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A Neutral’s Description of the Building of the Wall (August 14, 1961)

A Swiss correspondent describes the erection of a barrier through the former German capital, analyzes the consequences of halting the stream of East German refugees to the West, and speculates about the Wall’s potential to aggravate the international crisis surrounding Berlin’s Four-Power status.

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The GDR is Being Cordoned off from the West
Soviets Violate the Four-Power Agreements on Berlin

Escape routes out of the Soviet Zone are blocked off

Tel. by our correspondent

O.F. Berlin, August 13

Last night, in a despotic act, the Pankow* regime destroyed the central element of the Four-Power status of Berlin and the agreements concluded by the Four Powers after the lifting of the Berlin blockade, agreements that provide for freedom of movement within the four sectors of the city, free choice of workplace, and the free flow of traffic from the Soviet zone to Berlin. At the same time, the interior minister, the transportation minister, and the head of the administration in the Soviet sector, passed unilateral resolutions, whereby the citizens of the GDR and the residents of East Berlin are prevented from entering the Western sector of the city without an authorization issued by the People’s Police [Volkspolizei] precinct responsible for their respective residential district. The 60,000 cross-border commuters in East Berlin and in the peripheral areas of Berlin that belong to the Soviet zone are prohibited from continuing to engage in employment in West Berlin. For traffic across the sector border in Berlin, a regulation like the one on interzonal traffic between the Soviet zone and the Federal Republic will take effect.

Occupation of the Soviet Sector

At four o’clock in the morning, police and military forces of the SED-state began occupying the Soviet sector. State security officers occupied streets and building entrances, and police set up barbed wire barriers along the sector border. Between 5 and 6 AM, members of the People’s Police, the riot police, the so-called combat groups [of factory workers], and the paramilitary Society for Sport and Technology appeared en masse and occupied school buildings and factories. At 5:30 AM the first units of the East German People’s Army [Volksarmee] could be seen with light tanks. Later, larger contingents of the People’s Army arrived from the Soviet Zone with heavy artillery. Between 6 and 7 o’clock, helpers from the Red Cross of the GDR started blending in with the police. Between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate the street was torn up and a stone wall was erected. The border guards put up a barrier on the park area behind the barricade. When East Berliners woke up in the morning the military occupation of the Soviet sector had already been completed. The border between West Berlin and the Soviet zone has also been hermetically sealed off. Heavily armed forces are standing guard near the bridge leading from West Berlin to Potsdam, and patrol boats are traversing the Havel.

* Pankow is a Berlin neighborhood that occupies the northern portion of the territory that formerly constituted East Berlin. In the days of the GDR, Pankow was home to government leaders and other members of the political and social elite. Western commentators therefore often used the term “Pankow” as shorthand for the GDR regime – eds.

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