Archive for May, 2009

May 26, 2009

The Airlift turns sixty

A day of celebration
THE SPRING WEATHER took mercy on Berlin this Tuesday. Under a blue sky and a gentle sun, tens of thousands of Berliners and guests spilled onto the apron of the former Tempelhof Airport to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift. It was a memorable occasion – but not everyone in Berlin was paying attention.

Berlin Airlift

Berlin Airlift

Berlin – the “front city” of the Cold war
The Berlin Blockade of 1948/49 could have finished Europe off for good. It would not have taken much. The wartime Alliance between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union began breaking down almost as soon as victory was declared in May of 1945. The main conflict concerned the future political and economic structure of the new Europe. The Western Allies intended for Europe to become democratic and capitalistic, the pivot of a new Anglo-American-dominated global economic order. However, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, whose country had just lost upwards of 20 million of its citizens in the war against Germany, remained profoundly suspicious of Western motives and made it clear on several occasions that at least Europe’s eastern half was to become socialist and be made part of the Soviet sphere of influence.  This fundamental disagreement would soon have fateful consequences for occupied Germany…

Continued…

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May 26, 2009

Surprise! Notorious 1967 assassin was an East German spy

Benno Ohnesorg

The dying student Benno Ohnesorg in the arms of Friederike Hausmann

HISTORY, LIKE ECONOMICS, is a dismal science, if for no other reason than that nothing about it can ever be known for certain. And sometimes it seems as if the more we know, the less we understand. As “Weird Al” Yankovic sings, “Everything you know is wrong. Black is white, up is down and short is long…” So too with one of the most infamous events of the 1960s student movement: the killing of the student activist Benno Ohnesorg in West Berlin on June 2, 1967, which is now known to have been not the work of a West German “fascist” but of a paid agent of the East German secret police. Just to complicate matters, the fascist and the communist were one and the same.

Ohnesorg’s shooting death may not have been the shot heard ‘round the world, but there is no doubt that it was indeed “the shot that transformed the Republic,” as the German weekly Der Spiegel states in its latest edition…

Continued…

May 26, 2009

How I escaped from East Berlin

EVERY MORNING, about halfway into my daily jog along Gartenstrasse towards the old West Berlin district of Wedding, my feet pass over a double row of bricks set into the pavement. A metal plaque identifies this seam, which zigzags through the German capital, as the route of the former Berlin Wall. Turning onto Bernauer Strasse, I pass by the weathered gray slabs of the Wall itself and then encounter the cylindrical Reconciliation Chapel, built on the site of the old brick Reconciliation Church, which used to stand smack in the middle of the free fire zone between the two halves of the city and which the East German regime consequently dynamited in 1985. After working up a good sweat, I double back onto Strelitzer Strasse. There I catch a glimpse of a plaque marking this gray East Berlin house as the endpoint of the famous 1964 tunnel which, the sign notes, was shut down after a Stasi agent betrayed the escape route to his minders. A few minutes later I step into the shower and am soon ready to begin a normal working day.

 

And yet, I can remember a time when this routine jog would have been even less plausible than a non-stop sprint to Vladivostok. It was the summer of 1987. After spending a few weeks with my new East German girlfriend in Berlin, I headed back to the States to continue my graduate studies. As the weeks passed, our suspicion turned to fact: she was pregnant. And not just pregnant, we learned as autumn turned to winter, but pregnant with twins…

Continued…