The Berlin Wall 1961



After World War II a conference was held between the four victorious countries, the Potsdam Conference. At this conference Germany was divided up between the four victorious powers.

Berlin, the former capital of the German Empire, was also divided into four zones. The Western side of Berlin was under the control of Britain, France, and The United States, while the Eastern side remained under the control of The Soviet Union. There were no distinct borders between the East sector and the West sector of the city at this time. The "open border," as Berlin was known at that time, was open to the movement of people from East German looking for an escape from the living conditions in the East, they fled to the West in search of individual political freedom and economic well-being. West Germany, under the Allies control, became a capitalist country with a social market economy. It continued to grow and develop which became appealing fro many citizens from the East. Berlin became the place where they could emigrate after the closing of the inner German border in 1952.

It is estimated that nearly 3.5 million citizens from East Germany had fled to West Germany, which was nearly twenty percent of East Germany’s population. On August 12, 1961, the leaders of East Germany met and it was decided that the border between East and West Germany was to be closed. The construction of the wall was started that night. The wall started out as barbed wire but gradually changed to a concrete wall as the East German soldiers continued to block off loopholes.

The social impacts of the construction of the wall were it separated communities, prevented people from the stores they regularly shopped at or the churches they attended, families were split up on different sides of the wall, people lost their jobs, and many people lost their lives trying to escape over the wall.
The economic impacts of the wall were that many young talented workers had fled from East Germany, which further crippled their economy. East Germany had a shortage of workers due to the emigration.
The continual emigration of citizens’ over the Berlin border had added to the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. However amidst the beginning of the Cold War, the construction of the Berlin Wall relieved the United States. It lessened their concerns of a possible nuclear war, as they believed that the construction of the wall meant East Germany was not planning a take over of Berlin.


The Berlin War 1961


Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1955. He wanted improved relations with the west but he did not want to be seen as weak. In the 60s he was concern with nuclear capability and Eastern Europe (His biggest concern in East Europe was Germany). At the end of World War two Germany was divided East and West, this was done without a treaty. The west wanted to reunite Germany, but West Germany joined NATO and East Germany joined the Warsaw pact. Another problem was Khrushchev was worried that Berlin was being used as a staging ground for Western spies (Remember Berlin was deep in Soviet territory and he wasn't wrong). Also Berlin provided a route for East Germans to flee to West Germany where there is promise of better jobs and freedoms. The fleeing Germans went in the thousands, this was humiliating to the Soviets and it heavily damaged the East German economy. By 1961 Khrushchev wanted a treaty stating that Germany will not be reunited and he wanted the stop of East Germans fleeing to the West. To achieve these goals and calm all his worries he needed to show the West he means business. On August 13th 1961, barbed wire barricades went up (created at night),dividing Berlin, soon the barricades were reinforced with concrete and movement was heavily restricted, some found their way home from work (or vice verse) blocked (on the few days of construction Berliners panicked to escape through the few remaining escape routes, refer to the video to see the reactions of the people). There was global outrage and American and Soviet tanks soon faced each other in the streets (no combat). It appeared war will break loose but eventually the wall was excepted. "A wall is a lot better than a war" - US President John. F. Kennedy.

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Walter Ulbricht
In 1961 the British Foreign officers in charge of Eastern developments written a report discussing the Russian's intentions in Germany and Berlin. It is believed that this document was meant to help inform US President J.F.K before he meets Khrushchev in a summit. The documents states:
  1. The Russians do not want to abandon their satellite states especially East Germany.
  2. That Khrushchev is being pressured by Ulbricht (Communist leader of East Germany) and Gomulka (Communist leader of Poland) and may be pressured by other satellite states and maybe China as well
  3. The Communist may view the stabilization of East Germany as a test of Khrushchev's "peaceful co-existence"
  4. There are three elements to the stabilization of East Germany in Khrushchev's mind
  • Recognition of the East German regime
  • Stabilization of post-war borders
  • Removal of Western military forces in West Berlin (Eliminate Allied occupation rights) (The Communists may view the Allied military presence in Berlin (Deep in Soviet territory) as a staging ground for an assault against the USSR)

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John Jensen's Cartoon from the British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph, August 26th 1962

This cartoon was created by John Jensen and found in the Sunday Telegraph (a British newspaper). Both the author and newspaper (like many others in Britain) are critics of Communism. This cartoon is dated roughly on the first anniversary of the construction of the Berlin wall. Also the cartoon uses the image of a dead bloody man to represent the high profile victim of the event. This victim was a 18 year old East German man who was shot when trying to cross over the barricade by East German guards, he bled to death while the East Guards watched and the West Guards were forbidden to cross over to help the man. Khrushchev is the man sitting on the body while Walter Ulbricht is using the dead man's blood to sign the "East-German Peace Treaty" (recognizes the East German state). This cartoon is obviously saying that both Khrushchev and Ulbricht (representing communism?) are using the wall to cause suffering among the Berliners which will (maybe) cause the West to sign a peace treaty (remember that there was no official treaty created after World War Two to recognize or agree on borders) that will recognize East Germany as a state and cannot be re-united with West Germany.

In November 1961 the British Foreign Office wrote a report describing the Berlin War. They believe that the wall is meant to act as a visual blocker disallowing anyone to see what is going on the other side. It was created by civilians under the supervision of East German soldiers/ The wall is constantly patrolled by soldiers/guards and watchtowers have been set-up. Also the East Germans have set-up loudspeakers producing propaganda stating that the wall has been erected because of the 'hostile' behavior of the West (is it true or just scapegoating?). It is argued that the events around the wall are based on defensive nature.

In 1962 the British Ministry of Information created a film called "Outpost of Freedom - The Meaning of Berlin Today". This was part of a series called the "British Calendar" which was meant to inform the British public about events going on in the world that effect Britain. This film stated that the Communist threat to change the status of Berlin is also a threat to free people everywhere. The film says that the East towers are keeping an eye on East Germans who would rather live in freedom. This film is obviously critical of the Soviet Union but is this a true depiction of the event (it does support the cartoon but then again both are heavily critical and maybe bias)

Learning Curve: Berlin Wall
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source One: Extracts from a Foreign Office document analysing Soviet leader Khrushchev's attitude to Germany and Berlin, April 1961
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source Two: Part of the report of a meeting of the military and civil government of West Berlin discussing refugees, July 1961
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source Three: News film of the building of the Berlin wall and the reactions of Berliners to the wall going up, 1961(ITN Archive).
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source Four: Cartoon from the British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph, August 26th 1962 (John Jensen/ Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature)
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source Five: Part of a Foreign Office report describing the strengthening of the Berlin Wall, November 1961
Learning Curve: Berlin Wall: Historical Source Six: Extract from the script of a film called Outpost of Freedom - The Meaning of Berlin Today produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1962