Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Berlin Blockade and the Cold War

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Until the Berlin Blockade began in 1948, the United States had no intention of occupying West Berlin beyond the establishment of a new West German government in 1949. But the subsequent Berlin Blockade and ensuing Cold War kept the U.S. in West Berlin until 1994.

An important omission in the Potsdam Agreement

In the summer of 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the three victorious powers (the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union) signed the Potsdam Agreement. This document laid down the legal framework for the occupation of Germany and re-affirmed rules previously hammered out at the Yalta Conference. Specifically, the Potsdam Agreement addressed the terms of the military occupation, division, territorial changes, reparations and reconstruction of Germany. Accordingly, Germany was divided into three zones. Berlin, the capital, was also divided into three sectors, despite the fact that the city was located 100 miles inside Soviet occupation territory. Three air corridors from West Germany to West Berlin had been negotiated in the Potsdam Agreement, but rail, road and water access were never discussed. This omission was to be the basis for endless frustration.

Quadripartite administration of Germany and Berlin

The Allies established the Allied Control Council to execute resolutions concerning Germany and the Allied Kommandatura to implement resolutions concerning Berlin. When France joined the Allies as the fourth occupation power, its territories of Germany and Berlin were carved from the American and British occupation zones and sectors. The four Allies agreed to govern their respective zone and sector as they deemed fit, but unanimous agreement would be required in matters that concerned all of Germany or all of Berlin.

Events leading up to the Berlin Blockade

By 1948, the relationship between the four powers had gone sour. The three western powers wanted to help rebuilt Germany to stabilize the European continent, with the hope that it would prevent Communism from spreading. The Soviets preferred a weak Germany and an unstable continent, with the hope that it would provide fertile ground for the spread of Communism. It did not take long before the Soviets regretted having agreed to share the city of Berlin with the Western Allies. Now they wanted nothing more than for the three western powers to get out of West Berlin. Quadripartite control became unworkable. On 20 March 1948, the Allied Control Council met for the last time. On 16 June 1948, the Allied Kommandatura assembled for the last time. The Soviet delegation walked out for good.

After the Soviets had left the table, the three Western Allies made decisions concerning their occupation territories without Soviet input. On 21 June 1948, the Western Allies introduced a new currency in the western zones and sectors. They introduced the Deutsche Mark. The Soviets, who had not been consulted, objected vehemently. On 22 June 1948, the Soviets also introduced their own new currency in the eastern zone.

From Berlin Blockade to Berlin Airlift

On 24 June 1948, The Soviets blocked all rail, road and water connections between West Germany and West Berlin. They offered to lift the blockade only if the Western Allies agreed to withdraw the Deutsche Mark from West Berlin. The Western Allies refused. The Soviets stopped supplying agricultural goods to West Berlin and cut off the electricity generated in the Soviet zone and relied upon by the three western zones of Berlin. There was only enough food to last for 35 days and enough coal to last for 45 days.

With surface traffic between West Germany and West Berlin severed and in the absence of negotiated ground access rights to the city, the only remaining possibility was to try to supply West Berlin from the air. On June 26, 1948, American military commander Lucius D. Clay had the first planes in the air. The Berlin Airlift began and the Cold War heated up. The Berlin Blockade lasted from 24 June 1948 to 12 May 1949.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

Cold War Checkpoint Charlie – Part 1

Monday, April 4th, 2016

For almost three decades – from 1961 to 1990 – Checkpoint Charlie was an important border crossing point between East and West Berlin. It was located in the Friedrichstrasse, near Zimmerstrasse, on the western side of the border. Along with Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) Checkpoint Charlie was the most prominent border crossing point during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie’s Function

Checkpoint Charlie was a sentry post of the Western Allies and the main demarcation point between Western-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. Its main function was to register and brief Allied military personnel prior to entering the eastern sector. It was also the only point where diplomats, journalists and foreign tourists could cross into Berlin’s Soviet sector. Germans were prohibited from using this checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie could be passed by foot or by car. Any visit to the eastern sector required a one-day visa and the exchange of a specified amount of West German Marks for East German Marks. The exchange rate was set at 1:1 even though the official rate of exchange was 4:1.

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Where did Checkpoint Charlie get its name?

The name “Charlie” came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet. There were two other Allied checkpoints in Germany: Checkpoint Bravo at Drewitz-Dreilinden (the border between East Germany and West Berlin) and Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt-Marienborn (the border between West Germany and East Germany).

Checkpoint Charlie operated for 29 years

During most of that time, the western side of Checkpoint Charlie consisted of nothing more than a tiny wooden shack and a few sandbags. In the 1980s, the original guardhouse was replaced by a larger metal structure. But it, too, was modest compared to the East German checkpoint. The unassuming appearance of the western side was intentional. With this simple shack, the Western Allies tried to convey that they did not consider the Berlin Wall to be a legitimate border. The East German side of Checkpoint Charlie, on the other hand, included guard towers, cement barriers and a building where the inspection of vehicles and passengers took place. Searches included heat scans to detect fugitives. To read about Checkpoint Charlie’s role in the East/West showdown in October 1961 and the current location of the old guardhouse, please visit


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Wolfgang Vogel: East German Profiteer

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Not only capitalist societies spawn profiteers. During the Cold War, Wolfgang Vogel, largely unknown to the general public but known to many prominent figures, pulled strings in Moscow as effectively as in Washington. For three decades, he was an extremely successful communist profiteer.

Licensed to practice law in both East and West Berlin, Vogel was the “point man” between East and West Germany. He was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries and the last hope for many emigrants from East Germany. He earned millions in the process

Wolfgang Vogel was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries, photo

Wolfgang Vogel was central to the exchanges of more than 150 spies from 23 countries, photo

The life of Wolfgang Vogel

Born in 1925 in Lower Silesia (now Poland), Wolfgang Vogel studied law in Jena and Leipzig and passed the equivalent of the bar exam in 1949. In 1954, he began practicing law in East Berlin. Three years later, he gained the right to practice in West Berlin as well. The East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, employed Vogel to make contacts among West German lawyers and politicians. These contacts eventually helped him broker exchanges of spies captured by the West for political prisoners held by the East. Vogel died in Bavaria in 2008.

Wolfgang Vogel’s famed spy swaps

Wolfgang Vogel brokered some of the most famous spy swaps between East and West. In 1962, he was instrumental to negotiating the exchange of both, the American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and the American Ph.D. student Frederic L. Pryor for the Soviet KGB spy, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel). The exchange inspired the 2015 movie, “Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, Abel’s defense attorney, and Sebastian Koch as the East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel. For more information on Glienicke Bridge, visit

In 1981, Vogel negotiated the exchange of East German Stasi-agent Guenter Guillaume for Western agents captured by the Eastern bloc.

 In 1986, Wolfgang Vogel brokered the exchange of Israeli human rights activist and author Anatoly Shcharansky for Czech sleeper-agent Karl Koecher and his wife.

Wolfgang Vogel – the profiteer

Representing the East German leader Erich Honecker, Wolfgang Vogel not only helped facilitate East-West prisoner exchanges, he also negotiated the re-location of thousands of East Germans to the West. However, his assistance did not come cheap. He became a wealthy man in the process.

Between the 1950s and 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall), Wolfgang Vogel was an official “representative of the German Democratic Republic for humanitarian issues.” In that capacity, he “sold” 33,755 political prisoners to West Germany. Their value varied according to their profession, their “crime” and how well they were known in the West. He also reunited 215,019 families and individuals in line with to the East German government’s maxim, “Human relief against hard Deutschmark”. The family reunion-seekers were individuals who had been left behind when the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961, or they were relatives of escapees or of those who had defected on business trips to the West. When these individuals turned to Vogel to obtain permission to emigrate, he was often able to negotiate the necessary permissions, provided these family reunion-seekers had private property to sell. Only then would Vogel locate buyers – for a fee, of course.

For his efforts, Wolfgang Vogel received benefits in cash and in kind. These benefits amounted to the equivalent of more than a half billion euros. At times, he earned half a million Deutschmark and more in just one year, practically tax-free. Still, Wolfgang Vogel saw himself as a humanitarian and a lawyer of the people. He said, “My ways were not white and not black; they had to be gray.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Cold War Spy Tunnel under Berlin

Monday, July 27th, 2015

During the height of the Cold War, US and British Intelligence Services constructed a secret spy tunnel under Berlin, just twenty feet beneath the surface. The project was known as “Operation Gold” in US Intelligence circles and as “Operation Stopwatch” among their British counterparts. The plan involved tapping into Eastern Europe’s communication cables. The spy tunnel was to serve the western Allies as an early warning system by keeping them abreast of Soviet military intentions in Europe. Spying operations were far from unusual during the Cold War. The Soviets were tapping a cable that served the American garrison in Berlin. It was located near Potsdam.

Spy Tunnel Construction

To be able to listen in on Soviet conversations, US and British Intelligence Services constructed a 1,476-foot long spy tunnel from a point in the West Berlin district of Rudow to Altglienicke in East Berlin’s district of Treptow. Construction of the tunnel was a major engineering feat. One of the cables was located only 27 inches beneath the surface and along the edge of a major highway.

The tunnel tube segments were constructed in the British sector of the divided city, at Airport Gatow . By May 1955 the first cable tap took place. Wire-tapping continued for eleven months. During that time, the Western Allies listened to close to 443,000 calls, which were recorded on 50,000 tapes. – ixzz3cz0f2d1YThree hundred specialists were involved in transcribing the tapes in London and Washington.

Spy Tunnel Discovery

Then the big surprise! The Soviets had known about this top-secret operation since inception. A mole in the British Secret Intelligence, who had been involved in the project from the beginning, had alerted the KGB of the CIA’s plans. The double agent’s name was George Blake. To protect his identity, the KGB kept knowledge of the tunnel close to their vests and did not even alert Soviet authorities of its existence.

Eleven months into the wire tapping, the Soviets claimed to have discovered the spy tunnel and turned its “discovery” into a successfully orchestrated propaganda blitz. Over the next six months, they carted around 30,000 “deserving” East German citizens to the entrance of the tunnel (Geheime Orte in Berlin by Claus-Dieter Steyer, © 2014) and pointed to America as a nation of warmongers and to West Berlin as a breeding ground for espionage. The Soviets used the discovery of the spy tunnel to demonstrate the effectiveness of socialist security.

Spy Tunnel Segment in Allied Museum

A 7-foot segment of Berlin’s spy tunnel can still be seen in the Allied Museum at Clayallee 135 in Berlin’s District of Zehlendorf. The segment was unearthed in 1997.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Glienicker Bruecke – Bridge of Spies

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) is located in Germany and connects Brandenburg’s capital Potsdam to Berlin’s Wannsee district. Since the division of Berlin, the border between Soviet-occupied East Berlin and the US-occupied western sector of Berlin ran right through the center of the bridge. For this reason, the Western Allies and the Soviets used Glienicke Bridge during the Cold War years to exchange captured spies.

Glienicker Bruecke – History

Today’s Glienicker Bruecke, is the fourth bridge that spans the Havel River in this site. The first bridge was build around 1660 and was made of wood. In order to accommodate increased traffic between Berlin and the Emperor’s new castle in Potsdam, the wooden bridge was replaced with a brick and wood drawbridge in the first quarter of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the drawbridge no longer met the needs of the populace and was replaced with an iron bridge. But at the end of World War II, in April 1945, an unexploded shell severely damaged Glienicke Bridge. Reconstruction was completed in 1949 and the East German government renamed it “Bridge of Unity” because of the close proximity of East and West.

During the Cold War years, East German authorities closed the bridge to the people of West Berlin and West Germany in 1952 and also to East German citizens in 1961, when the Berlin Wall was constructed. Soon, Glienicker Bruecke became a favored point of exchange of secret agents between East and West. By the 1970s, the bridge needed significant repairs. West Berlin repaired its half of the repairs to the bridge in 1980 and for the work on the East German half of the structure in 1985. The deal included a provision that the East German authorities would rename the bridge “Glienicker Bruecke” once again. One day after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the bridge also reopened to pedestrians.

1960 - Tourists having their picture taken on the western side of Glienicker Bruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

1960 – Tourists having their picture taken on the western side of Glienicker Bruecke, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Glienicker Bruecke – Bridge of Spies

During the Cold War, Glienicker Bruecke became the site of three well-known East/West spy exchanges, which resulted it the name “Bridge of Spies.”

1962 – The US exchanges Soviet Intelligence officer Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel) for American pilot Francis Gary Powers whose U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace and the American Ph.D. student Frederic L. Pryor. The exchange inspired the 2015 movie, “Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, Abel’s defense attorney, and Sebastian Koch as the East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel who brokered some of the most famous spy swaps between East and West.  For more information on Wolfgang Vogel’s involvement, visit

1964 – The British exchanges Soviet intelligence officer Konon Molody for British spy Greville Wynne.

1986 – The US exchanges Czech spies Karl and Hana Koecher, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Marian Zacharski and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth for human rights campaigner Anatoly Sharansky and three low-level Western spies.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Did Churchill coin “Iron Curtain”?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

In the United States it is often erroneously believed that Sir Winston Churchill coined the phrase “iron curtain,” when he travelled to Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946. It had been a mere ten months since World War II had ended in Europe. Only one of the three signatories of the Potsdam Agreement was still in power: Soviet Union’s Marshal Joseph Stalin. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had passed away and been replaced by Harry. S. Truman. Sir Winston Churchill had lost the British election to Clement Atlee. At this point in time, the U.S. and Great Britain were mainly concerned with the state of their own post-war economies and remained grateful to Russia that she had taken a prominent role in ending the war.

“The Sinews of Peace” Speech by Churchill

On this day in early March 5, Churchill gave an address at Westminster College in Fulton. His speech was entitled, “The Sinews of Peace.” He began by speaking of his admiration for the Soviet Union and by welcoming her into the circle of leading nations. He expressed understanding for Russia’s need for security on her western frontiers. But then he cautioned, “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies.” He went on to say, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

Following the speech, the phrase “iron curtain” became widely known. To read Churchill’s speech in its entirety, visit.

“Iron Curtain” became a household word

Although it is still widely held that Churchill coined the term “iron curtain” during his 1946 The Sinews of Peace speech, that belief is inaccurate. He had used the term for decades already. The phrase was first used in 1920 by British author and suffragette Ethel Snowden in her book Through Bolshevik Russia. In 1945, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the term in his 25 February 1945 speech entitled The Year 2000. But after Churchill’s post-war speech in Fulton, the phrase became synonymous with the way the West viewed the East. The phrase became so popular that I, a post-war child growing up in Berlin, Germany, remember it as one of the givens in my vocabulary. To me at that young age, “iron curtain” meant Cold War, and I was convinced that Sir Winston Churchill had coined it.



Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill’s view on the Berlin situation

Sir Winston Churchill also foreshadowed what, indeed, ended up happening in Berlin a couple of years later when the Russians blockaded all ground access routes to West Berlin. In his speech, Churchill said, “An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-Communist party in their zone of Occupied Germany by showing special favors to groups of left-wing German leaders. At the end of the fighting last June, the American and British Armies withdrew westwards, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to a depth at some points of 150 miles upon a front of nearly four hundred miles, in order to allow our Russian allies to occupy this vast expanse of territory, which the Western Democracies had conquered. If now the Soviet Government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-Communist Germany in their areas, this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones.”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Ex-Berliner recalls Kennedy’s death

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

J. Elke Ertle was a Berlin teenager when John F. Kennedy’s death plunged West Berlin into depression and despair. From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin was physically divided. In 1961, the East German government, with Soviet backing, surrounded West Berlin with a 12-foot wall. In June 1963, Kennedy gave a historic speech in which he expressed admiration for those who had remained in the tiny capitalist island despite being surrounded by a communist sea.

Excerpt from Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom

Elke writes, “My eighteenth birthday fell on a Thursday. I didn’t celebrate until the following afternoon, November 22. Three girlfriends came for a Kaffeeklatsch and had barely left when the phone rang. It was my American friend. I assumed he wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Instead he asked, “Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“President Kennedy has been shot!”

A long silence. I tried to comprehend.

“President Kennedy? When?”

“Less than half hour ago.”

“Shot at? Or shot dead?”

My friend shared what he knew. “Go and turn on the TV,” he said. We quickly said good-bye, and I flicked on the set. In disbelief, I watched as the tragedy in Dallas unfolded. Although the shooting had occurred shortly after noon Texas-time, it was already evening in Berlin. Within hours, thousands of Berliners gathered in the Rudolph-Wilde-Platz in front of city hall where John F. Kennedy had spoken only five months earlier. In a broadcast, the Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, read,

“Eine Flamme ist erloschen. Erloschen fuer alle Menschen, die auf einen gerechten Frieden hoffen und auf ein besseres Leben. Die Welt ist an diesem Abend sehr viel aermer geworden. (A flame has gone out. Gone out for all people who hope for a just peace and a better life. The world has grown considerably poorer this evening.)” 

The following afternoon, my friends and I joined the 15,000 students who walked in silence from the Airlift Memorial to the Schoeneberger Rathaus. We marched behind a banner that read Wir haben einen Freund verloren — We have lost a friend.

On the day of Kennedy’s state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, 250,000 of us gathered in front of Berlin’s city hall. The Rudolph-Wilde-Platz was renamed John-F.-Kennedy Platz. In West Berlin, where the East-West confrontation could be felt more than anywhere else in the world, the grief for Kennedy was particularly deep. John F. Kennedy had been our hero. Our loss was personal.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.





Field Station Teufelsberg

Monday, April 8th, 2013

The motto, In God we trust; all others we monitor, was never more applicable than in West Berlin during the Cold War. During those years, the US National Security Agency (NSA) erected a Field Station in the British sector of the city where I grew up. Located at the edge of Berlin’s largest forested area, the Grunewald, the post’s mission remained shrouded in secrecy. Rumors had it that the purpose of the station, used by both American and British personnel, was to eavesdrop on the communications of East Germany, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries.

The complex stood atop of the Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain), a hill that was man-made from close to 424 million cubic feet of World War II rubble. Between 1945 (the end of the war) and 1950, it had been the job of Truemmerfrauen (rubble women) to sift through tons of debris, pick out reusable bricks, chip away the mortar, and to load them onto carts and lories as reconstruction material. The leftover refuse was then lugged to the Grunewald and other locations in the city. It was from this rubble, that the 377-foot-highTeufelsberg was created; and on top of it, the NSA erected a 262 foot-high spy station.

The first intelligence units moved onto the mound in July 1961. More permanent buildings were erected in 1963. Three huge globes and two radomes topped the facilities. Over the years, the station grew into one of the West’s largest intelligence-gathering posts. Its secret mission continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 after which the station was closed and the equipment removed. But the building shells remained, and they are still standing today.

The 1990s brought talks of preserving Field Station Teufelsberg as a spy museum. Six years later, the site was sold to developers with plans for a hotel, a restaurant, and a museum.  But the project was abandoned when funds ran out. In 2008, American filmmaker David Lynch tried to turn the site into a Transcendental Meditation Center but could not secure the city’s approval. More recently, there have been calls to preserve the site and turn it into a memorial.

Also visit to read about the work of the Truemmerfrauen (rubble women).


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.