The Cold War: Berlin (1945-89)


Figure 1.--The American committed to Berlin was tested by the Stalin (1948). The result was the Berlin Air Lift. Although that was only the beginning of the Cold war, it essentially determined the outcome of the struggle. Not only Berliners, but Germans as a whole stopped thinking of the Americans as a conquering enemy who had blasted their cities to bits, but as a steadfast ally in the fight against totalitarian Communism. The Cold War would go on several decades as Berliners and Americans got to know each other. Here Col. P.L. Leone, Deputy Commander of U.S. Troops in Berlin, congratulates Kurt Wancke, age 14, on June 20, 1950. Kurt had just won the second annual Berlin Soap Box Derby in the American Sector. We would guess that Kurt was among the recpients of the Chocolate Bomber during the Airlift.

Berlin would prove to be ground zero in the Cold War. The Red Army had stormed Berlin in one of the most costly battles in history (April 1945). The city had already been leveled by the Allied strategic bombing campaign. And the battle for the city destroyed much of the rest that was still standing. General Eisenhower directed advancing Allied armies away from Berlin knowing that it would be in the Soviet zone. The Allied occupation zones had already been determined at Yalta. The Yalta Agreement provided, however, for a four power administration of Berlin, despite the fact that it was deep in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. Such an arrangement would only work among Allies. And it soon became clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were not Allies. The Soviet Behavior in the Komandatura made it impossible to administer the city as whole. The Americans, British, and French coordinated their efforts and the Soviets began running their section separately. Berlin was the one place in the wortld that American and Soviet tanks were muzzel to muzzel. There was, however, no way that the small Allied garrison in Berlin could withstand a Soviet attack. Only the American commitment to Berlin protected the city. That committed was finally tested by the Stalin (1948). The result was the Berlin Air Lift. Although that was only the beginning of the Cold war, it essentially determined the outcome of the struggle. Not only Berlines, but Germans as a whole stopped thinking of the Americans as a conquering enemy who had blasted their cities to bits , but as a steadfast ally in the fight against totalitarian Communism. And somehow Stalin managed to transform Berlin from the symbol of NAZI tyranny to a flickeung symbol of freedom in the middle of the Soviet Empire. Another major step in the Cold War was the Berlin Wall. This was the admission by the East Germans and Soviets that Communism could not compete with free market capitalism. It was also a \massive symbol of Soviet tyranny in steel, concrete, and barbedwire which no amount of propaganda could erase from the European conciousness. Just as the Cold War began in Berlin, the fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic conclusion of the struggle.

Battle for Berlin (April 1945)

Berlin would prove to be ground zero in the Cold War. The Red Army had stormed Berlin in one of the most costly battles in history (April 1945). The city had already been leveled by the Allied strategic bombing campaign. And the battle for the city destroyed much of the rest that was still standing. General Eisenhower directed advancing Allied armies away from Berlin knowing that it would be in the Soviet zone. The Allied occupation zones had already been determined at Yalta.

Four Power Administration

The Yalta Agreement provided, however, for a four power administration of Berlin, despite the fact that it was deep in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. Such an arrangement would only work among Allies. And it soon became clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were not Allies. The Soviet Behavior in the Komandatura made it impossible to administer the city as whole. The Americans, British, and French coordinated their efforts and the Soviets began running their section separately. Berlin was the one place in the wortld that American and Soviet tanks were muzzel to muzzel. There was, however, no way that the small Allied garrison in Berlin could withstand a Soviet attack. Only the American commitment to Berlin protected the city.

Berlin Air Lift (1948-49)

Stalin finally decided to test the American commitmebt to Berlin (1948). The result was the Berlin Air Lift. It looked like the Western llies would be forced out. President Truman decided to rely on an airlift. Although that was only the beginning of the Cold war, it essentially determined the outcome of the struggle. Not only Berliners, but Germans as a whole stopped thinking of the Americans as a conquering enemy who had blasted their cities to bits , but as a steadfast ally in the fight against totalitarian Communism. And somehow Stalin managed to transform Berlin from the symbol of NAZI tyranny to a flickeung symbol of freedom in the middle of the Soviet Empire.

Berlin (1950s)

Berlin throughout the Cold War continued to be a very dangerous place. The first Eastern European revolt against the Soviets occurred when the East Berlin workers rose up. It was there Soviet and American tanks faced each other. It was notable hotbed for spies. The most famous example was a tunnel American and British agents dug into East Berlin to tap the telephone trunk line to Moscow. Apparently the Soviets knew about it because they had penetrated MI-6. [Stafford] Berlin was also an increasing embarassment for the Soviets as the economic affluemnce of the West became increasingly conspicious in comparion to the poor conditions in the East. This was an especially significant problem for the East German Communist Party because East Germans aware of the growing affluence in West Germany. With a common language and living within range of West German TV and radio, every commercial for consumer goods was a cutting piece of unintended propagabnda. In addition, the ease of crossing into West Berlin was adversely impacting the East German economy. The East Germans increased pleas on the Soviets for action on this matter.

Berlin Wall (1961)

Another major step in the Cold War was the Berlin Wall. This was the admission by the East Germans and Soviets that Communism could not compete with free market capitalism. It was also a \massive symbol of Soviet tyranny in steel, concrete, and barbedwire which no amount of propaganda could erase from the European conciousness. The most visible aspect of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall - the Wall the Communists built between East and West Germany. Until 1961, East Berliners and other East Germans could take a subway car to flee to West Berlin and on to West Germany. The number of East Germans fleeing to the West was an embarrassment to the Communists who after all claimed to be creating workers' paradises. The glaring differences between the vibrant economic life of Berlin and the gray, drudgery of a Communist People's Republic was particularly apparent. The number of trained professionals in particular threatened the economy of East Germany. The Wall changed this. It did stop the flow of people West, although heart rending sights of small numbers of people braving the increasingly lethal dangers of the Wall moved West Germans. President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1962 to demonstrate American resolve in this vulnerable outpost of freedom. He told Berliners. "There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin. Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us." The Wall effectively separated Germans for nearly 30 years. Once completed only small numbers succeeded in crossing it. Many died in the process.

Cold War Symbol (1960s-80s)

When the Berlin Wall went up, rising political leaders in the developing world saw Soviet Communism as the future. Men like Fiedel Castro committed to the Soviets. Many other committed to Soviet policies. The alure of raod development attracted many. But so did the idea of dictatorship and permanent control of power. Largely unseen at the time was the degree to which West Berlin was developing avibrant free economy as was West Germany while East Berlin and East Germany were growing economic failures. Actually East Germany was the most successful part od the Soviet Empire. But it pailed in camparison to the German economic Miracle. In fairness, the West Germans supported West Berlin, but West Germany was a huge economic success. And only the Wall which year by year the East Germnans made increasingly deadly, prevented large numbers of East Germans from defecting to the West. And the bright lights of a vibrant free city was in sharp conterast to grey, crumbing East Berlin. This was apparent to both Berliners and Germans. Outside of Germany opinions varied in Europe. There was very substantial support for socialist thought and even admiration of the Soviets. Few understood the very significant economic problems developing in the Soviet Union. Or for that matter the economic problems that Socialism was laying for the European future. Gradually the focus of the Cold War shifted away from Berlin. But no where else was the character of Soviet opression and the failure of Communism so apparent. Willie Brandt's Ost-Politik attempted to deal with the East Germans, but did nothing to change the character of the East German regime or situation in Berlin. Ideology convinced many. A secrets could be cocealed in the Gulag. But the Wall could not be hidden and Soviet propaganda could never explain it.

Fall of Communism (1989)

Just as the Cold War began in Berlin, the fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic conclusion of the struggle. Following the success of Solidarity in Poland, the people of East Berlin began to demonstrate against the Easter German DDR Government. Large scale demonstrations became increasingly common. DDR officials prepared to use the security services to supress the street demonstrations. Chairman Gorbechev ibn a departure from his predecessors refused to approve such measures. Unable to forcibly supress the demonstrations, DDR officials wre forced to resign. The Berlin Wall was finally breached on November 9, 1989. The SED government announced that travel restrictions for East Germans had been lifted. That night the people of East Berlin surged into the western part of the city. Hundreds of thousands of Berliners celebrated throughout the night. Even more East Berliners crossed the next day. Soon Berliners with hammers and chissels and slefge hammars began demolishing the hated wall by hand.






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Created: 11:21 PM 3/16/2011
Last updated: 11:09 AM 3/10/2013