The Berlin Wall
Reasons for building the Berlin Wall
- While living standards in the East were tolerable, the Western sector of Berlin enjoyed glamourous buildings with open lifestyles and political freedom. The West had deliberately poured money into West Berlin to put capitalism on full display. Berlin became a ideal escape route.
- Between 1949 and 1961 1.6 million people left through Berlin. Most were young skilled workers. The SED had accused the West of deliberately wooing skilled workers, in reality it was likely that the move was driven by poor food provisions contrasting with the Western economic miracle.
- The drain of people was economically and psychologically damaging
- West Berlin had become a perfect area for espinoage.
- 'Embarrasing Island of Capitalism'.
- Western citizens would buy items from the Eastern zone as they were subsidised by the state.
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The Berlin Crisis 1958-61
- Nov 1958 - Krushchev issued an ultimatium. The Western powers had six months to withdraw from Berlin so it could be free and demiliterised, or the Soviets would give its sector of Berlin to the GDR, which included control of communications to the Western sector. This would mean the Western powers couldnt have access to West Berlin without permission from the GDR, which would mean they would have to recognise them.
- The Ultimatium was rejected.
- In 1959 the ultimatium was withdrawn, but the Western powers were persuaded to look at the issue again at the meeting in Geneva. Although no important agreements were reached, it demonstrated a desire to comprimise and Krushcev visited the US in 1959.
- A follow up meeting in Paris 1960 was called off as a US spy plane was shot down over the USSR.
- Ulbricht stepped up propoganda in the GDR, and even more people left the GDR in a last minute panic. In 1959 144,000 people fled the country. 48.2 % of emigrants were under the age of 25.
- Ulbricht was convinced that the only way to stop the exodus was to use force, but the USSR was not keen to do this as it would violate the Four Power agreement which specified free travel. Krushcev hoped that Kennedy would be easy to manipulate.
- Kennedy met Krushcev at the Vienna summit of 1961 and renewed his ultimatium. This was rejected and Kruschev gave Ulbricht permission to build a wall.
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The consequences of building the wall
- West were unsure how to act.
- Both wanted stability in central Europe.
- Kruschev did not allow the GDR to control access to Western Berlin and told Ulbricht to avoid any action that would increase the tension.
- In the summer of 1962 Kennedy recalled the military reinforcements, and was accompanied by his 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech.
- In Ulbricht's mind, he had not got everything it wanted, but it was important that the USSR had not sold out to the West.
- The closed border meant that he could consolidate SED rule in the GDR.
- The SED justified the wall as a measure against 'Western Imperialism'.
- Initial chaos was enormous as families were divided and Berliners were unable to visit their jobs. However, they each learned to reorientate themselves in their own sectors.
- FRG offered ' Zittergeld' to families and individuals willing to stay in the capital, however, in the 1970s, almost 1/4 of West Berliners were over the age of 65.
- West Berlin was given generous grants and low buisness taxation.
- On the other side of the wall, the Stasi rounded up non-conformist Youth and kept a tight watch on 'decadent' behaviour
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The consequences of building the wall 2
- Christmas 1963 - West Berliners were able to visit the Eastern part of the city for a day. These permits were available for three weeks only.
- September 1964 - Pensioners from the GDR were allowed to visit relatives in the FRG and West Berlin.
- Jan 1971 - Communications by telephone were restored.
- Four Power Agreement 1971 allowed for new travelling rights, the Western Berliners were able to travel for the East for 30 days a year
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Wall Escapes and Victims
- Over 100 people were shot trying to escape over the wall
- 3,200 were caught and arrested
- 5,000 people succeeded in escaping
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The influence of the USSR and Warsaw Pact
- GDR's relations were characterised by two massive constraints: It was firmly planted within the Soviet bloc and owed its presence to the ambitions of the USSR (It was almost impossible for Ulbricht to act without the backing of 'mother Russia' - highlighted in the 1953 Uprisings and the Berlin Wall in 1961)
- The other contraint was the attitude to the West and the FRG - The Hallstein Doctrine 1955. The West claimed to speak for East Germans, in the absence of democratic right for the East Germans to voice their own opinions.
- GDR found itself a victim of the Cold War between the USSR and the West. The FRG turned its back on the GDR, preferring Western intergration over Reunification. The GDR struggled to preserve its own national identity.
- The GDR looked Eastwards out of necessity, an early move was to recognise its frontier with Poland in the Goerlitz treaty of 1950.
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The Warsaw Pact
- West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955 and confirmed the USSR's fear and dangers of the return of an armed Germany on its borders. Consequently, the USSR created the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The USSR was forced to recognise the GDR so it could participate.
- Treaty provided for friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance. Each state promised to provide mutual defence, but also made a pledge not to interfere in internal affairs and to respect national sovereignity and political independance.
- GDR could have its own army the NVA was set up in 1956. 95% of the NVA were SED members in the late 1960s.
- Conscription was introduced in 1962 and desrcibed itself as the 'instrumement of power of the working class'. It claimed to protect peace and secure the acheivements of socialism.
- However, was heavily funded by the USSR and was kept in a state of readiness in retaliation to any action from NATO.
- In the late 1950s the GDR was still in an isolated position.
- The GDR welcomed the Berlin Crisis of 1958-61, as Western Berlin had proved to be an affront to their national identity.
- After the failure of the Ultimatium, Ulbricht tried to encourage the USSR to act by sending an official delegation to Peking at a time where Russian relations with China were deteroriating in 1961.
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