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The Path to the Berlin Wall: Critical Stages in the History of Divided Germany

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The Path to the Berlin Wall

Critical Stages in the History of Divided Germany

Manfred Wilke
Translated from the German by Sophie Perl

386 pages, 2 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-288-1 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (April 2014)

eISBN 978-1-78238-289-8 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“...constitutes a superlative model of combining biography with the study of nationalism. The latter constitutes the most novel contribution of this well-researched, straightforward historical depiction of Kohl’s ideology and its impact upon the continuing development of German national identity... Recommended” · Choice


The long path to the Berlin Wall began in 1945, when Josef Stalin instructed the Communist Party to take power in the Soviet occupation zone while the three Western allies secured their areas of influence. When Germany was split into separate states in 1949, Berlin remained divided into four sectors, with West Berlin surrounded by the GDR but lingering as a captivating showcase for Western values and goods. Following a failed Soviet attempt to expel the allies from West Berlin with a blockade in 1948–49, a second crisis ensued from 1958–61, during which the Soviet Union demanded once and for all the withdrawal of the Western powers and the transition of West Berlin to a “Free City.” Ultimately Nikita Khrushchev decided to close the border in hopes of halting the overwhelming exodus of East Germans into the West.

Tracing this path from a German perspective, Manfred Wilke draws on recently published conversations between Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht, head of the East German state, in order to reconstruct the coordination process between these two leaders and the events that led to building the Berlin Wall.

Born in 1941 in Kassel, Germany, Manfred Wilke received his PhD in economic and social sciences from the University of Bremen in 1976 and his post-doctoral degree in sociology from Freie Universität Berlin in 1981. From 1985–2006, he was Professor of Sociology at the Berlin School of Economics, during which he participated in both Enquête Commissions of the German Bundestag on the history of the SED dictatorship. He also served as Research Director of the Research Association on the SED State at Freie Universität Berlin from 1992–2006.

Subject: History: 20th Century to Present
Area: Germany


List of Abbreviations
Map of Germany, 1949–89
Map of Berlin, 1949–89



Chapter 1. The Allied War Conferences and Europe’s Postwar Order

  • The United States of America and the Anti-Hitler Coalition’s Goals for Peace: The Atlantic Charter of 1941
  • The Soviet Precedent in 1944 Poland and Churchill’s Warning about the Iron Curtain in 1945
  • Yalta: Controlling Germany without Dismembering It
  • Germany’s Forced Reorientation
    • Liberation and Occupation Rule
    • The Question of Guilt
    • Emerging from Catastrophe: Konrad Adenauer, Kurt Schumacher, and Walter Ulbricht
  • Potsdam 1945

Chapter 2. New Borders for Germany

  • Poland’s Borders and the Separation of Austria and the Eastern Provinces
  • The Demarcation Lines of the Occupation Zones
  • Reparations Borders
  • Berlin: The Four-Sector City
  • Interzonal Trade: An Economic Safety Pin Holding Together the Divided Country
  • The Interzonal Pass: First Efforts to Control Travel to and from the East
  • The Inter-German Emigration Movement, 1945–1989/90

Chapter 3. Two German States

  • Conflicts over the German Party System and the Democratic Elections of 1946
  • The Establishment of Communist Party Rule in the Soviet Zone
    • Moscow Plans, 1944
    • The Soviet Military Administration and the Establishment of a Communist Party Dictatorship
    • The German Economic Commission: Preparations to Found the New State
    • The “Party of Power”: Party Cleansing and the Stalinization of the SED
    • The Founding of the GDR
  • The Federal Republic of Germany: The West German State
    • Preliminary Decisions at the Conference of Foreign Ministers, Paris, 1946
    • The Bizone: A Decision to Rebuild Germany
  • Fundamental Decisions for the West German State
    • Currency Reform and the Social Market Economy
    • A Constituent Assembly for West Germany
    • The Marshall Plan
    • The European Coal and Steel Community
    • The Founding of the Federal Republic and the German Basic Law

Chapter 4. Western Integration and the Establishment of Socialism: Competing Systems in a Divided Germany

  • The Federal Republic: Western Integration and the Reclamation of German Sovereignty
  • The Federal Republic’s Alignment to the West and Stalin’s Peace Note of 1952
  • The GDR in 1952: “Building the Foundations of Socialism”
    • Cementing the Zonal Border and Sealing Off West Berlin from Its Surrounding Area
    • Building Socialism in the GDR and Relations to the Federal Republic

Chapter 6. The End of the Postwar Period: The Geneva Summit and the Transition to “Peaceful Coexistence” in Germany

  • The Geneva Summit of 1955
  • The Beginning of Diplomatic Relations between the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union, and the “Hallstein Doctrine”
  • Peaceful Coexistence in a Divided Germany: The Two-State Doctrine, Plans for a Confederation, and the Rapacki Plan
  • Sputnik and the End of America’s “Massive Retaliation” Strategy
  • Nuclear Missiles for the Bundeswehr?
  • The Founding of the European Economic Community


Chapter 6. The First Berlin Crisis, 1948–49

  • Berlin’s Historical Significance for the Division of Germany
  • Pivotal Conflicts over Berlin’s Political Order after the End of the War
  • Berlin as a Soviet Lever to Shift the Zones of Influence in Germany
  • The Conflict over Berlin’s Currency Reform, the Blockade, and the Airlift
  • The Division of the City
  • The Ring around Berlin: A New Border
  • Crisis Management as Super-Power Diplomacy

Chapter 7. Stalin’s Death and the First Existential Crisis of the GDR: 17 June 1953

  • A “New Course” for the SED
  • The SED State’s Crisis of Legitimacy: 17 June 1953
  • The Soviet Union Guarantees the Existence of the SED State
  • Western Initiatives toward New Negotiations on Germany
  • Recognition and Stabilization of the GDR

Chapter 8. A Prelude to the Second Berlin Crisis: The SED Party Congress

  • The Fifth Party Congress of the SED, 1958
  • The Question of a Peace Treaty with Germany
  • Khrushchev Demands a Peace Agreement and a Solution to the “Westberlin Problem”
  • SED Propaganda and the West Berlin Elections of 1958

Chapter 9. The Soviet Union’s 1958 Berlin Ultimatum

  • A Bolt of Lightning: Khrushchev’s Speech on 10 November 1958
  • Khrushchev’s Motives
  • The Berlin Ultimatum
  • Multiple Reactions from the West

Chapter 10. Negotiations over a Peace Treaty and the “Free City of Westberlin”

  • Moscow Drafts
  • Ulbricht’s Plans: Full Sovereignty and a Solution to the “Westberlin Problem”
    • The Transfer of Soviet Rights in Berlin to the Government of the GDR
    • The “Free City of Westberlin”: The Statute by the SED
  • The Geneva Conference of Foreign Ministers, 1959

Chapter 11. The Second Berlin Crisis and a Shift in the Cold War

  • The International Character of the Second Berlin Crisis
  • The Soviet–Chinese Schism and the Position of the SED
  • Khrushchev’s Trip to the United States in 1959
  • The Summit that Khrushchev Cut Short: Paris 1960

Chapter 12. Crisis in the GDR, Changes to the Border Regime, and Interzonal Trade

  • A Supply Crisis and the Exodus Movement from the GDR
  • Border Controls and Special Permits to Enter East Berlin
  • The Conflict over Interzonal Trade
  • Negotiations on Interzonal Trade

Chapter 13. Ulbricht: Resolve the “Westberlin Question” Now!

  • The Status Quo in Berlin before Khrushchev’s Summit with President Kennedy
  • Ulbricht Pushes for a Solution to the “Westberlin Question,” 1961
  • Khrushchev’s Timeframe in March 1961

Chapter 14. The Vienna Summit, 1961: The Second Soviet Ultimatum

  • Moscow’s Expectations before the Summit
  • Kennedy: Balancing Détente and an Assertion of the Western Positions
  • Confrontation at the Summit: Khrushchev’s “Vienna Ultimatum”
  • The Outcome: A Policy of Force
  • The SED’s Reaction to Khrushchev’s “Vienna Ultimatum”

Chapter 15. The Decision to Close the Sector Border in Berlin

  • “No One Has the Intention of Building a Wall”
  • Ulbricht Demands Closing the Sector Border in Berlin
  • Secrecy and Conspiratorial Communication
  • Kennedy’s Three Essentials and Khrushchev’s Response

Chapter 16. The Construction of the Berlin Wall, 1961: Germany’s Division Gains a Symbol

  • “They Will Feel Your Power!”: Khrushchev and Ulbricht on the Wall’s Construction
  • West Germany Is Superior: The GDR’s Economic Crisis
  • Legitimizing the Border Closure through the Warsaw Pact
  • The Operation to Close the Border: Planning and Troop Deployment
  • 13 August 1961: The Division of Berlin
    • The SED Mobilizes its Party against “Desertion of the Republic”
    • The Decision by the Council of Ministers on 12 August
    • Barbed Wire through Berlin
    • Regulations at the Border
    • The Border Regime: The Wall and the Command to Shoot


Chapter 17. Negotiations, but No War!

  • 13 August and the Berlin Crisis: Berlin–Bonn–Washington
  • Khrushchev and the German Question after the Construction of the Wall
  • Conflicting Positions among the Western Powers, and Kennedy’s Decision to Negotiate

Chapter 18. A Wall in Berlin but No Peace Treaty with the GDR

  • The Retraction of Khrushchev’s Ultimatum
  • Military Exercises for an Unwanted War over Berlin
  • Ulbricht Demands a Peace Treaty
  • The Confrontation of Tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in October 1961
  • Khrushchev Approves Strengthening the Border
  • Exploratory Discussions on a Berlin Settlement
  • Khrushchev’s Change of Course: Negotiations, but No Agreement

Chapter 19. Repercussions for Germany and a Shift in Trouble Spots

  • Ulbricht and the New Situation
  • Adenauer’s Conflict with Kennedy over the Transit Routes to West Berlin
  • Germany Policy, or the Importance of Holding On
  • From the Berlin Crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis

Conclusion: Who Was Responsible for the Berlin Wall?

List of Persons
About the Author

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