The Berlin Wall: A Photographic Memoir Berlin 1945 – 80% of the city’s buildings had been destroyed. In 1945, Germany was divided into four zones, one for each occupying power. Similarly, Berlin was divided into four sectors. This Tripartite Agreement [The original three powers, the USA, Russia and the UK, made room for liberated France] placed Berlin under the Aliied Control Committee. Germany did not rule Berlin, nor could German troops and Occupied Germany airlines enter. Access by road and air was guaranteed. It 1945 was meant to be a temporary arrangement But the Soviets had no inten- tion of relinquishing power and allowing Germany to re- unite. They wanted to deny the Allies access to Berlin and, by assuming power over the Allied sectors, to drive the West completely out of their zone. They blockaded Berlin to try achieve this. The Berlin Airlift thwarted this attempt. West Berlin was to become a thorn in the flesh of the Soviet zone, since its citizens could emigrate by simply entering the Allied sectors and flying out to West Germany. Checkpoint Charlie By 1949, the three western powers had formed the BDR [German Federal Republic], West Germany, out of their zones. The Soviet zone had become the DDR [German Democratic Republic], East Germany. The three western sectors had become West Berlin, the Soviet sector, East Berlin. The temporary division of Germany and Berlin was to last for The Two Germanys forty years. No-one, perhaps not even Walter Ulbricht, could have foreseen the course that events were to take during that 1949-1989 era, though he had surely already formulated plans by 1949. The DDR broke all the Tripartite provisions for Berlin; they made it their capital, stationed their troops there, and flew their own airline in and out of Schönefeld airport in their sector. Despite the different occupying forces, the city remained a single entity until 13th August, 1961. After this, West Berlin, sealed off from the rest of the Soviet Zone, effectively became an island in the middle of East Germany. The Stalinallee, a street of massive blocks of flats for workers, was a typically gigantic socialist project of its time. In this DDR propaganda photograph, citizens look down its massive perspective with hope for a bright and prosperous future. It was from this project that workers rose up against the hard-line Stalinist government of Walther Ulbricht after Stalin’s death in March 1953. They had high hopes for liberalisation in the DDR, but rebelled against raised work-norms [by 10%] and repression. Inset: One of the posters of the time, advertising the project. East Germany confidently expected to overtake the prosperity of the West within 10 years, and such projects were meant to exhibit the bright and promising future of socialism. Violent scenes in the Alexanderplatz as Russian tanks roll in, to be fought by courageous workers’ armies with sticks and stones! The Soviet Union at one point thought they had lost their zone, but to their utter surprise, the West did nothing to intervene, and the DDR survived. But by this time the hollowness of the DDR government’s claim to popular support had become clear. 1953 proved that the SED owed its survival to the power of the occupying Soviet forces. East Berliners flee Soviet tanks and troops. The Soviets fired into the crowds, and strafed the border zones to prevent escapes into West Berlin. While the Red Army was putting down the uprising, Ulbricht and the rest of the regime were cowering under the protection of the Soviets, who despised them for it. “RIAS [Radio in the American Sector] says that there is no leadership left in the DDR,” said the Soviet comander contemptuously in their presence. “Well, that seems just about true.” Bertholt Brecht, DDR author, who supported the suppression of the uprising, later came to regret it, and wrote the poem on the next slide: The Solution After the uprising of 17 June The Secretary of the Writers Union Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee Stating that the people Had forfeited the confidence of the government And could win it back only with redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier In that case for the government To dissolve the people and elect another? Berthold Brecht In the early days before the Wall, sector boundaries were marked only by signboards such as the one on the right which says: “You are now entering the American sector.” On the reverse side it says: “You are now leaving the American sector”. Just within the Russian sector, the East Germans have erected their own sign: “The end of the democratic [!] sector of Greater Berlin is one metre away.” Considering the record of the Soviet Union compared with the USA, the sign is ironic, to say the least. The Wall goes up The Barbed-wire Barrier 1 2 The massive, carefully-planned “Operation Rose” began at midnight on Sunday 12th August, 1961. It was only at dawn on Monday 13th, that its extent became apparent.  The first visible sign in the centre that the border had been sealed – barbed wire across the Potsdamer Platz, with armed sentries placed every 2 metres to stop East Germans escaping.  A Grenzer [border guard] looks on as the barrier is erected. Does he support it, or is he regretting it? Uncertainty is also written on the faces of these two young sentries. What are they really thinking? Even amongst supporters of the DDR, the sheer finality of the division caused by the Wall must have evoked some very mixed feelings. Monday 13th August 1961: West Berliners look on as the first barrier is strengthened. The feelings of both NVA soldiers and onlookers seem to be profoundly mixed. Who is laughing and who is mocking? Grenzer patrol the early barbed-wire “wall”. Of all the uniformed forces in the DDR, they were the most disliked, since it they who enforced the borders of the DDR. If the DDR was a prison, then they were effectively its warders. Their task was to “shoot-to-kill” any DDR citizen who tried to escape. Guards who refused or failed to shoot, or who turned a blind eye, were subjected to some of the most brutal punishments in the Eastern Bloc, the most likely of which was a spell in the punishment unit at Schwedt, near Brandenburg in Prussia. Being sent down to Schwedt was the most terrifying threat any NVA soldier could hear, and was more than often enough to command abject obedience. About 50% of border guards were conscripts. The Grenzer in this photograph are almost certainly conscripts. Sentries patrol the Wall with the aid of guard-dogs. The dogs later turned out to be nowhere as fierce as believed. Two sentries patrol a section of the Wall, 1963 – a cemetery in no-man’s- land. Is the fellow on the left showing a friendlier face than usual – or is he just embarrassed at being caught unawares? A desolate, grey view of the tank-traps, reinforcing the Wall that divided a city for nearly forty years. West Berlin was a tiny island in the middle of the DDR, but was so remote to East Germans that it might as well have been on another planet. Even today, the West still hunts 90-year-old Nazis. But the forty years of Soviet oppression suffered by the citizens of the DDR are all but forgotten outside of Germany itself.
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