The Allied Museum in Dahlem

Visit The Allied Museum In Dahlem

The Story Of The Western Allies' Cold War Presence In Berlin

Featured Experience No. 69

Berlin’s status as a divided city during the Cold War period meant that not only was there the peculiarity of two different and competing Germanies to consider when trying to understand the corporeality of the city. But also the parts that the four powers that had occupied the country and its capital at the end of the Second World War had to play. Their roles and influence on Berlin until its eventual reunification in 1990.

As allies responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany, the British, French, American, and Soviet administrations had chosen to remain in the country as occupation powers at the end fo the war – to ensure not only the complete neutralisation of National Socialism but inevitably represent themselves and their interest on the centre stage of the European theatre. An Allied Control Council would be established to coordinate on matters affecting the country and oversee the implementation of the Five Ds – decided upon at the Yalta Conference in 1945 – demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization, and deindustrialization. A further – and equally important D would be added to this list – that of the Deterioration of relations between these Allies, as the uneasy peace of the Cold War era developed and mutual suspicion turned into nuclear standoff and proxy wars elsewhere in the world.

This period, from the Western perspective, is excellently documented in Berlin’s Allied Museum in the leafy suburb of Dahlem – charting the milestones from the arrival of Allied troops in Berlin in 1945 until their withdrawal nearly fifty years later, in 1994.

A British Hastings
Inside a British Hastings at the Allied Museum

As an island in the middle of the Soviet zone of occupation, Berlin was divided into four sectors in 1945 – with the Soviets taking the east and historic Mitte district, the French the north-west, British the central-west, and the US the south-western districts. While this carving up on the former Nazi capital may have initially seemed a fair division of the joint-victors receiving joint-spoils, it would also inevitably make conflict between these powers a foregone conclusion.

Beyond the Five Ds discussed at Potsdam, three further Rs agreed upon – Reparations, Re-education, and Resettlement – would mean that the victorious Allies would be responsible for restructuring German society from the bottom up, socially and politically. The democratisation of the West of the country, by the British, French, and Americans, would see the introduction of a free market economy, based on supply and demand. Whereas in the East, a Soviet planned economy would be imported – structuring the society around the Soviet goal of moving towards a Socialist state and providing a cordon sanitaire – as with the other East Bloc countries – against any Western imperialist incursion.

The increasingly cantankerous quadripartite meetings of the post-war Allied Kontrollrat (Control Council) and separate Kommandatura (governing council) would both end in disaster as the Soviet representatives walked out – leading to the dissolution of these bodies – in March and June 1948. The Berlin Blockade that would follow eight days later, and result in the Berlin Airlift operation carried out by the Western Allies, would come to define the irreconcilable differences between the authorities in East and West. As either side sought to establish their corresponding political system and project their influence in the zones under their control..

Allied Bombs on display at the Allied Museum

Did you know...

While establishing control of Berlin, the Allied forces from 1945 also had to deal with the consequences of the destruction wrought on the city - particularly from the 360+ air raids Berlin had endured. About 70,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the Nazi capital by Allied forces and experts today believe that about 15% of those bombs failed to explode on impact, with many still left submerged across the city.

The establishment of the two German states in 1949 – the Federal German Republic (FRG) in the West and the German Democractic Republic (GDR) in the East – would see the four occupation powers taking a back seat in public and government leadership, but still exerting influence through the political ties and the number of troops based on German soil. The soldiers, officers, and various other officials acting as the everyday representatives of the four powers.

Certain post-war agreements would mean that interaction between the four occupation powers would continue – in particular the freedom of movement agreement made at the Potsdam Conference, that stipulated that it was possible for members of the Allied forces to cross freely move around the divided city of Berlin, without the necessity of any justification. This would lead to the maintenance of a border crossing on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstraße – between the districts of Kreuzberg and Mitte – to inspect these Allied troops on the West side before they were allowed to enter the East. Commonly referred to as Checkpoint Charlie, due to the crossing point being the third in a series that stretched from the border of West Germany to the entrance to East Berlin, this featured an iconic checkpoint box. The original box, which sat at that intersection in 1989 as the city opened up on November 9th, with the ‘Fall of the Wall’ can now be found at the Allied Museum in Dahlem.

This issue of access to the city had been contested by the Soviet during the Berlin Blockade, when transportation to and from Berlin was restricted – with road and rail access being cut off to try to starve the Western Allies out of the divided city. The response would be to mount one of the largest ever airlift operations to fuel West Berlin by air with all essential supplies; including coal, flour, money, and machinery. One of the most impressive items in the museum collection is the Handley Page Hastings aircraft parked outside in the courtyard, used in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 by the Royal Air Force to transport supplies into West Berlin. Upon its introduction to service in 1948, the Hastings was the largest transport plane ever designed for the RAF. A fleet of 32 of these four engined Hastings would deliver a combined total of 55,000 tons (49,900 tonnes) of supplies, principally coal, to the city during the Berlin Airlift operation.

Checkpoint Charlie at the Allied Museum
US Jeep in the Allied Museum

The French military train nearby in the courtyard also alludes to this issue of access to Berlin – something that the Allied occupation troops were tasked with maintaining – as regular military trains would run daily from the island of West Berlin inside East Germany back to West Germany to ensure freedom of movement and the continuity of democratic West Berlin.

Soviet premier, Nikita Krushchev, would alternately refer to West Berlin as ‘a bone in his throat’ or ‘the testicles of the West’. By its mere existence, West Berlin threatened the socialist East by offering a glittering alternative to the dour reality of the international class struggle. But it would also prove useful to the Soviets whenever the need to antagonise the West came up, as an isolated island of capitalism within the borders of East Germany was such a readily available target – constantly threatened with the overwhelming force of the Soviet troops stationed around it. At no point would it have been militarily feasible for the Western forces to defend West Berlin against a Soviet assault, and while the Allied Museum does deal with issues relating to the Allied military presence in Berlin, there are also sections dedicated to civilian ties and life. The marriages, the divorces, the everyday events that seemed so normal at the time – living life on the faultline of a worldwide conflict.

The Allied Museum is located in the western district of Dahlem, near the US embassy, with the main section of the display housed inside a former cinema building that was constructed in 1953 – the year of the peoples’ uprising in East Germany. The former name of the venue remains on the front of the building – and echo of this encapsulated period that ended so abruptly in 1994, following the reunification of Germany. Perhaps more fitting that the official title of the museum, the name of this former cinema alludes to the significance of the contribution of all those who as representatives dedicated their lives in a foreign land to a cause many considered greater than themselves – Outpost.

The Allied Museum In Dahlem

Some useful links related to the Allied Museum in Dahlem:

The Allied Museum official website


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