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2 - Operation "Wall of China"

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  The 1958 crisis

From 27th November 1958, ten years after the blockade, Berlin was the scene of another international crisis when Nikita Khrushchev issued an ultimatum to the three western powers, giving them six months to turn West Berlin into a " demilitarized free city ", failing which he would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany. This ultimatum marked the start of a long crisis which came to a head and to an end with the building of the Wall. Talks on Berlin between the Soviets and the West, first in Geneva (May-August 1959), then in Paris (May 1960) and finally in Vienna (June 1961), failed to produce results.

Meanwhile, tension continued to rise around Berlin, as refugees continued to flock out of East Germany, destabilizing the regime. Ulbricht repeatedly asked Khrushchev for permission to take radical steps. At the meeting of Communist Party heads in Moscow on 5th August, he finally got what he wanted – closure of the border between East and West Berlin. Two days later, Khrushchev announced in a radio broadcast that this " handy escape route " via West Berlin absolutely had to be closed. This disturbing news instilled " fear of the closing door " among would-be escapees, and a further upsurge in the number of refugees – over four thousand on 12th August alone!

Operation " Wall of China " was secretly decided on by Ulbricht and planned by Honecker. It actually began at around 4 p.m. on 12th August, when Ulbricht signed the orders to close the border and sent them on to Honecker. In preparation for this operation, 40 kilometres (25 mi.) of barbed wire and thousands of posts were stored in barracks. The police and workers’ militias set up in the wake of the June 1953 riots were mobilized. The Interior Ministry announced that East German citizens would now need a " special authorization " to enter West Berlin. At midnight, the security services were put on the alert; East Berlin was covered by army units (NVA); 25 000 armed militiamen and the People’s Police (Vopos) armed with kalachnikovs were posted at six-foot intervals along the demarcation line. On 13th August 1961, a holiday Sunday, at 1.11 in the morning, the official East German press agency announced that the Warsaw Pact countries had asked the East German government to set up " effective controls " in and around Berlin. Within an hour, 67 of the 81 crossing points were sealed off, soon followed by another seven. All traffic was stopped between East Germany and West Berlin. The underground and the S-Bahn linking the two sections of the city were no longer in operation.

Under the watchful eye of the police and the army, barbed wire and wire entanglements were placed across access points to West Berlin.

Roads were dug up and barricades erected. Within a matter of hours, the entire border around West Berlin was under control.

Access to West Berlin was now barred to East Berliners and East Germans; then on 23rd August, it became impossible for West Berliners to visit the East without a residence permit.

 

East Berlin was covered by army units
East Berlin was covered by army units

Barbed wire
Barbed wire

Berlin under control
Berlin under control

Berlin was barred
Berlin was barred

 

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