Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

 Aftermath 1949--1959
 AirBridge to Berlin
 Road to Confrontation
 Who's Who During Big 4
 Political Activity Resumes
 Who's Who in New Berlin Governments
 Background on Conflict with USSR
 Eye of the Storm
 Marshall Plan
 The Airlift Begins
 Chocolate Flier
 Grateful Berliners
 Lighter Side (Cartoons)
 "Operation Vittles" Gets Organized
 Winter Campaign
 Blockade Lifted
 Aftermath 1949 -- 1959
 Photo Collection

Aftermath 1949 -- 1959
Chapter section from:
Airbridge to Berlin ---  The Berlin Crisis of 1948,  its Origins and Aftermath 
By D.M. Giangreco and Robert E. Griffin
© 1988
(Used with permission)

The Berlin Wall shortly after its construction.

The Berlin Wall shortly after its construction.


  The city of Berlin is located 110 miles from the borders of the newly established Federal Republic of Germany, in what US soldiers euphemistically call "Injun territory," and this fact of geography presents some problems. While in 1949 there seemed to be little question over the Western Powers' rights in Berlin being guaranteed by earlier Four Power accords, the agreements covering the actual access to the city were just as weak as before the airlift.

  When the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Paris during May and June 1949 failed to resolve either the German question or the problems facing Berlin, the Western Powers had little alternative other than to maintain the position that had served them well throughout the Berlin crisis of 1948-49. That position was and still remains that all of Berlin is an occupied city; that US, British and French rights and position in the city are guaranteed by wartime agreements among "allies," including the Soviet Union; and that no single power can unilaterally take action to change this status without the agreement of the other "allies."

  West Berliners were anxious to be included within the constitutional structure of the emerging Federal Republic and, from a sentimental standpoint, the Western Allies had to agree that this was a quite natural desire. The Soviet Union, however, did not recognize the western Federal Republic just as the Western Allies did not recognize the eastern Democratic Republic. The two Germanys did not recognize each other. Access to Berlin and the freedom of its people in the West Sector rested solely on Four Power agreements. Any actions demonstrating that another power (for example, the West Germans) was in control could be used by the communists as an excuse to terminate access.

  Care packages being distributed to Berliners.  
  Care packages being distributed to Berliners.

  The Basic Law of the Federal Republic treated West Berlin as a land (state) of the Federation. The Western Allies, though, still retained supreme authority in West Germany and forced a suspension of that portion of the law regarding Berlin. While they would allow the representatives of Berlin to attend the legislative bodies meeting in the temporary capital city of Bonn and perform all the lobbying and consultive functions of Land representatives, they could not vote since that could call into question Allied jurisdiction in Berlin.

  In addition, Federal laws and treaties could only be adopted in the city if the Berlin Chamber of Deputies passed a Mantelgesetz (cover law) legislating their enactment in the city. Even then, the Western Sector commanders retained the legal right to suspend or declare laws as invalid. The Federal Constitutional Court was barred from the city and, after the Federal Republic established an army and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the new West German armed forces could not enter the city nor could the residents of the city be drafted into the Bundeswehr (Federal Army).

  Marshall Plan Aid and the free market economic system, introduced by Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard, propelled the new Federal Republic into a period of spectacular growth and revitalization. Erhard's "Free Market Economy" was based on liberal trade laws, tariff reductions, cheap imports (while boosting exports) and an almost religious avoidance of labor disputes. The income of the average West German rose 12 percent a year between 1950 and 1955 and unemployment plummeted by almost two-thirds. West Germans were allowed to "work off an immense surplus of energy in order to buy the . . . consumer goods which they so badly wanted, after six prewar years of Nazi austerity, six years of war and four years of postwar want."(1) By the time the occupation of Germany formally ended in May of 1955, the nation was already the most prosperous country in Europe.

  Initially, the economic recovery of West Germany was of little value to Berlin and "German leaders were not in a position to do much about Berlin."(2) Even before the "economic miracle" was well underway, productivity and living standards across West Germany were generally meeting or even surpassing prewar levels by 1950 while Berlin's production index showed the city wallowing at only a third of its 1936 level.

  Schloss Strasse in the US Sector from the top of Wertheim's Department Store, 27 August 1952. As late as 1946 this street was half filled with rubble with only one lane open to traffic.  
  Schloss Strasse in the US Sector from the top of Wertheim's Department Store, 27 August 1952. As late as 1946 this street was half filled with rubble with only one lane open to traffic.  

  While Berlin had suffered as much or more war damage as other German cities, it had additionally borne the brunt of Soviet dismantling, losing more than 500 factories of all sizes and types. Moreover, Berlin could no longer exercise the traditional functions of a capital city and roughly 175,000 public sector jobs simply no longer existed. Other associated industries normally located in a capital such as import, export, the wholesale trades, advertising, printing, finance, banking, insurance, the stock market, and the hotel catering trades, all moved west to greener (and safer) pastures. They took well over half a million jobs with them. Then came a ruinous year-long blockade which essentially stopped the modest recovery efforts that had made some headway in 1947 and early 1948. Even with the city's population reduced to 3 million from its prewar height of almost 4.5 million, 300,000 West Berlin workers were still unable to find a job in 1950.

  Two years later, as the world marveled at the bounding West German economy, the average number of unemployed in West Berlin had decreased by only 25,000. In 1952, important steps were taken to put Berlin back on its feet. On January 4, the Federal Parliament in Bonn passed the "Third Transference Law" in which West Berlin was incorporated into the financial and legal system of the Federal Republic. West Berlin was now able to receive annual subsidies from the federal treasury and the city legislature no longer had to debate every federal law and treaty before they became applicable in Berlin. As before, though, the three Western Commandants still retained their supreme authority.

  1952 also saw all the US State Department's work on Germany and Berlin concentrated in the German Office with Eleanor Lansing Dulles* being charged with finding out what the United States could do about Berlin. Dulles worked to expand and develop the complicated working arrangements between Bonn, Washington and Berlin and ended up making more than two dozen round trips across the Atlantic.

*Eleanor Lansing Dulles was the sister of Allen W. Dulles and ambassador at large, John Foster Dulles. The following year, brothers Allen and John would become heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department, respectively.

  Dulles later found that her passport showed more than thirty trips into Berlin as she "went back and forth from the Federal Republic to tie together negotiations there, with arrangements made in Berlin for various programs of construction and support." Such globe-trotting was necessary because "the three-cornered financing of many projects and the psycological subtleties of the resistance to Communist harassment called for a more responsive understanding of the moods and attitudes which could not be easily reflected in cables."(3)

  There was great concern in Washington over Berlin's fate. Dulles points out that:

  In 1953 the economy of the city was faltering, and production was at a low level. Some thought there could be only a small amount of improvement. Using a more optimistic approach, a many-sided program was initiated. This included continuing aid to industry, building up the stockpile, subsidizing housing for refugees in Berlin and in the Federal Republic, improving public relations, and varied measures not developed under other aid programs. The new attention to the city of Berlin was to be so comprehensive as to give a clear impression of the usefulness of an imaginative American and German approach to the needs and support which could be given. . . . .

  Some of the "impact projects" met with initial resistance from [Berlin officials] and from some financial officers in Bonn. They were obliged to ration sparingly the supporting German budget funds. We Americans, on our part, had to stress the over-all needs of the economy and the long-run interests of the city as well as propaganda and political issues. Without impairing these various considerations, consulting together, we developed a balanced and dependable program.(4)

Soviet troops returning to their sector after a ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial, 9 May 1952. Nearly a decade later, the Berlin Wall was erected roughly half way between where the British soldier is standing guard and the Brandenburg Gate.

Soviet troops returning to their sector after a ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial, 9 May 1952. Nearly a decade later, the Berlin Wall was erected roughly half way between where the British soldier is standing guard and the Brandenburg Gate.

  Reconstruction in West Berlin was accelerated and the standard of living brought up to par with that in West Germany. By 1957, unemployment had dropped below 100,000 and in five more years, would drop to almost 10,000.

  The great strides being made in West Germany could hardly be concealed from those living in the east and, when coupled with increasing communist repression, served as a magnet for East Germans wanting a better way of life. In 1959, the Association of Free Jurists in West Berlin, which had amassed voluminous material on violations of human rights in East Germany published a summary of events on the occasion of the tenth birthday of the German Democratic Republic:

  • 1950: A Ministry of State Security was created, in order to take over the antidemocratic police powers hitherto exercised by the Russians. A "single-list" election for the new "People's Chamber" (Volkskammer) took place, with a 99.7 per cent vote for the selected candidates. During the year, 197,788 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1951: The Ministry of State Security was hard at work. In a single trial nineteen young people (some of them still at the secondary school of Werdau and seven of them under eighteen) were sentenced to a total of one hundred and thirty years' imprisonment. The workers lost their right to negotiate wage agreements. . . .That year 165,648 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1952: A "security zone" and a "death strip" were established along the interzonal frontier. A law was passed providing for the confiscation of all property belonging to people who "fled from the Republic." Nevertheless, 182,393 East Germans fled to the West during 1952.


  • 1953: The East German Government raised compulsory work norms by 10 per cent, with no increase of pay. This led directly to the strike of the Stalinallee building-workers in east Berlin, and to the national uprising of June 17 against the regime. Afterwards eighteen people were sentenced to death, and roughly twelve hundred people were sentenced to a total of four thousand years' imprisonment. That year 331,390 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1954: The second "People's Chamber" was elected, again on a "single-list" system, by a 99.46 per cent vote. The first youth-initiation committees were formed and the Communist campaign against religious teaching in the schools and the homes was under way. During that year 184,198 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1955: The Communist campaign against private industry moved into top gear, while steady progress was made in the formation of the State co-operatives on the land. During that year 252,870 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1956: The first trials took place of people who had "encouraged flight from the Republic." In a test trial, two men and one woman were all sentenced to life imprisonment for this "crime." The regime introduced its new method of destroying private firms by "offering" State participation in management and financing. During that year 279,189 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1957: A new passport law provided for three years' imprisonment for anyone making an unauthorized journey outside the borders of East Germany. . . . During 1957, however, 261,622 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1958: Under a new law criticism of the regime could be regarded as "slandering the State." Nineteen students from Jena University were sent to prison for breaking this law. Compulsory "polytechnical" education was introduced; it meant that all school children had to work for stated periods in industry and agriculture. During that year 204,092 East Germans fled to the West.


  • 1959: The Ministry for Cultural Affairs ordered a purge of the Universities and technical colleges. At Dresden five students were given sentences totaling 37 1/2 years' imprisonment. Members of the "People's Chamber" received instructions relating to their "duty" to explain and justify every act of the regime to the population. It was not their duty to "represent" the wishes of constituents. (5)


  The "security zone" established by the East Germans along their border with West Germany greatly lessened the flow of refugees along the frontier and the refugee centers at Ulzen and Giessen have had fewer customers ever since. The opposite was true for the Marienfelde center in West Berlin. With the city still under military control and no travel restrictions between the four occupation sectors, an East German or East Berliner could simply walk into one of the West sectors or, if the refugee had much baggage to lug around, take the U-Bahn or S-Bahn to freedom.

  During this period, not all the actions taken by the West were without some degree of provocation. The controversial Food Project Program, a joint Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-State Department operation, was viewed by the Soviets as being a direct threat to stability in East Germany. Initiated on the heals of the unsuccessful June 1953 uprising, Eleanor Lansing Dulles relates that:

  The thought was, somehow, to make a gesture to demonstrate our concern for those whose homes and jobs were in the Soviet zone.

  Fifteen million dollars were allocated for this general purpose in July. The method adopted was to give our food packages to all who came to get them. To permit immediate action the supplies were borrowed from the stockpile already in Berlin, later replaced by shipments from America. The people who streamed into the city during the next weeks were making a gesture of solidarity with the West. They came in many cases from afar. Their expenses often exceeded the value of the gift.

  The Communists, faced with this act of defiance, hestitated to impose obstacles for those seeking food, but they finally decided to harass, and even arrest, many of those traveling to Berlin. It was decided to halt the program to lessen the danger to the residents of the Zone. The funds remaining were spent in other ways for their benefit. Some of the subsequent programs were classified.(6)

The Soviet delegation arrives for a session of the Four-Power Conference of Foreign Ministers, 1 February 1954. Foreign Minister Molotov, at far right, leads the way followed by Jacob Malik and Andrei Gromyko.

The Soviet delegation arrives for a session of the Four-Power Conference of Foreign Ministers, 1 February 1954. Foreign Minister Molotov, at far right, leads the way followed by Jacob Malik and Andrei Gromyko.

  Being the only hole in the iron curtain, Berlin became "the listening post of the west." The refugee stream was a constant source of valuable information for Western intelligence attempting to piece together what was going on in Eastern Europe. It was also a lucrative recruiting ground for some willing to return before their absence was noticed in exchange for financial assistance immediately and again later when they came back to stay. Or, the information supplied by refugees pinpointed someone still in place willing to furnish information for any of a variety of reasons.

  Possibly the most well publicized intelligence gathering effort was the Berlin tunnel operation. Constructed by the CIA under the East Sector of the city to monitor telephone calls, the operation "produced literally tons of trivia and gossip, but provided little in the way of high-grade secret information that could be used by the agency's intelligence analysts."(7) In the end, the primary value of the tunnel operation ended up being the embarrassment it caused the Soviet Union and its intelligence agency, the Komitet Gossudarstvennoi Bezopasnost (KGB)

  The oft repeated Soviet charges that West Berlin was a "nest of spies" was, however, not unlike the pot describing the color of the kettle. The refugee stream also provided ample cover for trained Communist agents to infiltrate the West German infrastructure. Using hundreds of low-level agents to tie-up Western counter-intelligence, the well-documented high-level agents with detailed "cover" easily made their way to West Germany and gradually attained access to the highest of political, military, and economic levels. The effectiveness of these "moles" is attested by he fact that many were not uncovered until the 1970s and 1980s. One such operation brought down the government of Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1979 when it was discovered that his personal advisor, Gunther Guillaume, was an East German spy.



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