How the Berlin Wall Started - Berlin Crisis 1961 - Cold War DOCUMENTARY

How the Berlin Wall Started - Berlin Crisis 1961 - Cold War DOCUMENTARY

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Fifteen years after Winston Churchill proclaimed  that an Iron Curtain had descended across Eastern   Europe, a crisis would emerge over Berlin, the  city seen by many as the very center of the Cold   War rivalry between East and West. The divided and  contested city would see the rise of not just a   metaphorical curtain but a physical one as well,  dividing the city in two. The 1961 Berlin Crisis   witnessed the pinnacle of the tense atmosphere  which surrounded the still-occupied city, with not   only a physical division but an infamous standoff  at Checkpoint Charlie as the world stood on the   brink. This crisis would see the construction of  a barrier which would come to define the Cold War   itself, the Berlin Wall. I'm your host David,  and today we are going to look at the details  

surrounding the leadup, stalemate, and aftermath  of the 1961 Berlin Crisis. This is…the Cold War. We live in a busy world, always on the  go, always something to do but I always   make sure to make learning a key part of  my day and what better way to do that than   the sponsor of today’s video, a rising  star in the streaming world, MagellanTV!   MagellanTV is the highest rated documentary  streaming app on Google Play and it offers   the Best value of any Premium Documentary  streaming service for both its price and   especially its quality. And the reason is that  MagellanTV is all about the drama of real life:   the lives of ancient pharaohs, critical battles  in world wars I and 2, soldiers who fought in   the Civil War, the battles for control of the  British Crown, the Norman conquest. Join us in   watching Broken Arrows: The Lost Bombs of the  Cold War, an episode looking at four different   incidents where a nuclear bomb was lost and how  close the world came to disaster. MagellanTV  

has the largest and best collection of history  shows anywhere! Not only are there no ads ever   but your subscription always includes 4K. Click  the link in the description and join us today! Post-war Germany was the most contentious spot  on the European map throughout the early Cold   War period. Split into four occupation zones, the  occupied country was going through a process of   denazification at the same time as a restructuring  of its industry. However, the fallout from the   increasing tensions between the Western allies and  the Soviet Union, put any plans of unification on   indefinite hold. The 1945 Potsdam Agreement  had failed to find a peace agreement, instead   defining rules for the occupation in expectation  of a future peace treaty that would result in   an independent and unified Germany. In September  1949, the French, British, and American occupation  

zones were unified into the German Federal  Republic, West Germany, under a Western aligned   government with a market capitalist economy.  One month later, the Soviet occupation zone   was proclaimed the German Democratic Republic,  a communist state aligned to the Soviet Union.   The dividing lines were drawn through the middle  of Europe, an iron curtain dividing East and West.   However, deep in the heart of East Germany,  one western exclave remained surrounded.  The city of Berlin sat occupied by the  Four Powers in a similar fashion to the   rest of Germany, but under some more curious  rules than the rest of East or West Germany.   East Germany claimed East Berlin as an integral  part of its territory and its capital, although   to the Western Allies, East Berlin was still  considered an occupied city. West Berlin on the  

other hand, remained officially under the control  of the Western Allies, even after the formation of   West Germany and the end of the Allied occupation.  Crucial for West Berlin were the transit corridors   between West Germany and the city which  allowed for the movement of people and goods.   Although these transit corridors guaranteed  movement, the agreement was between the Western   Allies and the Soviet Union and not the Germans.  Keep that important tidbit in mind as we move on. 

To East Germany, and the Soviets as a whole, West  Berlin posed a strategic and ideological threat   to communism. The city stood as the last bastion  of capitalism, preventing Soviet consolidation of   their Eastern puppets. The Western allies, despite  knowing the city was strategically indefensible,   refused to retreat, understanding its symbolism as  a beacon of democratic resistance in an ocean of   totalitarianism. Initially, the Soviets had hoped  to gain support through the city through the 1946  

Berlin election, still riding high from their  conquest and defeat of the Nazis a year earlier.   However, their favored party suffered  a major defeat in the city elections,   checking any plans for future electoral victories  across Germany. They knew they would fall short   in an open contest. Therefore, their policy  shifted and became one of conciliatory defense;   trying to maintain what they had, and consolidate  their gains. Consolidation however, meant striking   at the shining beacon of capitalism in the East. In 1948, Josef Stalin attempted to force the   west’s retreat from the city by blockading all  access via road. In order to supply the stranded  

people, the Western allies would need to open  the road by military force. However, neither side   truly wanted a war, which could easily prove to  be deadlier than the one which had just finished.   Stalin was hoping that the West, realizing their  only options were to attack, starve, or withdraw,   would choose the latter, handing over West Berlin  without a fight. However, neither this aspiration,   nor the threat of war would come to fruition, as  the US Air Force, the Royal Air Force along with   support from multiple other nations responded  with the Berlin Airlift. This operation saw   millions of tons of aid flown to cold and  hungry Berliners, circumventing the blockade,   and calling the Soviet’s military bluff, as they  were unwilling to shoot down the supply runs. 

Now, the next decade saw a lull in diplomatic  activity regarding the city. Neither side   wished to provoke a diplomatic incident, so they  instead sat across their borders, eying each other   suspiciously. East Berlin in this time became  gradually more integrated into East Germany,   becoming the country’s de facto capital and  seat of government. At the same time the West   also strengthened the political and economic  ties between West Germany and their half of the   occupied city. However, to prevent any commotion,  both sides still kept their halves relatively  

separate from the two Germanys. June of 1953 saw  a small march by construction workers protesting   increased work hours turn into mass demonstrations  across East Germany that lasted up to a week in   some areas. The East German Uprising was quickly  broken up by Soviet armor, as a state of emergency   was declared. The West, not seeking to provoke  a wider emergency did nothing but look on. 

Then, 10 years after the Airlift attempted to  drive the West from the city, a new Premier,   Nikita Khrushchev tried again. Fearing  the handover of West Berlin to the West   German government as well as the growing military  integration of West Germany into NATO including   the deployment of American nuclear weapons to West  German soil, the Soviets issued an ultimatum on   May 18th, 1958, demanding the full withdrawal  of Western occupation forces from the city,   and the creation of a demilitarized  Free City of Berlin in its place.   If the Western Allies did not withdraw, Khrushchev  threatened to hand over control of the transit   corridors between the FRG and West Berlin to  the more belligerent East German government. The   implication was of a possible return to the 1948  blockade which the West preferred to avoid, even   if there were tentative logistical plans in place.  But, with no agreement reached by the following   year, Khrushchev would withdraw the ultimatum,  agreeing instead to negotiation. In a meeting  

between Nikitina and US President Eisenhower  in 1959, the President made sure to emphasize   the United States’ commitment to the city, but  admitted that the US didn’t wish to see their   occupation force remain in the city indefinitely.  In the end, no agreement was reached,   but both sides left feeling that future talks were  possible. However, the nature of the Cold War,   and its continuous political incidents, soon put  a stop to any idea of a honeymoon over the city.  In June of 1961, a summit of the former  allied powers was held in neutral Vienna.  

Here, Khrushchev pressed the issue of a  treaty to reunite Germany as a neutral state,   but largely under Communist influence. When that  failed to produce any result, he then stated his   intention to sign a separate peace treaty with  the East German government, which he then felt,   would be justified in claiming the whole of Berlin  as its rightful territory, and all access to the   city would be theirs to independently control,  including the vital land and air corridors.   France, the United Kingdom, and the US,  obviously pushed back, but while doing this,   President John F Kennedy made the accidental  concession of US acceptance to a permanently   divided Berlin. Whereas the future of the city had  previously been held in contest, this negotiation   subsequently justified the Soviet mindset that  their occupied portion was indefinitely theirs,   and not part of a larger united Berlin whose  future needed to be settled. Given the mounting  

issues that the divided city was causing, to at  least diplomatically integrate the eastern half   with the rest of East Germany was seen as the  best way to isolate the Western half further.  At the time, many Western analysts filled their  days attempting to figure out Khrushchev’s motives   for his policy on Berlin, and to be fair we are  left doing the same thing in the present. Due to   the limited access and sometimes non-existence  of declassified records from this time,   we are left an incomplete picture. Despite this,  speculation abounds. A British memorandum from   the Foreign Office from 1961 believed that it  was the satellite state system that was forcing   Khrushchev to press his hand, given that the West  Berlin “escape hatch” was seen to be perpetually   destabilizing East Germany, and thus weakening the  Soviet hold over its most westward puppet state.   To further complicate the situation, the  memorandum goes on to theorize that, “Quite apart   from the intrinsic Russian interest in stabilizing  East Germany, Khrushchev is under direct pressure   from Ulbricht and Gomulka to achieve this. He may  also be under pressure from the other satellites.   The stabilization of the East-German regime may  well be regarded in the Communist world as one   of the most important tests of the success of  Khrushchev’s policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’.” 

Others have speculated that Khrushchev’s  brinksmanship approach to foreign affairs stemmed   from his upbringing, where force and strength  were seen as the best way to achieve goals.   This may seem like a rather harsh assessment of  Khrushchev’s methodology but the popularity of   this theory may stem from people looking down  on Khrushchev after his ouster from power as   a peasant who had risen above his station. The  Soviet Union may have declared itself a classless   society, but as it matured, divisions reappeared. But, back to 1961. While both sides waited to see   how the other would move, the summer  months became filled with an uneasy   tension. Although the prospect of nuclear  war today should be considered unthinkable,   the fear of it was very real in 1961. In fact, the  US Deputy National Security Advisor, Carl Kaysen,   even put together a study on the feasibility of  a limited first-strike nuclear attack, different   from the standard War Plan, the Single Integrated  Operational Plan or SIOP, which called for an   all-out strike against every target possible.  Even though use of both the Kaysen Plan and the  

SIOP were floated past president Kennedy, both  were rejected on the grounds of mass casualties,   false alarms, and limited reconnaissance. On August 12th 1961 a decision was made. Walter   Ulbricht, the mayor of East Berlin, signed the  order to erect a wall along the dividing line   of the city's occupation zones and further  to surround West Berlin behind closed doors.   One of the main drivers of this decision was the  major refugee crisis which had been happening in   the city for over a decade. As the western half of  Berlin recovered from the war, the East was left   in comparative ruin and the economic disparity  between the two halves of the city was growing.   Citizens in East Berlin, including young  people, were free to move west as they pleased.  

An important note here is that free movement to  the Western portion of the city was restricted to   residents of East Berlin, which made the city into  a magnet for other East Germans to try and get to.   The result was enormous population movements,  as East Germans tried to get to East Berlin and   East Berliners fled to the West. It is estimated  that somewhere between 2 and a half to 4 million   refugees had through the city by 1961, devastating  East German industry and agriculture, not to   mention political stability. The diplomatic crisis  that had started in 1958 over the status of Berlin   had also seen the flood of refugees build into a  torrent as people fled before something happened. 

The days following August 12 saw a great mass  of East German troops move into the city,   sealing off the arteries of travel.  Railways were dug up, roads demolished,   and barriers topped with barbed wire were erected  to not only divide Berlin inside the city,   but completely surround the Western portion.  With access to the city once again in jeopardy,   and three Soviet army divisions placed adjacent  to the access points, President Kennedy would   make a show of force by calling up almost 150,000  reservists and national guardsmen to active duty   by the end of August. Although it appears  that neither side truly wanted, or possibly   even believed in a war at this point, the nature  of the Cold War demanded militaristic posturing.  The wall itself rose rapidly, with barbed wire  being replaced by concrete walls or hollow blocks.  

Many people who lived on the border itself were  evicted, and their units literally become part of   the rising wall. In these buildings, ground floor  windows were bricked up, and entrances sealed off.   At all times of day, the area was patrolled by  the police, military, and even local worker’s   militias. Public transit was halted, and people  on both sides were separated from their work,   friends, and family. Some tried to cross anyways,  escaping west. These moments of desperation often  

ended in death for those that tried. On the 24th  of August 1961, 11 days after the border closed,   Günter Litfin became the first casualty of the  border police, as he was shot while trying to   swim across the Nordhafen river from East to West  Berlin. Litfin was the first of over 140 people   killed trying to escape over the Wall to the West. In the construction of the wall itself,   the Soviet counterparts held nothing back. More  than just a concrete barrier along the border,  

the East German government built a series of  defenses into their border itself to stop any   potential defector. The area was filled with soft  sand to show escapees' footprints, tank traps and   ditches were positioned to prevent any vehicular  escapes. A barbed wire fence ran along the wall,   which would trigger an alarm if someone tried to  climb it. These alarms were linked to watchtowers  

which lined the middle section of the wall, and  they held an unobstructed view of the whole area.   Those that did try to escape, would be shot dead  from above before they could reach the other side.  The West, for their part, had no response. The  barriers were set up in acknowledged East German  

territory, the supply lines for West Berlin remain  intact, and militarily, there was little to no   threat of war. The Berlin Wall was a domestic  matter and didn’t violate any of the standing   treaty agreements in place. Thus, the West was  all but limited to verbal protest. This lack of   response quite possibly emboldened the Soviets,  solidifying their position by building the wall.   Whether a stronger response would’ve seen the  halting of construction is debatable, but truth be   told it is unlikely to have made any difference.  However, the Wall also dealt the Soviets a serious   PR blow. While the West came off as incapable of  stopping the situation, many saw the wall as the   USSR finally being forced to admit that their  occupation of East Germany and its system were   vastly unpopular, especially when compared to  the West. Despite this, construction continued. 

After construction, Soviet and East German border  security continuously harassed military personnel   and diplomats of the allied occupation forces  moving through borders of the divided city.   By the terms of the occupation which were still  in place, Occupation personnel who were clearly   identified were free to cross the border from  West to East and back again. Many Allied soldiers   took advantage of this, travelling to East Berlin  for cultural and tourist events. On October 22nd,  

the US Chief of Mission in West Berlin, E.  Allan Lightner, Jr. was stopped in his car while   crossing at Checkpoint Charlie in the American  Sector. Since his car had occupation force license   plates, this stop violated the 1945 Potsdam  Agreements, and the US General, Lucius Clay,   decided he had had enough. The following day,  General Clay sent a diplomat through Checkpoint   Charlie as bait, and when the car was stopped,  US Military Police moved forward to escort him   across the border, before returning to West  Berlin, as the East German guards stood aside.  

Over the next three days, both sides saw  a major increase in military presence,   each looking to test each other’s resolve.  Each time, the Soviets would stop the car,   and each time, American forces would escort the  vehicle across, before returning into West Berlin.  This type of fucking around however can only go  so long before somebody finds out. On October 27,  

in a rather serious turn of events, Soviet forces  deployed 10 tanks to Checkpoint Charlie. This was   actually a response to the tank that US forces  had deployed as part of their escort efforts.   Both sides now stood solid and unmoving, with  tanks deployed little more than 100 meters apart   from each other. With both sides now standing  on the brink of a major international incident,   pictures of the stand-off made worldwide  headlines, foretelling of an inevitable   war to come. However, as we all know, nuclear  annihilation was not on the table for either  

the Soviets or the United States, and so with  quick negotiations, both sides withdrew from   their mutually assured destruction. Khrushchev let  his last demand for an Allied withdrawal from the   city expire and the crisis came to an end. While West Berlin continued to be firmly in   the sphere of influence of the West, the status  of East Berlin was now at least tacitly secure,   with East German citizens no longer able to flee  and Soviet control recognized and unchallenged.   Although this would be the final major  incident over the city of Berlin itself,   it certainly wouldn’t be the last time where the  world’s superpowers stood on the brink of war.   And as the doomsday clock counted  down the minutes to midnight,   the following year would see the closest  humanity ever got to the end of the world,   in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But  that is a story for another time. 

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2023-02-15 01:57

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