GDR travel. Passport compulsory. Germany now a foreign country
This was the headline of a Spiegel article in 1968. GDR travel passport compulsory
Shortly after midnight, the traffic light that clears the way to the GDR border checkpoint at Marienborn jumps from red to “clear”. Bernhard Ruhland, 32, a limited partner in the company “Ferdinand Paul Krüger, Konstruktionen in Stahl, Aluminium, Messing, Kupfer” from West Berlin, drives up to the checkpoint in his Fiat 125 (license plate: B-JW 813).
“Now we’re going to get the routing slip,” he greets the officer of the GDR People’s Army, who adds: “and an application. What is meant is a visa application. Ruhland fills out the form, crosses out “citizen of the West German Federal Republic” and leaves: “citizen of the independent political entity of West Berlin. Behind check-in counter 7, Sergeant Albrecht Ruhland is processing the pink “Annex to the West, GDR visa stamp from June 13, 1968. Berlin identity card” in beautiful handwriting. Then he carefully sticks a fee stamp on the paper. Ruhland: “Just watch your stamps.” Albrecht: “You must collect some, blue Mauritius and all.” GDR travel passport compulsory
Ruhland is cleared. He has visa number 516/6. A GDR major: “This has been in effect since 0:01 a.m.” The GDR’s new passport regulations have been in effect since 0:01 a.m. Thursday of last week. Like businessman Bernhard Ruhland (“If that’s the way they want it, fine”), Germans traveling to or through the GDR now all get a visa stamp — West Berliners in the new “Annex to the Identity Card,” German citizens in their passports.
At the border crossing Herleshausen! Wartha, long-distance trucker Horst Hielscher from Freiburg was the first German citizen to have his passport sealed by the GDR border guards at 0:05 a.m. (“If you had come ten minutes earlier, you could have spared yourself this”). Hielscher (“Well, I guess I’ll get a bouquet of flowers”) filled out visa application no. 000 001 and received visa 497/1. This is what happened on the night of June 13 at all the border crossings between the two parts of Germany. This is how it should remain according to the will of the GDR. The Germans, separated for 20 years, are now divorced people even on paper. GDR travel passport compulsory
They have long known that they are becoming strangers to each other, that the governments of the two German states are as irreconcilably opposed to each other as ever. But now — just before West Germany’s Unity Day in leisure time on June 17 — Ulbricht’s circular stamps impressed upon them the certainty that one part of Germany is foreign to the other. The GDR, which had surrounded itself with a passe-partout of barbed wire, now wants to see the passe-partout. Except for the vaccination against cholera and smallpox, a “citizen” who wants to travel from Herford to Erfurt must now submit to sovereign acts as if he were traveling to the Fiji Islands.
This seems grotesque at a time when in Western Europe only authoritarian Portugal still wants to see passports from German citizens; when the world powers have elevated the policy of détente in Europe to a program; when even Bonn’s Ostpolitik, filled with the spirit of the Cold War for over two decades, is gradually but recognizably seeking change through rapprochement. But what must seem anachronistic to the West is to the GDR what it has long promised on signs on its national borders: “A path to a happy future.” With every stamp that the red border guards print on West German passports, the GDR reaffirms its claim to be something in the world, to be recognized by Bonn as a sovereign entity, and to secure a place in history as the “socialist state of the German nation.” GDR travel passport compulsory
This GDR maxim applies to what Interior Minister Friedrich Dickel announced to the People’s Chamber last week at the behest of the SED and with Moscow’s approval. In the 9th session of their People’s Chamber, the GDR deputies were more cheerful than ever. The minutes’ record what otherwise seems alien to the system: “Hilarity.”
Six times during two speeches, the people’s representatives, who usually exercise their office in silence, acknowledged the remarks they had to listen to with “Right” or “Very right,” with “Very true,” and even with “Hear, hear.” A deputy interposed, “He who will not hear must feel.”
With this proverb from the Schulmeister treasure trove, the GDR deputy dubbed the meaning of the bundle of paragraphs presented by the government and approved by the Volkskammer: GDR travel passport compulsory
* citizens of the federal republic may only enter the country with a passport, for travel to and from West Berlin a “transit visa” for a one-day stay in east Berlin (as before) a “one-day residence permit”.
* analogous regulations apply to west berlin citizens, except that the visas are entered “on an attachment to the valid west berlin personal identity card”.
* for travel to West Germany and west berlin, GDR citizens require a passport instead of an identity card, which must be issued with an “exit visa” for travel to the federal republic, and a “Sichtvermerk” for travel to west berlin. > The cost of a transit visa has been set at five marks for one trip and ten marks for a round trip. For an entry visa, 15 marks must be paid, for an exit visa, five marks. A family of four visiting relatives in the GDR must therefore pay 80 marks for visas alone. A one-day residence permit for East Berlin costs five marks, as does a visa. GDR travel passport compulsory
* The so-called minimum exchange rates were increased. When staying in the GDR, German citizens will have to exchange ten (previously five) West Marks for East Marks per person and day; West Berliners have already had to pay this much. If residents of West Berlin receive passes for staying in East Berlin, they must exchange five marks per day (previously three); citizens of Germany have already had to pay this much. > A “tax equalization levy” has been introduced “for transportation services by West German and West Berlin companies on roads and waterways in the GDR” — namely:
* three pfennigs per ton and GDR kilometer; four pfennigs per ton and kilometer for the transportation of “dangerous goods” such as oil and gasoline; 0.8 pfennigs per person and kilometer for the transportation “of persons by motor vehicles” of West German or West Berlin companies; 35 pfennigs (dangerous goods: 45 pfennigs) per ton for transportation on the Mittelland Canal; 70 pfennigs (dangerous goods: 90 pfennigs) per ton for transportation “on other waterways.” GDR travel passport compulsory
What is certain is that these pennies will add up. All in all, the GDR will collect about 100 million West Marks a year more than before. Berlin’s governing mayor, Klaus Schütz, illustrates by example: “A family of four traveling (in transit) to and from Berlin now has to pay 40 marks more for this trip; a 20-ton “lorry train” traveling to Berlin via Lauenburg now has to pay 134.40 marks in addition to the road toll; a 400-ton barge coming to Berlin via the Elbe now pays about 400 marks in ‘tax equalization charges.'”
It is uncertain what the effect of the political orders will be: > “Prohibited” are “transports with the printed matter of the neo-Nazi “NPD” or other neo-Nazi materials in freight traffic through the territory of the German Democratic Republic”; such transports are to be “rejected by the customs organs … rejected.” > GDR customs authorities may “only permit transports whose goods accompanying documents do not designate West Berlin as belonging to West Germany in violation of international law”. > Customs documents containing the claim of sole representation” are not recognized; instead, the GDR authorities “issue their own documents. GDR travel passport compulsory
All this was kept secret in East Berlin — but that something unusual was about to happen in Germany was clear at the latest when Walter Ulbricht returned from a mission to Moscow at the end of May and it became known that the GDR and the Soviet Union had reached the most far-reaching agreements to date.
The German government had known for two years that visa applications were ready in the GDR. That the GDR wanted money for postal services and transit traffic between the Federal Republic and West Berlin was officially communicated by its ministers to the Bonners — with details of the account number.
Nevertheless, on the morning of June 11, for which the People’s Chamber had been convened, the West German secret services — as before the building of the Wall in 1961 — knew nothing. When the first rumors of imminent GDR pressures emerged in the morning hours, the Constitutional Protection Agency replied: “Everything is quiet. The BND let it be known that nothing was imminent. GDR travel passport compulsory
So then it hit ministers and deputies, brothers and sisters on this side of the zone border like a cold blow. Berlin was again a worry. The former head of the city and current Federal Foreign Minister Willy Brandt, who was on a state visit to Austria, received the news in the Imperial Hotel in Vienna. Leaning against the door of his room in his undershirt, he read to reporters what he had hastily scribbled in black felt-tip pen on an airmail sheet from the hotel: “The Western protective powers will have to make it clear beyond any doubt that they are standing up for the viability of Berlin and for unhindered access to Berlin with all their might.”
Chancellor Kiesinger was conferring with the Bonn Finance Cabinet when the bad news from East Berlin reached him. He had the All-German Minister Herbert Wehner and AA State Secretary Duckwitz summoned to his study, where he conferred with them, along with Chancellery State Secretary Guttenberg and Deputy Speaker Conrad Ahlers. He announced immediate talks with the Allies to the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Schütz, by cable. GDR travel passport compulsory
But when Schütz, who for his part saw a “black day for the Germans” coming and was already talking to the deputy city commanders in Berlin, read the deciphered Chancellor’s telegram to his assembled advisors, embarrassed laughter flared up for a moment in the embarrassed “What Now” group: The chancellor requested hints as to what he should discuss with the Allies.
Even these reactions of the first hour showed what became clear in the following days: Bonn’s powerlessness in the face of East Berlin’s pressures and the realization that even the Allies would not be able to change anything. Would the Allies, as the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” put it, “leave it at a harnessed protest, or will they do more? But what?” GDR travel passport compulsory
Indignation and resignation mingled in the German press from right to left. The “Welt” in Hamburg called the GDR Berlinale a “piratical prank” and yet recognized “that formal rights and conditions … have hardly been violated”. The left-liberal “Frankfurter Rundschau” found it “really disgusting what Ulbricht and his people have recently cooked up,” and yet stated: “We must swallow our anger, as difficult as that may be.”
Everything that holds the Federal Republic together at its core – coalition and opposition, trade unions, and the long-distance freight industry – once again took to the streets in protest. But it remained as ineffective as this time even action by SDS students, who were not allowed to carry their protest through the Wall and complained that the GDR had replaced “socialist politics with bureaucratic regulations.” GDR travel passport compulsory
What appeared to the German Employees Union as a “brutal relapse into Cold War forms,” to CDU member Johann Baptist Gradl as a “clear case of blackmail,” and to Bavaria’s CSU as a “cold dismantling of Berlin’s status” made it clear that Bonn — once the champion of a policy of strength — is powerless on the German question.
The “stake in the flesh” of the East, as Ernst Reuter once called the half-city of West Berlin, is now being used by Walter Ulbricht as a lever against Bonn. And Bonn has to stand idly by while the GDR uses this lever. The Allies, who would have been happy to leave the problem to the Germans long ago, do not feel touched as long as their rights of access to the western part of the old Reich capital remain untouched. Or, in other words: Berlin is now only a German problem — an international one at best on hold.
This has been clear since the Allies allowed Ulbricht’s Wall to be built in 1961 — albeit under protest. And it became clear then that the Allied position in the capital of the defeated had been difficult from the hour of victory.
The Allies had to rely on access routes that — like vital umbilical cords — ran 200 kilometers through Soviet-controlled territory. And when Stalin, by now at enmity with the allies of old, closed these access roads in 1948, World War III seemed imminent. U.S. General Lucius D. Clay wanted to force the breakthrough with tanks. GDR travel passport compulsory
But Washington still found a way out: The Americans took to the air, bridged the blockade on land with their “raisin bombers,” but also accepted the political division of the city by the SED, thereby indicating that they, along with their two allies, felt responsible only for West Berlin in the future.
After the blockade ended in 1949, the Americans were satisfied with an access arrangement that, according to U.S. Ambassador Murphy, did not fulfill “their legitimate claim to access to this city without restriction.”
The limits of the claim were made clear, nine years later, by Nikita Khrushchev. On November 27, 1958, he made an ultimate demand on the Western powers to vacate Berlin within six months and to transform the western sectors into a “Free City.” GDR travel passport compulsory
U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Stalin’s blockade in mind, reacted cautiously: if Moscow handed over control of Allied Berlin traffic to Ulbricht, the Americans might accept the GDR guards as “agents” and “vicarious agents” of the Russians. And President John F. Kennedy — still confronted with Khrushchev’s now-prolonged ultimatum when he took office in January 1961 — was also “not concerned with whether Russian or East German border guards stamp Western papers on the autobahn …”
He postulated the three “essentials” that America alone would advocate — by force of arms if necessary: the presence of Western troops in West Berlin, Allied access to the city, and viability of the city of West Berlin.
The Soviets accepted the new Berlin game rule. When they had Ulbricht’s border guards build the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, they did not touch any of the three Kennedy maxims. And when GDR people also wanted to visit U.S. soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse in October and the Americans had tanks marched up, the Russians promptly aborted the test attempt. GDR travel passport compulsory
Only once since then, in October 1963, did the Soviets attempt to diminish the remnants of Berlin’s four-power status by pressuring the Americans. They stopped a U.S. military convoy at the Babelsberg autobahn checkpoint.
For 52 hours, Red Army soldiers and GIs were in a fighting position: twelve Red infantry fighting vehicles, quadruple flak, and an infantry company against 61 Americans. Then, as if nothing had happened, the Russians pulled out. The Soviets opened the turnpike, and the U.S. column was given free passage — as had all others after it so far.
But to the same extent that the Soviets and the Western powers disengaged from their Berlin confrontation, Walter Ulbricht’s GDR gained leeway for its own political goals. And nothing demonstrated Western impotence vis-à-vis Moscow’s protégé more clearly than the increase in the GDR’s power to act on its borders. GDR travel passport compulsory
For the first time in 1951, the East Berlin government levied road tolls (“Straßenbenutzungsgebühr”) on civilian Berlin transit. In 1952, it cut off West Berliners’ hitherto free access to the GDR, and in 1955 the last Soviet rights to control civilian Berlin traffic on land and water were transferred to Ulbricht’s authorities.
After the Wall was built in 1961, the SED regime barred West Berliners from entering East Berlin and forced negotiations with the Schöneberg Senate on the issue of passes. And as before, all protests in Bonn and West Berlin later remained ineffective when the GDR
* in April 1965, members of the German Bundestag were denied land passage to Berlin,
* in March of that year, closed transit routes to Berlin for all NPD members,
* in April, extended this quarantine to federal ministers and senior officials of the federal government. Sent home at the Drewitz GDR checkpoint, as the current president of the Bundesrat, was Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Schütz, who heads a city that has long since lost its battering ram effect against the East. Stirred by unrest under red flags, burdened with an economy in the red, the glittering thing — even if it still sparkles between the “Long Lulatsch” and the Memorial Church — fell into its own shadow.
The island of Berlin costs the Federal Republic more than eight million marks every day. Despite the enormous subsidies that Bonn funnels into the old imperial capital, and despite the Senate’s stereotypical assurances that Berlin’s economy is “healthy at its core,” neither Bonn nor the Berlin Senate has been able to kill the germs of disease in the island economy. There is a lack of financial backers and workers. GDR travel passport compulsory
In the crisis year of 1967, industrial investment shrank by 25 percent, and the number of workers in the industry fell by 25,000 to 267,000. For the first time, the outflow was greater than the inflow. Labor offices booked a migration loss of 5437 workers.
West German workers moving to the city often turn their backs on it after only a few months because they cannot find inexpensive housing. West German entrepreneurs willing to relocate cannot find cheap properties on the speculator-dominated real estate market that could make the move palatable to them.
For industry, Berlin has long been worth a sideline at best. Major local companies such as Siemens and AEG outsourced research and development departments to West Germany. The Berlin companies were downgraded to dependencies. Of 2.2 million West Berliners, almost 600,000 are pensioners, and the proportion of those over 65 is almost twice as high as in the rest of Germany: 21 percent. GDR travel passport compulsory
This city, sick of itself, offered itself to the GDR as a means to put Bonn’s enemy on the defensive. And never before has the opportunity been so favorable as in these weeks: Big Brother in Moscow could be won over for the long-awaited pressures all the more readily because the GDR stands blindly by the side of the frightened Kremlin in the disintegrating Eastern bloc. Two leading powers of the West were paralyzed by their own problems — France by the revolt of its workers and students, America by the Vietnam War, and its social conflict after the second Kennedy assassination. Finally, the Federal Republic provided the pretext: bypassing the emergency laws.
Only two years ago, the constitutional law expert Professor Theodor Eschenburg was able to suggest in the “Zeit” that recognition of the GDR could be bartered for a guarantee of the status of West Berlin. Last week, when the GDR action left Bonn with only the option of reacting with mere protest, this kind of barter deal already seemed almost inconceivable.
The world’s second strongest trading nation no longer even felt able to exert economic pressure against the GDR. The possibility of exerting a political influence on the GDR through Interzone trade was gone. This weapon has become blunt since the GDR has tied itself economically more and more to the Soviet Union and Interzone trade has shrunk. GDR travel passport compulsory
From the post-war high in 1966 (three billion marks), the volume of Interzone trade fell by 8.6 last year, and by 13 percent in the first quarter of this year, below the previous year’s result. And today Bonn is more interested in Interzone trade than East Berlin.
The week before last, Foreign Minister Brandt wrote a letter to Chancellor Kiesinger at the urging of his economic comrade Karl Schiller, demanding concessions in Interzone trade: Schiller wants to grant the GDR loans and tax rebates.
“The wind is no longer blowing in our faces,” Khrushchev had proclaimed after the Wall was built. Today the wind has completely changed: it is blowing in Bonn’s face.
For 20 years, the Federal Republic considered itself the only legitimate successor state to the destroyed German Reich — a claim that is still reflected today in legal absurdities such as the customs law, which according to the commentary on the law is supposed to apply “within the borders of 1937,” or in the law on value-added tax, which understands “domestic territory within the meaning of this law” to mean all of Germany on this side of the Oder and Neisse rivers. GDR travel passport compulsory
For 20 years, since the Berlin blockade, Bonn’s reunification politicians had backed the wrong horse. They wanted to ignore the other postwar Germany, which was to be trampled on with goose-foots “above and below,” until the communist rulers ran out of steam.
But now Bonn is suffering from all-German shortness of breath. The “sharp countermeasures” announced last Thursday by Chancellor Kiesinger, who had rushed to West Berlin for comfort, were exhausted in plans that hardly hurt the GDR government — such as refusing to sign the nuclear ban treaty, which Moscow also wanted, or barring GDR officials from traveling to NATO countries.
Thus it may have become clear to far-sighted people in Bonn last week that Germany had lost not only World War I and World War II, but also the reunification battle in the Cold War. GDR travel passport compulsory
The bill for the June 13 showdown is being paid by the Germans who sit between the fronts, the Berliners — residents of a city about which a chancellor’s adviser just said, “Of course, if you have cancer, you’ve known for some time that he’s going to die. But the mourning just doesn’t begin until he’s dead.”
The GDR border guards who have been adorning the passports of German citizens with the hammer-and-circle symbol since 0:01 a.m. last Thursday are putting the stamp of reality on Bonn’s illusion of Germany. GDR travel passport compulsory
Source: Der Spiegel 25/1968 (translated by the author)