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Imprisoning East Germany

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Der Spiegel has a fascinating article about a piece of historical documentation which has been uncovered, revealing whether it was Walter Ulbricht or Nikita Khrushchev who came up with the idea of building the Berlin Wall.

Khrushchev, at any rate, stepped up the pace. “We will give you one or two weeks to make the necessary economic preparations,” he told Ulbricht. “Then you will convene the parliament and issue the following communiqué: ‘Beginning tomorrow, checkpoints will be erected and transit will be prohibited. Anyone who wishes to cross the border can do so only with the permission of certain authorities of the German Democratic Republic.”

Khrushchev wanted to convince the East German population that the wall being built would protect them from Western spies, and he said that the Germans would understand.


But even Khrushchev didn’t appear to totally believe his own propaganda. When Ulbricht told him, during the August meeting, that he wanted to bring his economic experts into the loop, Khrushchev advised him otherwise. “You should not explain anything before the introduction of the new border regime,” he said. “It would only strengthen the flow of people leaving.”

If word got out about the wall construction, the Kremlin director recognized correctly, there could be “traffic jams” on Berlin’s access roads. Such forms of traffic obstruction would constitute “a certain demonstration,” he said.