August 15, 1961
Berlin Wall Constructed, Cold War Gets Frosty
In a move which is bound to increase international tension, particularly East-West tension, border guards of the German Democratic Republic overnight constructed a long concrete wall around West Berlin, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world.
For two days, the world has been watching as barbed wire was erected along the border between West Berlin and the outside world. Today, concrete blocks have been used to make this barrier more permanent. It seems as though the Berlin Wall is being erected and the period of isolation for West Berlin will not be short.
Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader announced only two months ago that his country had plans to do as has been done in these couple of days - "No-one had the intention to build a wall,*" he had promised on June 15.
Comments coming out of Berlin today we far more inflammatory. The wall, they said, is being put up "to stop the hostile activities of the revanchist and militaristic forces of West Germany,*" and that the action should not be seen either as aggressive or extraordinary. The Soviet-backed GDR government was merely doing something in "a way every sovereign nation regulates its borders.*"
The actions of the last few days have sliced this great city into two. Only 13 checkpoints between East and West Berlin now exist where before there were nearly a hundred. East German citizens are prohibited from working in West Berlin. The Public Transportation System (Metro and S-Bahn) between East and West Berlin has been totally interrupted. Friedrichstrasse Station is the only remaining open station where hundreds of "West Berlin" visitors have been returning home and saying goodbye to their "East Berlin" friends, colleagues and loved ones.
Willy Brandt, mayor of West Berlin, said the construction of the barrier was "not just erecting a border separating states but the wall of a concentration camp.*" Outside comments such as this, the reaction from the West has been surprisingly low key.
Kennedy, who is currently on vacation at Martha's Vineyard, told the nation, "We do not want to fight, but we have fought before. We cannot and will not permit the Communists to drive us out of Berlin, either gradually or by force.*"
There are several reasons why this wall has been put up now. In June, 1948, the three powers occupying the western portion of Berlin introduced their own currency and set up a separate administration which alienated the Soviets over in eastern Berlin.
More than this, it began one of the most dramatic and deeply felt brain drains ever seen. The years 1954 to 1960 saw this exodus of trained, educated labour reach a peak. During that period, 4,600 doctors, 15,885 teachers, 738 university teachers and 15,536 engineers and technicians moved from East to West Germany. These highly qualified people were educated at the expense of East Germany. Of course such a situation was untenable for East Germany. It has been estimated that, in all, over two and a half million East Germans escaped between 1949 and the start of this year.
Due to this situation, it is thought that the meeting of Communist parties of the Commecon which took place ten days ago in Moscow was probably the time and the place when the final decision was taken to try and stem the east to west flood of people.
It was here at the August 3-5 conference that Walter Ulbricht spelled out very clearly, we can see with hindsight, how desperate the East Germans are feeling. He first referred to the open border, bleeding the East German economy dry:
"The enemy is trying with all means to use the open border between the German Democratic Republic and West Berlin to undermine our government and its economy, primarily by means of recruiting and trading people. I must say openly: the aggressive forces of West Germany and the Western powers have already succeeded by these means in causing serious harm to the German Democratic Republic.*"
He went on to speak about the necessity to do something pro-active to prevent the ever-widening gap between East and West standards of living from opening up further:
"In the interests of the existence and development of the German Democratic Republic, therefore, active measures for ending the recruitment of people from our Republic are necessary. Related to this primarily is the liquidation of the espionage and subversive centers in West Berlin and full control over the transit routes.*"
And Ulbricht laid the blame for the poor state of the East German economy squarely at the door of the West, with particular blame apportioned towards the government in Bonn:
"The open border with West Berlin has brought enormous damages to the GDR economy for many years. To a significant degree the burden of the consequences of the struggle between the two systems lies on our shoulders. This is expressed in the enticement to the West of the work force with the help of large bribes. The Bonn government is using the state of the market in West Berlin to buy GDR citizens. As a result, we have serious losses in the work force which of course puts in question the fulfilment of our national economic plan and even the fulfilment of export orders.*"
We asked the DailyPast.com Europe correspondent, Penelope Fredericsson, if there was likely to be a shooting confrontation over this latest development in Berlin.
"It depends if Ulbricht and, ultimately, Khrushchev, want to push it further or not. If the intention is to strangle West Berlin in its surrounded enclave and finally take it, there will be shooting. The Americans and the West in general, expended a lot on the Airlift 15 years ago. They will not let Berlin slip quietly into the communist night. But I don't believe it will come to that. The priority in building this wall was to stem the tide of economic refugees to the West and that has been achieved quite adequately.*"
Neil Coghlan © 2002-2006 All Rights Reserved