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4 - In the shadow of the Wall

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  In its shadow

The BerlinersThe people of Berlin, especially West Berlin, ended up resigning themselves to viewing the Wall as a part of their city landscape and their mental outlook. Its main effect was to deepen the divide as each part of the city went its own different way.

Cut off from its natural hinterland, West Berlin lost over 340 000 inhabitants in the period from 1961 to 1983 and only survived with federal aid. To make up for the population shortfall, the city called in immigrant labour, including from Turkey (131 000), Yugoslavia (35 000), and Poland (22 000). The Wall transformed the localities bordering it. Access from the west to buildings, parks, churches and cemeteries in the East were bricked up. Houses were abandoned, left derelict and, as in Kreuzberg, squatted. These Wall neighbourhoods encouraged the emergence in the West of an alternative society in favour of self-management, community living, and an anti-bourgeois culture.

By completely integrating East Germany behind the Wall, East Berlin could at last stake its claim as a true capital city. The historic centre was either rebuilt as it had been (Nikolaiviertel) or endowed with socialist buildings (Palace of the Republic, TV tower, Alexanderplatz).

During the first ten years of the Wall, Berlin went through periods of tension followed by periods of relaxed tension.

The first anniversary was marked in the West by violent demonstrations which lasted several days, with angry crowds attacking Soviet vehicles.

In December 1963, the Senate finally came to an agreement over passes with the East German authorities, enabling hundreds of thousands of West Berliners to visit friends or relatives over Christmas and the New Year. This agreement was renewed until 1966. After that, special permits were issued for family occasions (a birth, marriage, illness or death). In the East, as from November 1964, retired persons were allowed to visit relatives in West Germany. They account for most of the 383 181 East Germans who were allowed out of East Germany between 1961 and 1988.

In December 1964, East Germany introduced a compulsory currency exchange for visitors from West Germany and West Berlin. And in June 1968, travellers between West Germany and West Berlin were required to carry a passport and a visa they had to pay for, and this led to long queues at the checkpoints at Dreilinden and Helmstedt.

When he became chancellor, Willy Brandt introduced a new Eastern policy with the aim of reducing tension between the two Germanies. There followed a series of agreements which stabilized the situation in and around Berlin.

First, meeting in the former Control Council, the ambassadors of the four occupying powers signed an agreement on 3rd September 1971 whereby the USSR guaranteed access to West Berlin; in return the West accepted that West Berlin was not an integral part of West Germany. Two further agreements made directly with the Germans dealt with the details. The first, approved on 17th December 1971 by the two German governments, simplified crossing over between West Germany and West Berlin. The second was signed three days later by the Berlin Senate and East Germany and made things easier for West Berliners travelling east, where they could now stay for 30 (and later 45) days each year. After this, the number of journeys to and from Berlin rose sharply. A year later, on 21st December 1972, the two German states signed a " Basic Treaty " to normalize their relations and open the way at last to joining the UNO.

 

The people of Berlin
The people of Berlin

Long queues at the checkpoints
Long queues at the checkpoints

 

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