After WWII, Germany was left in shambles and was split between the main powers. Its weak state lead to much controversy over how it should be run, making it one of the main locations of dispute. Berlin in particular was a place of much bloodshed. Such events such as the Battle for Berlin in 1945, the soviet blockade and western airlift of 1948-49, Berlin riots of 1953, the second Berlin crisis of 1958, and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, were crucial to the state to which Berlin is today. This presentation will be discussing these events and the overall effect that they had on the city.
According to a September 1944 agreement between the War allies, Germany as a whole and Berlin itself would be split for joined bodies of control. With this, tensions would increase and as power became more desired, Berlin would pay the price. A relevant part of the destruction occurred at very end of the war during the "battle for Berlin," the Soviet Army catalyzed a “Battle for Berlin” on 16 April 1945 which gained more than half of Berlin’s living space and about 60 percent of their workplaces until the surrender of the city to the Soviets on 2 May. (Merriman)The battle cost tens of thousands of Soviet and German lives, both soldiers and civilians, and was accompanied and followed by contrasting and irreconcilable experiences. The Soviets, in their zone of occupation, imposed the unification of the two refounded working-class parties, the Social Democrats and the Communists, Hitler had unrealistic expectations of the soviet force, believing that Heinrich could blunt any Soviet onslaught. Hitler thought that this would disrupt or delay the Allies’ drive into Germany and give him the time to reorganize his forces. Three days after Roosevelt’s death, the Red Army opened the assault on Berlin from positions along the Oder. The advance opened in massive strength—140 divisions, about 6,300 tanks, and 8,500 aircraft were pitched against just 37 under-strength and poorly equipped German divisions with little air support and dwindling stocks of ammunition (Winter 1). The Soviet forces were split between three fronts. In the north lay Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front, which was to strike through northern Germany to link up with British forces along the Elbe. The primary attacker was Zhukov from soviet side. There were failed attempts at invasion by Zhukov on April 16th, however, April 19 proved to be the decisive day on the Oder. Zhukov’s troops finally cut through the German front at several points and established positions just 25 miles (40 km) from the center of Berlin. Hitler was forced into hiding in the Führerbunker , to which he was waiting the war out hoping for a turn around where he could strike back. It was a subdued event that marked the final meeting of the Nazi hierarchy. Among those present were Bormann, Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, Speer, and Ribbentrop. Hitler had refused to leave the bunker and said that he would stay in the city till the end, although he did allow his other men to leave if they so chose. He found it a disgrace to leave and said “How am I to call on the troops to undertake the battle for Berlin if at the same moment I withdraw myself to safety?”
Hitler took charge of the Berlin garrison, a mere 90,000 men, many of whom were from the poor-quality, the Volkssturm. While Goebbels attempted to galvanize Berlin’s defense by both exhortation and threat, Hitler laid grandiose and largely impossible plans to relieve the city. The war continued to get worse. By April 28 the battle had entered its final phase. Soviet troops were no more than a few hundred yards from the bunker—its thick concrete walls shaking due to the artillery—and were ready to capture the nearby Reichstag. Goebbels, who was in the Führerbunker shared the same ideas with Hitlers right hand man, Heinrich Himmler, and attempted to surrender Berlin to the Red Army alone. Being placed with the options of unconditional surrender or death, Goebbels chose the latter. With 100 to 150,000 on both sides, the war officially came to an end on May 2nd (Cavendish). Berlin was a place of much psychological value, to which this now transfer of power had much influence on the rest of the war.
The problem of the Berlin Blockade was initiated due to the fact that Berlin was located 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone (Rogers 32). This made it difficult because the agreement had been to separate Berlin into four areas to be controlled by the four powers, yet the Soviets felt entitled to Berlin because it was in their occupation zone. Due to this fact, the Western forces in Berlin could only supply their areas food and energy supplies through roads, rails, and air corridors (Rogers 33). Initially, Stalin attempted to somewhat sever the ties between Berlin and the West by certain minor transport restrictions. However, he finally became fed up after a new currency was instilled into the Western sectors of Berlin. On June 23-24, 1948, he reacted to this event be creating a complete blockade of Berlin (Rogers 33). The Soviet Union went to very extreme measures in this blockade. Of the connections from the West to Berlin, the Soviets blocked the roads, railways, waterways, and even the supply of energy was destroyed (Rogers 33). This was a major point of the Cold War because it was the first time that military involvement could have been a possible consequence. Luckily, the West decided to avoid military conflict by merely supplying the people of Berlin through the air rather than using force to overthrow the Soviet blockade. “During the blockade, American and British planes flew more than 200,000 flights to Berlin in 320 days, and delivered vital supplies of food and coal to 2.2 million West Berliners” (Rogers 33). The conclusion of the Berlin Blockade came in May 1949 when Stalin realized that his blockade was not accomplishing what he had hoped it would and thus he called it off. The Berlin Blockade was a major point in increasing the Cold War tension because it illustrated that the Soviet Union would break agreements made if it felt that it would be of an advantage to them, however it also conveyed the fact that both sides wanted to avoid military confrontation whenever it was possible. Furthermore, one key result of this Berlin Blockade was that it leads to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as NATO (Rogers 34).
Riots that took place during 1953 in Berlin largely influenced Berlin’s participation in terms of battle ground during the Cold War. The first anti-communist revolt against Soviet control occurred on the 16th and 17th of June in 1953. The revolt started out with East Berlin construction workers that protested against low wages and supply problems. These protests spread into East German wide revolts against the Soviet regime. The Soviet reaction to this was troop intervention; they hoped to make an example of the Berliners by crushing these rebellions using tanks. This caused many of the Eastern Berliners to flee to the West, where they would be welcomed by freedom from this Soviet oppression. This contributed to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
The first Berlin Crisis involved the Soviet Blockade and the Western Airlift that followed to keep Berlin alive. The Soviets tried to get Berlin all for themselves through the blockade, but since that failed; in 1958 they issued an ultimatum for the Western Allies to give up their Berlin sectors by demilitarizing them within six months (Merriman 349). Khrushchev announced that he wanted to administrate not only East Berlin but also East Germany and especially the transportation routes to Berlin. He wanted to negotiate a German peace treaty since he still feared that Germany would reunite and attack the Soviet Union with help from the Western Allies (Hanes 70). He had to act fast because his East Berlin population was shrinking quickly because people wanted out and moved away. He needed the West to recognize East Germany as a nation to make sure Germany stayed separate (Hanes 71). Khurshchev thought the West would abide because they wanted to avoid war in Berlin and a nuclear war that could wipe them all out. However, President Eisenhower vowed to stay in Berlin and work for a united Germany while avoiding the use of force. He hoped for diplomatic negotiations with the Soviets but did not ignore the chance for a nuclear war, which he promised never to start himself. Since Khurshchev did not want war either he never followed through with his threats so that negotiations continued when Kennedy was elected president in 1960. Even after this close combat, Khurshchev was not about to give up and started planning the construction of the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin wall was built in order to prevent the unhappy East Berliners from fleeing to the West. The wall began as barbed wire but eventually an 11 foot tall concrete wall was constructed. It became a physical symbol of the Cold War, demonstrating the harsh long lasting effects that these revolts had on the Berlin landscape. Khrushchev agreed to close the East German border in Berlin. On August 13th, 1961, barbed wire was erected between East and West Berlin (Rogers). This was terrifying for the citizens of Berlin because they were no longer able to escape from one side of Berlin to another, meaning that families were often split up. However, there was a greater significance. First of all, the need to trap the citizens of East Berlin proved to the rest of the world that the Communists were not all they promised to be; their “own” citizens didn’t even want to stay. Also, once the wall was built, the question of what to do with Germany was no longer a key issue in the Cold War negotiations. However, just because negotiations had stopped did not mean the tension was over. There was one situation where US tanks confronted Soviet tanks on the border. Fighting was avoided, which was probably a relief to both sides. After the Berlin was constructed, the focus of the Cold War moved from Europe.
Berlin was a place of much bloodshed and was a key location in the events that led to the situation in which our world is today. These past events have taken many lives and influenced the cold war immensely. All of these events have made it such that Berlin was a very influential location in the war.