In 1960, just as Kennedy was being elected, I returned to America. Less than one year later the Wall went up. Refugees had been pouring over at a rapid rate, sometimes thousands in a day. How did the Wall come about?
In June of 1961, Walter Ulbricht, the old head of the German Communist government said in an interview with a Western paper that no one had any intention of building a wall. Widely reported, this caused a massive exodus from the East. They knew then it was coming for sure. Thus, the Wall was constructed by the SED, the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany in August of 1961 as a protective wall against West German fascism and American capitalist imperialism. And for quite some time, it seemed to be working from the perspective of the East German government. It was really designed to give them breathing room by stopping the flood of refugees, many of them highly skilled and highly trained, to the West, and quell uprisings, like this one in 1953.
Some made it out, some, but others, like Peter Fechter, (left) did not. He died at the Wall after being shot by guards. The last death was during the Spring of '89 at the site of this cross, (right).
|West Berliners were outraged by the erection of the Wall. Willy Brandt, then mayor of Berlin, now grand old man of the SPD, West Germany's Social Democrats, was deeply impressed that the Americans and other Allies did nothing to prevent its construction. Brandt saw this moment as the start of his Eastern policy. A few years later, as Chancellor of West Germany, Brandt and other Social Democrats, opened a dialogue to engage the Russians. This was his Eastern Policy - Ostpolitik. Brandt reasoned that just turning away from them was impossible in the long run. The policies developed by the Social Democrats of tying the East in through commerce, loans, subventions, credits, and cultural exchanges worked brilliantly. Henry Kissinger picked up on this during the Nixon years, when it was called Detente. Later, when Carter and Reagan started the freeze all over again, Ostpolitik was a cornerstone of German policy, even for conservatives. Willy Brandt deserves major credit for opening up the East.|
Beginning with Kennedy, every American president made
Red line through map of mass transit system shows division
It was so palpably there, so crass, 27 miles of Wall, through a city that belonged together. . It cut families apart, ruined lives. It was so unnatural,so wrong.
Proceed to Part 4. West Berlin thrives or, switch to another Part:
1. Berlin at the End of WW II
2: The First Postwar Decade
3. The Raising of the Wall
5. East Berlin, a tourist attraction
6. East Germany during the Wall
7. Bringing down the Wall from within
8. East meets West
9. East German Problems
10. The Road to Unification