To perceive Berlin’s Cold War division as merely a matter of East and West – as it is often reduced to considering the gravity of the ideological confrontation that took place in the city at the time – is to risk obscuring the more exact corporeality of Berlin’s 20th century history. That is to say that until 1990 and German Reunification, the German capital in theory was under Allied occupation – technically still divided between the British, American, French, and Soviets – with not only the influence of East and West Germany to consider but also the involvement of these four powers.
As allies responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany, the ‘Big Four’ chose to remain in the country as occupation powers at the end of the war – to ensure not only the complete neutralisation of National Socialism but inevitably represent themselves and their interests.
An Allied Control Council would be established to coordinate between these powers on matters affecting the country and oversee the implementation of the so-called ‘Five Ds’ – decided upon at the Yalta Conference in 1945 – Demilitarization, Denazification, Democratization, Decentralization, and Deindustrialization. However, a further – and equally important D would soon 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 between East and West.
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.
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 of the former Nazi capital may have initially seemed a fair division – with the joint-victors receiving joint-spoils – it would also make conflict between these powers a foregone conclusion.
Beyond the Five Ds discussed at Potsdam, three further Rs were also agreed upon – Reparations, Re-education, and Resettlement – and 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 finally end in disaster as the Soviet representatives walked out of both – 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 subsequently come to define the irreconcilable differences between the authorities in East and West. Inevitably bringing the Brits, French, and US closer together in the process.
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 had been dropped on the Nazi capital 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 politically and retaining a considerable number of troops on German soil. With the soldiers, officers, and various other officials acting as the everyday representatives of the four powers.
Certain post-war agreements meant that constructive interaction between the four occupation powers actually continued despite the international conflict underway – 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 freely move around in Berlin, without the necessity of any justification. This would lead to the introduction of a border crossing on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstraße – between the districts of Kreuzberg and Mitte – to inspect 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 Berlin Wall’, can now be found at the Allied Museum in Dahlem.
One of the other 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 year long supply operation carried out by the British, French, and US.
Like these two imporant pieces of history, the French military train nearby in the courtyard also alludes to the issue of access to Berlin – something that 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 continued existence of democratic West Berlin.
In-fact, providing support for West Berlin and securing its survival would prove incredibly important to the Western powers. 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. Soviet premier, Nikita Krushchev, would alternately refer to West Berlin as ‘a bone in his throat’ or ‘the testicles of the West’ – illustrating the duality of this dilemma.
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. As such, the museum also acts as a time capsule of a way of life that no longer exists – a period that held special significance for American troops acting as a colonial occupation power. Something the British and French administrations had much more experience with.
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. 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.
Some useful links related to the Allied Museum in Dahlem:
The Allied Museum official website
Learn more about the history of Nazi Germany and life in Hitler’s Third Reich with our Capital Of Tyranny tours.
Learn more about the Battle of Berlin and explore this urban battlefield with our Battle of Berlin tours.
Learn more about the history of East German and life behind the Iron Curtain with our Republic Of Fear tours.
Learn more about the history of Prussia and the life of Frederick the Great with our Glory Of Prussia tours.
Learn more about the Nazi Concentration Camp industry and visit Sachsenhausen on our Invention of Hell tours.