Occurring from 24 June 1948 until 12 May 1949 in Post-WWII Germany, the Berlin Blockade is considered the defining event that signified the reality of the Cold War, shining the hostilities between the USA and the USSR to the world.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the victorious alliances - USA, USSR, Britain and France - met in a conference to arranged for Germany to be divided into four sectors. The eastern half of Germany would go to the Soviets, who had solely led and won the final battle that finished the war, and the western half would be divided between the three western powers.
However the capital city of Berlin would be halved also, with the eastern half existing as the Soviet Union's, and the western sector of Berlin being shared by the Western powers.
As previously mentioned, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West was one of great tension at this time, as Stalin was most suspicious that both Britain and the USA were conspiring to 'thwart Russia'. Thus when the USA and Britain agreed to merge their two zones into 'Bizonia' (literally meaning two-zones), Russia took this as a challenge and an act of allying against the USSR. These 'friendly states' bordering the Soviet Union's most western outpost of Soviet influence also created the appearance of a blockade - western Germany was occupied with USA and British military, taken as an unspoken threat should the USSR attempt to expand any further into western Europe.
The Soviet's suspicion of the Western powers grew as there were economic reforms in the West sectors, and during the Allied Control Council in June 1948, the Soviet Union representatives flounced out in a political statement. Following this, it was decided on 23 June that the Deutsche Mark would be introduced by the Western powers to their zones so as to improve the weak currency shared at the time by all of Germany. This unilateral move outraged the Soviet Union, and that very night the authorities of East Berlin cut off all transport (trains and carriers of food and fuel) and the electricity supply (the stations conveniently located in Berlin's east) to the entirety of West Berlin.
This marked the beginning of the isolation of West Berlin, and consequently the beginning of a possible mass-starvation of the citizens.
In viewing the above depiction of Soviet Influence in Europe, it is understandable that the Western alliances should be alarmed at the monopoly of control the Soviet Union had concealed behind their 'Iron Curtain'.
To read more about the 'Prelude of the Cold War' in Germany, click here
The Berlin Airlift
The Eastern authorities decision to isolate the West Berlin sector amidst their half of Germany naturally alarmed the Western powers and demanded a fast response that would determine whether this would develop into a Hot War, and whether this instance would become a point of gloating victory for the Soviets.
In swift action, the Western Allies started what was termed 'the Berlin Airlift' - all possible supplies were flown into West Berlin, delivered and dropped by an endless cycle of planes. At the peak of the Airlift (spanning July 1948 to May 1949), planes were landing and taking off in half minute intervals. This action reached such a point of efficiency and success, that by April 1949 more supplies and cargo were being delivered than was ever achieved through the original rail service. The Soviets realised that this attempt to control West Berlin had failed by this stage, and surrendered the blockade by 12 May 1949. The Airlift continued until October however, as the Western allies were understandably untrusting of this supposed admitted defeat.
The Berlin Airlift was a most significant event in its creating warm ties between the West Berliners and the USA - this operation had not only spared countless lives, but had transformed the Western allies from being 'occupiers' to friends. Thus the Soviet Union were undoubtedly the losers of this episode, as their attempt to control the West failed and only resulted in the making heroes of their enemy and antagonists of themselves in the eyes of Germany and the world
This blockade was the point wherein Berlin became truly divided, separated into the Federal Republic of Germany (USA) and the German Democratic Republic (USSR). During the initial stages of the division, citizens were able to move between both sectors relatively easily - during the 1950s an estimated 2.5 million people fled from the German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic of Germany.
West Berlin was economically superior to East Berlin, receiving constant support from West Germany and Marshall Plan benefits.Comparatively, on 16 June 1953, the Soviet authorities demanded a rise in the work output 'quotas' to which the struggling labourers and workers protested by putting down tools. These demonstrations were quickly extinguished with the unleashing of Soviet tanks in Stalin-ist martial law style. Just in East Berlin, 400 were injured and 12 protestors killed.
The Berlin Wall
These differences and the increasing regularity of East Germans fleeing to the Western sectors instigated the Soviet Union's next totalitarian movement - on 13 August 1961, barbed wire was erected through the boundary of West and East Berlin, as well as the train-lines being closed. The East Berliners began to swarm across the barbed barrier into the West with nothing but their clothing before the cement wall was hastily built, crashing through the barriers, jumping out of buildings and any possible means to escape to West Berlin.
Perhaps one of the most well-known images from this moment, Conrad Schumann (19) is seen leaping over the barrier to 'freedom' in West Berlin.
This wall continued to be patrolled from its day of establishment by armed border guards who would shoot anyone who attempted to escape. Throughout this period, a total of 239 people lost their lives in this pursuit.
The Berlin Wall stood hostile and solid up until the 9 November 1989, when mass demonstrations and discord from the East Berliners eventually pushed the renouncement of visa requirements to leave the German Democratic Republic, and consequently the public began to hack away at the wall.
Watch the below link depicting a summary of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift in 1948.
How would you classify this video - as a factual report, or pure propaganda?
What aspects of this video exhibit a bias and favour, and toward which power?
Consider the political cartoon above and list some key aspects of the depiction, and the connotations that they give to the viewer. Who would be the target audience in this cartoon?
1. How would the introduction of a separate currency in Western-controlled sectors affect East Germany? Why might this enrage the Soviet Union?
2. How did the Berlin Airlift thwart and shame the Soviet Union?
3. What societal conditions would have motivated the citizens of East Berlin to 'flee' into West Berlin? How did the two ways of life in each sector differ?