Traffic Between East and West Berlin
While East and West Berlin became formally separate jurisdictions in September 1948, and while there were travel restrictions in all other directions, for more than a decade, freedom of movement existed between the western sectors and the eastern sector of the city. However, time and again Soviet and later East German authorities imposed temporary restrictions for certain persons, certain routes, and certain means of transport. Gradually the eastern authorities disconnected and separated the two parts of the city.
While the Soviets blocked all transport to West Berlin (Berlin Blockade between 24 June 1948 to 12 May 1949) they increased the supplies for food in East Berlin in order to gain the compliance of West Berliners who at that time still had free access to East Berlin. West Berliners buying food in East Berlin were regarded as approving of the Soviet attempt to repress the Western Allies from West Berlin. This was seen as support by the communists and as treason by most Westerners. Until that time all over Germany food and other necessary supplies had been available only with ration stamps issued by one's municipality, this was until the Communist putsch in Berlin's city government in September 1948 – the unitary City Council of Greater Berlin (German: Magistrat von Groß Berlin) for East and West.
By July 1948 a mere 19,000 West Berliners out of a total of almost 2 million covered their food requirements in East Berlin. So 99% of the West Berliners preferred to live with shorter supplies than before the Blockade but support the Western Allies' position. In West Germany rationing of most products had ended with the introduction of the Western Deutsche Mark on 21 June 1948. The new currency was also introduced in West Berlin on 24 June and this, at least officially was the justification for the Soviet Blockade due to which, rationing in West Berlin had to continue. However, in the course of the Berlin Air Lift some supplies were increased beyond the pre-Blockade level and therefore certain rations in West Berlin were raised.
While West Berliners were officially welcome to buy food in East Berlin, the Soviets tried to prevent them buying other essential supplies there, particularly coal and fuel. For this reason, on 9 November 1948, they opened checkpoints on 70 streets entering West Berlin and closed the others for horse carriages, lorries and cars, later (16 March 1949) the Soviets erected roadblocks on the closed streets. From 15 November 1948 West Berlin ration stamps were no longer accepted in East Berlin. All the same, the Soviets started a campaign with the slogan The smart West Berliner buys at the HO (German: Der kluge West-Berliner kauft in der HO), the HO being the Soviet zone chain of shops. They also opened so-called "Free Shops" in the Eastern Sector, offering supplies without ration stamps, but at extremely high prices in Eastern Deutsche Marks. Ordinary East and West Berliners could only afford to buy there if they had revenues in Western Deutsche Mark and bartered the needed Eastern Deutsche Mark on the spontaneous currency markets, which developed in the British sector at the Zoo station. Their demand and supply determined a barter ratio in favour of the Western Deutsche Mark with more than 2 Eastern Deutsche Marks offered for one Western Deutsche Mark. After the Blockade – when holders of Western Deutsche Marks could buy as much they could afford, up to five and six east marks were offered for one west mark. In the East, however, the Soviets had arbitrarily decreed a rate of 1 for 1 and exchanging at other rates was criminalised.
On 12 May 1949 the Blockade ended and all roadblocks and checkpoints between East and West Berlin were removed. The Berlin Airlift, however, continued until 30 September 1949 to amass sufficient supplies in West Berlin, the so-called Senate Reserve, in readiness for another possible blockade, ensuring that an airlift could then be restarted with ease. On 2 May 1949 the power stations in East Berlin again started to supply West Berlin with sufficient electricity, which had to be rationed to some hours a day after the usual supplies had been interrupted at the start of the Blockade. However, the Western Allies and the West Berlin City Council decided to be self-sufficient in terms of electricity generation capacity, to be independent of Eastern supplies and not to be held to ransom by the eastern authorities. On 1 December 1949 the new powerhouse West (German: Kraftwerk West, in 1953 renamed after the former Governing Mayor of West Berlin into Kraftwerk Reuter West) went on line and West Berlin's electricity board declared independence from Eastern supplies. However, for a time Eastern electricity continued to be supplied albeit intermittently. Supply was interrupted from 1 July until the end of 1950 and then started again until 4 March 1952, when the East finally switched it off. From then on West Berlin turned into an 'electricity island' within a pan-European electricity grid that had developed from the 1920s, because electricity transfers between East and West Germany never fully ceased. The 'electricity island' situation was noticed most in situations of particularly high demand; in other areas of Europe peaks in demand could be met by tapping into electricity supplies from neighbouring areas, but in West Berlin this was not an option and for certain users the lights would go out.
In 1952 West Berliners were restricted entry to East Germany proper by means of a hard-to-obtain East German permit. Free entry to East Berlin remained possible until 1961 and the building of the Wall. Berlin's underground (Untergrundbahn, U-Bahn) and Berlin's S-Bahn (a metropolitan public transit network), rebuilt after the war, continued to span all occupation sectors. Many people lived in one half of the city and had family, friends, and jobs in the other. However, the East continuously reduced the means of public transport between East and West, with private cars being a very rare privilege in the East and still a luxury in the West.
Starting on 15 January 1953 the tram network was interrupted. East Berlin's public transport operator Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG-East, BVB as of 1 January 1969) staffed all trams, whose lines crossed the sectorial border, with women drivers, which were not permitted as drivers by the BVG (West), West Berlin's public transport operator. Instead of changing the Western rules, so that the Easterly intended interruption of the cross-border tram traffic would not happen, the BVG (West) insisted on male drivers. So cross-border tram traffic ended on 16 January. In East German propaganda this was a point for the East, arguing that the West did not allow drivers coming with their trams from the East to continue along their line into the West, but remaining silent on the fact that the end of cross-border tram traffic was most welcome to the East. The underground and the S-Bahn networks, except the above-mentioned traverse S-Bahn trains, continued to provide services between East and West Berlin. However, occasionally the East Berlin police – in the streets and on cross-border trains in East Berlin – identified suspicious behaviour (such as carrying heavy loads westwards) and watched out for unwelcome Westerners.
Once in a while West Germans were banned from entering East Berlin. This was the case between 29 August and 1 September 1960, when ex prisoners of war and deportees, homecomers (German: Heimkehrer), from all around West Germany and West Berlin met for a convention in that city. The homecomers released mostly from a long detention in the Soviet Union were unwelcome in East Berlin. Since they could not be recognised by their identification papers all West Germans were banned for these days from East Berlin. West Berliners were allowed, since the quadripartite Allied status quo provided for their free movement around all four sectors. From 8 September 1960 on, the East subjected all West Germans to apply for a permit before entering East Berlin.
As the communist government in the East gained tighter control, and the economic recovery in the West significantly outperformed the Eastern development, more than a hundred thousand East Germans and East Berliners left East Germany and East Berlin for the West every year. East Germany closed the borders between East and West Germany and sealed off the border with West Berlin in 1952; but because of the quadripartite Allied status of the city, the 46-kilometre (29 mi)-long sectorial border between East and West Berlin remained open. As there was freedom of movement between West Berlin and West Germany, Easterners could use the city as a transit point to West Germany, usually travelling there by air.
To stop this drain of people defecting, the East German government built the Berlin Wall, thus physically closing off West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany, on 13 August 1961. All Eastern streets, bridges, paths, windows, doors, gates or sewers opening to West Berlin were systematically sealed off by walls, concrete elements, barbed wire or bars. The Wall was directed against the Easterners, who by its construction were no longer allowed to leave the East, except with an Eastern permit, not usually granted.
Westerners were still granted visas on entering East Berlin. Initially eight street checkpoints were opened, and one checkpoint in the Berlin Friedrichstraße railway station, which was reached by one line of the Western underground (today's U 6), two Western S-Bahn lines, one under and one above ground (approximate to today's S 2 and S 3, however lines changed a lot from 1990 onwards), and transit trains between West Germany and West Berlin started and ended there.
The eight street checkpoints were – from North to South along the Wall – on Bornholmer Straße, Chausseestraße, Invalidenstraße, Brandenburg Gate, Friedrichstraße (Checkpoint Charlie in US military denomination, since this crossing was to their sector), Heinrich-Heine-Straße (also Checkpoint Delta), and Sonnenallee.
When the construction of the Wall started after midnight early on 13 August, West Berlin's Governing Mayor Willy Brandt was on a West German federal election campaigning tour in West Germany. Arriving by train in Hanover at 4 am he was informed about the Wall and flew back to West Berlin's Tempelhof Central Airport.
In the course of the day he protested along with many other West Berliners on Potsdamer Platz and at the Brandenburg Gate. On 14 August, under the pretext that Western demonstrations required it, the East closed the checkpoint at the Brandenburg Gate, 'until further notice', a situation that was to last until 22 December 1989, when it was finally reopened.
On 26 August 1961 East Germany generally banned West Berliners from entering the Eastern sector. West Germans and other nationals, however, could still get visas on entering East Berlin. Since intra-city phone lines had been cut by the East already in May 1952 (see below) the only remaining way of communication with family or friends on the other side was by mail or at meeting in a motorway restaurant on a transit route, because the transit traffic remained unaffected throughout.
On 18 May 1962 East Germany opened the so-called Tränenpalast checkpoint hall (Palace of Tears) at Berlin Friedrichstraße station, where Easterners had to say a sometimes tearful farewell to returning Westerners as well as the few Easterners who had managed to get a permit to visit the West. Until June 1963 the East deepened its border zone around West Berlin in East Germany and East Berlin by clearing existing buildings and vegetation to create an open field of view, sealed off by the Berlin Wall towards the West and a second wall or fence of similar characteristics to the East, observed by armed men in towers, with orders to shoot at escapees.
Finally in 1963 West Berliners were again allowed to visit East Berlin. On this occasion a further checkpoint for pedestrians only was opened on the Oberbaumbrücke. West Berliners were granted visas for a one-day-visit between 17 December 1963 and 5 January the following year. 1.2 million out of a total 1.9 million West Berliners visited East Berlin during this period. In 1964, 1965 and 1966 East Berlin was opened again to West Berliners, but each time only for a limited period.
East Germany found particular joy in playing with the different legal statuses it assigned to East Germans, East Berliners, West Germans, and West Berliners, as well as citizens from other countries in the world. Until 1990 East Germany designated each Border crossings in East Berlin for certain categories of persons, with only one street checkpoint being open simultaneously for West Berliners and West Germans (Bornholmer Straße) and Berlin Friedrichstraße railway station being open for all travellers.
On 9 September 1964, the East German Council of Ministers (government) decided to allow Eastern pensioners to visit family in West Germany or West Berlin. According to the specified regulations valid from 2 November on Eastern pensioners could apply, and were usually allowed, to travel into the West to visit relatives once a year for a maximum of four weeks. If pensioners decided not to return, the government did not miss them as manpower, unlike younger Easterners, who were subject to a system of labour and employment, which demanded almost everybody work in the Eastern command production system.
On 2 December 1964 East Germany, always short of hard currency, decreed that every Western visitor had to buy a minimum of 5 Eastern Mark der Deutschen Notenbank per day (MDN, 1964–1968 the official name of the East German mark, to distinguish it from the West Deutsche Mark) at the still held arbitrary compulsory rate of 1:1. The five marks had to be spent, as exporting Eastern currency was illegal, which is why importing it after having bargained for it at the currency market at Zoo station was also illegal. Western pensioners and children were spared from the compulsory exchange (officially in German: Mindestumtausch, i.e. minimum exchange). Not long after East Germany held the first cash harvest from the new compulsory exchange rules by allowing West Berliners to visit East Berlin once more for a day during the Christmas season. The following year, 1965, East Germany opened the travelling season for West Berliners on 18 December. In 1966 it opened for a second harvest of Western money between the Easter (10 April) and Pentecost (29 May) holidays and later again at Christmas.
The situation only changed fundamentally after 11 December 1971 when, representing the two German states, the Western Egon Bahr and the Eastern Michael Kohl signed the Transit Agreement. This followed by a comparable agreement for West Berliners, once more allowing regular visits to East Germany and East Berlin.
After ratification of the Agreement and specifying the pertaining regulations West Berliners could apply for the first time again for visas for any chosen date to East Berlin or East Germany from 3 October 1972 onwards. If granted, a one-day-visa entitled them to leave the East until 2 am the following day. West Berliners were now spared the visa fee of 5 Western Deutsche Marks, not to be confused with the compulsory exchange amounting to the same sum, but yielding in return 5 Eastern marks. This financial relief did not last long, because on 15 November 1973 East Germany doubled the compulsory exchange to 10 Eastern marks, payable in West German Deutsche Marks at par.
One-day-visas for East Berlin were now issued in a fast procedure on entering East Berlin; visas for longer stays and visas for East Germany proper needed a prior application, which could be a lengthy procedure. To ease the application for West Berliners seeking such Eastern visas, the GDR Foreign Ministry was later allowed to open Offices for the Affairs of Visits and Travelling (German: Büros für Besuchs- und Reiseangelegenheiten) in West Berlin, but were not allowed to show any official symbols of East Germany. The Eastern officials working commuted every morning and evening between East and West Berlin. Their uniforms showed no official symbols except the name Büro für Besuchs- und Reiseangelegenheiten. They accepted visa applications and handed out confirmed visas issued in the East, to the West Berlin applicants. A shed formerly housing one such Büro für Besuchs- und Reiseangelegenheiten can be found on Waterlooufer 5–7 in Berlin-Kreuzberg, close to Hallesches Tor underground station. The disagreement about Berlin's status was one of the most important debates of the Cold War.
Another form of traffic between East and West Berlin was the transfer of West Berlin's sewage into East Berlin and East Germany through the sewer pipes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sewage flowed into the East because most of the pre-war premises for sewage treatment, mostly sewage farms, happened to be in the East after the division of the city. Sewer pipes, however, once discovered as a way to flee the East, were blocked by bars. West Berlin paid for the treatment of its sewage in Western Deutsche Marks which were desperately needed by the Eastern government. Since the methods used in the East did not meet Western standards, West Berlin increased the capacity of modern sewage treatment within its own territory, so that the amount of its sewage treated in the East had considerably reduced by the time the Wall came down.
Similar was the situation with refuse. The removal, burning or disposal of the ever-growing amount of West Berlin's rubbish became a costly problem, but here too an agreement was found, since West Berlin would pay in Western Deutsche Marks. On 11 December 1974 East Germany and West Berlin's garbage utility company BSR signed a contract to dispose of refuse on a dump right beside the Wall in East German Groß-Ziethen (today a part of Schönefeld). An extra checkpoint, solely open for Western bin lorries was opened there. Later a second dump, further away, was opened in Vorketzin, a part of Ketzin.
As for the S-Bahn, operated in all of Berlin by the East German Reichsbahn, the construction of the Wall meant a deep cut into its integrated network of lines, especially for Berlin's circular S-Bahn line around all of the Western and Eastern inner city. The lines were separated and those mostly located in West Berlin were continued, but only accessible from West Berlin with all access in East Berlin closed. However, even before the Wall had been built, West Berliners increasingly refrained from using the S-Bahn, since boycotts against it were issued, the argument being that every S-Bahn ticket bought provided the GDR government with valuable Western Deutsche Marks.
Usage dropped further as the Western public transport operator BVG (West) offered parallel bus lines and expanded its network of underground lines. After the construction of the Wall usage dropped so much that running the S-Bahn lines in West Berlin turned into a loss-making exercise: wages and maintenance costs – however badly it was carried out – outdid the proceeds from ticket sales. So the Reichsbahn finally agreed to surrender operation of the S-Bahn in West Berlin, as had been determined by all Allies in 1945, and on 29 December 1983 the Allies, the Senate of Berlin (West; i.e. the city state government) and the Reichsbahn signed an agreement to change the operator from Reichsbahn to BVG (West) which took effect on 9 January 1984.
On 9 November 1989 East Germany opened the borders for East Germans and East Berliners, who could then freely enter West Berlin. West Berlin itself had never restricted their entry. For West Berliners and West Germans the opening of the border for free entry lasted longer. The regulation concerning one-day-visas on entering the East and the compulsory minimum exchange of 25 Western Deutsche Marks by 1989, continued. However, more checkpoints were opened. Finally on 22 December 1989 East Germany granted West Berliners and West Germans free entry without charge at the existing checkpoints, demanding only valid papers. Eastern controls were slowly eased into spot checks and finally abolished on 30 June 1990, the day East and West introduced the union concerning currency, economy and social security (German: Währungs-, Wirtschafts- und Sozialunion).
Famous quotes containing the words berlin, west, traffic and/or east:
“Still they raised a family doin what comes naturlly.”
—Irving Berlin (18881989)
“Any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience.”
—Rebecca West (18921983)
into paper coffee-cups, eaten
with petals on rye in the
sunthe cold shadows in back,
and the traffic grinding the
borders of spring ...”
—Denise Levertov (b. 1923)
“The East is the hearthside of America. Like any home, therefore, it has the defects of its virtues. Because it is a long-lived-in house, it bursts its seams, is inconvenient, needs constant refurbishing. And some of the family resources have been spent. To attain the privacy that grown-up people find so desirable, Easterners live a harder life than people elsewhere. Today it is we and not the frontiersman who must be rugged to survive.”
—Phyllis McGinley (19051978)