germans did not usually have to get out of their cars. The East Germans rarely searched vehicles. Transport trucks sealed by western customs officials traveled unchallenged across the GDR. The fees collected from the traffic brought the East German economy substantial sums of badly needed hard currency.

Contacts between West and East Berliners, essentially forbidden before the quadripartite accord, increased rapidly. In the final six months of 1972, after the accords were implemented in June, over two million West Berliners crossed the Wall for visits of one or more days. The next year, the number of visits were doubled. Phone calls between West and East Berlin were prohibited in 1970. In 1972, West Berliners made 2.8 million calls to East Berlin.22


The ascent of Mikhail S. Gorbachev to the leadership of the Soviet Union in March 1985 did not immediately signal a change in Soviet policy. Yet, one month later, he announced a unilateral moratorium on deployment of new intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and three months after that, he urged reforms of the Soviet economy. In October, a scant half-year after his appointment, he presented a program to initiate economic and political reforms throughout the Soviet system.

Gorbachev called for perestroika, a radical restructuring of communist government in a democratic direction, and glasnost, or greater freedom of expression. His initiatives toward reform had far-reaching implications for the communist system, both in the Soviet Union and in the East European satellite states.

The GDR successfully contained its population’s desire for change by building the Berlin Wall, which closed all avenues of escape. Knowing that they could not leave, the citizens of the GDR grudgingly adjusted to the communist system, and the state in turn achieved an aura of stability. In 1989, after 28 years, that stability collapsed suddenly and unexpectedly.23

Gorbachev’s promotion of perestroika and glasnost encouraged protestors in the GDR to voice their dissent. At an annual celebration of German communist heroes in January 1989, critics of the government unfurled banners demanding freedom of expression and opposing the regime’s oppressive rule. In May, observers dedicated to reforming the system appeared at polling places during local elections to monitor the vote. When the government announced the results, always nearly unanimous in East German elections, the dissidents accused the communist officials of fraud for underreporting the opposition vote and even began legal action. In both cases, the regime arrested the protestors and meted out long prison sentences and exile.

Few supposed at the time that these modest protests threatened the regime. The incidents might have passed unremembered, as had many others, if Hungary, for three decades the most progressive of the Eastern European states, had not moved ahead on its own path to perestroika. The Hungarian government announced its intent to open its borders with Austria, and on May 2, 1989, Hungarian officials began dismantling all barbed wire fences and other barriers between their country and the Austrian Republic.

With Hungary suddenly allowing unhindered access to Austria and the West, East Germans realized they could use traditional vacation travel to circumvent their government’s restrictions on emigration.. Tens of thousands of East Germans already held valid travel documents for summer trips to Hungary, and by late August, more than 2,000 had successfully fled to West Germany through Hungary and Austria. When Hungarian border guards tried to turn some of the East Germans back, many used unauthorized paths through the open border.

On September 10, the Hungarian government announced that its border guards would no longer honor their prior agreement to stop emigration by East Germans. Within three days, 15,000 East Germans took advantage of the new policy and fled to the West. Hundreds of others, fearing that the East German regime would cut off the Hungarian route, sought asylum in the West German embassies in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Concerns that East Germans harbored proved justified. To stop the exodus, the East German regime cut off all travel to Poland and Czechoslovakia early in October. The measure only increased the internal pressures on the government. Domestic demonstrations for reform became more significant.


In Leipzig, East Germans had held meetings in local churches for several years to pray for peace. In September 1989, the Monday evening prayer meetings took a new form when those gathering for prayer moved out of the churches to conduct peaceful marches through the streets. The police had habitually harassed and occasionally beaten marchers. Nonetheless, participation in the marches grew week by week throughout September. The march of October 2, 1989, attracted 15,000 participants.

During the week after the October 2 demonstration, the East German regime moved units of the police, supported by the army, into Leipzig. Demonstrators were undeterred by the show of force. A crowd of 70,000 people marched on October 9. To the surprise and relief of the demonstrators, the police and military units did not use the force at their disposal, and the march proceeded peacefully.24

The peaceful march in Leipzig on October 9 marked a turning point. A week later, 100,000 people demonstrated. The next day, October 17, the politburo of the GDR forced Erich Honecker to resign as party secretary. Having refrained from violence against the demonstrators on October 9, the government faced crowds that it could not control. On October 23, the crowd in Leipzig swelled to 300,000.25

The new East German government arranged for a limited reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, scheduled to take effect on November 3. The hemorrhage began again: within a week, 48,000 East Germans had emigrated through Czechoslovakia and on to West Germany. Dissidents were not mollified. On November 4, 500,000 people gathered in East Berlin to demand reforms of the communist system. On November 6, another 500,000 demonstrated in Leipzig.26 On November 7, the members of the government cabinet resigned.

On November 9, after an all-day meeting of the politburo, East Berlin’s party boss reported to the public and the press. At the end of a long description of the deliberations, he mentioned a new law governing travel. He seemed to indicate that anyone who wished to go to West Germany, for whatever reasons, could get an exit visa at the border. Radio reports and television excerpts from the official’s remarks led crowds of East Berliners to checkpoints at the Wall to test the new regulations.

Astonished border guards, who had received no specific instructions, bowed to the eager crowds and opened the passages to West Berlin. The crowds grew so large that the guards could not process all of their identity papers, so people simply walked through the checkpoints. On the western side, they found a huge street party of welcoming West Berliners, a scene of jubilation televised around the world. Berliners celebrated their new freedom by dancing on top of the Wall. Whether by plan or through ineptitude, the Wall had been irrevocably breached.


For decades since the end of the Second World War, Berlin played a crucial role in the fluid process of international politics. As a focal point of cold war politics, the city became an important barometer of East-West relationships and a testing ground for the strategies and policies of the superpowers. A city in constant tension and crisis, Berlin was in a sense the crucible of the cold war.

When East Berliners passed though the Wall on the night of November 9, a new future opened for all Germans. Berlin ceased to be a divided city. The Wall became an artifact, not a barrier. New passages were punched through the Wall, both officially and spontaneously. Soon, people began chipping out and collecting pieces of the Wall, first as souvenir hunters, then as entrepreneurs. In an irony of an historical chapter laden with ironies, this symbol of communism became a capitalist commodity.

1 Snyder, Louis L.. Basic History of Modern Germany; Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1957, p. 94.

2 Pulzer, Peter. German Politics, 1945-1995; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 96.

3 Heidenheimer, Arnold J.; Kommers, Donald P. The Governments of Germany, 4th ed; New York: Harper and Row, 1975, p. 288.

4 Richard J.. The Alliance: America-Europe-Japan; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. pp. 228-29.

5 Lippmann, Heinz. Honecker and the New Politics of Europe; New York: Macmillan, 1972, pp. 187-89.

6 Gert Leptin, Gert; Melzer, Manfred. East Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978. p. 7.

7 Thomas A. Diplomatic History of the American People, 9th ed; Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974, p. 874.

8 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, p. 171.

9 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, p. 252.

10 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, p. 174.

11 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, pp. 418-19.

12 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, pp. 169-70.

13 Quoted in: Grosser, Alfred. Germany in Our Time: A Political History of the Postwar Years; New York: Praeger, 1973, p. 304.

14 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1. Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, pp. 418-19.

15 Historical introduction and text of the constitution in Dietrich Müller-Römer, Ulbrichts Grandgesetz; Die sozialistische Verfassung der DDR (Cologne, 1968). English-language edition of the full text may be found in Holborn, L.; Carter, C.; Herz, J. German Constitutional Documents Since 1971 (New York: Praeger; 1970).

16 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol. 2. Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, p. 939.

17 Pachter, Henry M. Modern Germany: A Social, Cultural, and Political History; Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1978, p. 333.

18 Pond, Elizabeth. After the Wall; American Policy Toward Germany; Washington, DC: Twentieth Century Fund, 1990, p. 3.

19 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, pp. 292-93.

20 Bundesministerium fűr innerdeutsche Beziehungen. DDR Handbuch, vol.1; Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, pp. 170-71.

21 Zivier, Ernest R. Der Rechtstatus des Landes Berlin; Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 1977, pp. 270-71.

22 Zivier, Ernest R.. Der Rechtstatus des Landes Berlin; Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 1977, pp. 268-69.

23 Pond, Elizabeth. After the Wall; American Policy Toward Germany; Washington, DC: Twentieth Century Fund, 1990, pp. 13-14.

24 Jarausch, Konrad H. The Rsuh to German Unity; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 33-34.

25 Pond. Elizabeth After the Wall; American Policy Toward Germany; Washington, DC: Twentieth Century Fund, 1990, pp. 13-14.

26 Bahrmann, Hannes; Links., Christoph. Chronik der Wende; Berlin: Ch. Links, 1994, pp. 84-85.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page