Berlin and the Future of Germany
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Mar 1968, p. 352-366
Spencer, Professor Robert A., Speaker
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Some personal remarks. Changes on the Berlin front. What the Berlin Wall represents and means. The misnomer of "German Democratic Republic." Economic conditions in the GDR. Some consequences of events in Berlin. West Berlin today. Problems for West Berlin both external and internal. Recent political tumult in the streets of Berlin. Berlin as a product of the larger German problem, of the East-West confrontation over Germany which has led to a prolongation of the division of the country and the division and isolation of Berlin. Burying some myths about East Berlin's claim for recognition and about Bonn's claim to speak for all the German people. How the Germans and the Allies are going to solve, or at least to ease, the harsh fact of division.
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14 Mar 1968
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MARCH 14, 1968
Berlin and the Future of Germany
The President, Graham M. Gore


The bloody fighting in Vietnam, the Pueblo crisis in Korea, and the foreboding of further racial violence in the United States have been the dom inant features of the world news-picture for some weeks now.

It should be kept firmly in mind, however, that while the Berlin blockade, the building of the Berlin wall, and the tragic incidents attending these events, are now be hind us, the problems posed by a divided Berlin within a divided Germany are still very much with us. The wall is still there; it is patrolled rigidly, and across it West Germany and the Western Allies confront East Germany and the Soviet Bloc. An uneasy truce prevails; the possibility of crisis and conflict is ever present. In this setting, the question of German re-unification and the easing of East-West tensions in Europe looms larger than ever.

What are the prospects for the future? Will the present fixed situation last indefinitely? Has progress been made towards a workable solution, or are new, and perhaps alarming, developments under way? To speak to us about these matters, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Robert Spencer, a Professor of History at the University of Toronto and Co-editor of the Inter national Journal, a quarterly published by the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. A specialist in European and German history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Dr. Spencer wrote the Berlin section of The Shaping of Postwar Germany, published in 1960, and the concluding portions of Ralph Flenley's Modern German History, published in 1964. He is also the author of a Grade XII textbook entitled The West and a Wider World, and of numerous articles on German questions.

Dr. Spencer's knowledge of Germany is based on firsthand observation, as well as theoretical study. He has paid many visits to both West and East Germany since the end of the last war. It was our provilege to have him address us on November 2nd, 1961, following a year's sabbatical leave spent by him in Germany.

On that occasion, he stressed, among other things, the importance for the West of maintaining and protecting West Berlin's freedom, security, and vital lines of com munication. He felt that an open assault against West Berlin - or even a new blockade - were highly unlikely. What was more likely, he said, was an indirect assault on the means of West Berlin's independent existence - a steady whittling away of the bases on which she has been able to live and prosper, each step barely perceptible, and none sufficiently grave to enable the West to say, "So far and no further". Noting that the building of the wall had deprived West Berlin of so much of its raison d'etre, he said there was a real danger that the exposed outpost would suffer from the gradual onset of atrophy and might become a "ghetto of freedom", to use Willy Brandt's vivid phrase.

Last September, Dr. Spencer returned to Canada from a further year's sabbatical leave in Germany, and his observations during that stay will no doubt be reflected in his remarks today as he speaks to us about "Berlin and the Future of Germany". Dr. Spencer.


The topic I have chosen is ambitious, difficult and complex; let me begin with a few personal remarks.

When I last had the privilege of addressing the Empire Club, six years ago, in November 1961, I had just returned from an extended stay in Germany. This time I speak a few months after returning from a year spent in the divided former capital. As foreigners my family and I were part of that very small group of West Berlin's 2.2 million residents who could move freely from our home in the West into East Berlin, passing through, under, or over the Wall, by foot, car, subway, or city railway, just as often as we wanted to, or rather, just as often as we were prepared to put up with the tiresome border controls and to pay the non-refundable $1.25 per visit thoughtfully demanded by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic to make certain that we had local currency to provide against "unforeseen circumstances". We were also part of the small group of foreigners living on "Berlin Island" who could and did travel frequently the 110-mile stretch of Autobahn between Berlin and West Germany, buying a visa for each trip, paying a road tax, purchasing a special insurance policy, and submitting, at each end of the journey, to the annoying and somewhat unnerving business of having the car searched - a process which involved partial unloading, a mirror rolled under the car and a measuring rod stuck into the gas tank to make sure that no one was hiding there, and all the rest of the dismal business found on no other frontier I know of. Obviously, as foreigners, we enjoyed greater freedom of movement than did the West Berliners; but like them we soon learned to listen to and welcome the sound of the parade of aircraft passing over our house to and from Tempelhof, providing the one link with the West that was free from East German border controls; like them too we came to feel that crushing sense of claustrophobia which came from living on a landlocked island of some 185 square miles -roughly equivalent to the area bounded by Toronto's lakefront and a semi-circle extending from Long Branch to Holland Creek via Thornhill - cut off from the eastern half of the city by the hideous spectacle of the Wall, and barred from the surrounding countryside by a seventy-five-mile-long set of barriers just as formidable, just as impenetrable, as the twenty-eight and a half-milelong Wall itself.

Many things have changed on the Berlin front since I last spoke to the Club. In 1962, or at least by 1964, the most serious crisis since the blockade, which had culmi nated in the erection of the Wall, had come to an end. Provoked by Mr. Khrushchov's 1958 demand for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the establishment of West Berlin as a free city, it ended, as it had begun, at the behest of the Soviet leader. The decisive factor had been the United States power. Western determination to resist Soviet pressure at Berlin showed up the weakness of the Soviet position. Confrontation at a point where Soviet military power enjoyed great local superiority only increased the danger that the United States might resort to the use of nuclear weapons. In consequence, after forward moves on the Berlin front extending over three years, Khrushchov was forced to withdraw; and he had the political courage and control over his own people to make withdrawal possible. Whether the initiative for erecting the Wall had come from East Berlin, or from Moscow, is still a matter of doubt. It does appear, however that the move was forced on Mr. Khrushchov by the interests of the German Democratic Republic.

President Kennedy was undoubtedly right when he described the Wall as the most obvious and vivid condemnation of the Communist system; but if its erection was eloquent testimony to the failure to construct a communist society with an open frontier, it has also been the basis of the economic and social revolution which has been quietly transforming Germany east of the Elbe, and that, from the East German point of view, is its justification. What has emerged beyond the Wall is a sort of gigantic concentration camp or ghetto, whose inhabitants, cut off from normal contact with their neighbours, east as well as west, have in general accepted a situation which they are powerless to alter, or, except in rare instances, to flee. With the frontier closed, direct pressure on the population has been eased in some respects, althought one of the most unlovely features of the regime is the daily dose of all-pervading and lying propaganda, and a feature of recent weeks has been a vigorous campaign against watching West Berlin television, which can reach into most areas of the German Democratic Republic.

German Democratic Republic seems an odd name for a state still largely under foreign control and ruled as a party dictatorship, with a new class of technocratic man agers playing a key role in its bureaucratized government. Despite obvious planning failures, production on the whole is up, the standard of living has risen (though it lags far behind that of the Federal Republic), the social services vary from adequate to excellent. One might sum it up by saying that the East Germans possess most human needs - except freedom in all its manifestations.

The Wall has lost nothing of its horrors with the passing years.

Before I built a wall, I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out And to whom I was likely to give offence.

So Robert Frost wrote years ago in a poem which, in 1962, he courageously read before a Moscow audience. There is, I am sure, no truth to the report that he added, "East Berlin papers please copy." The unique feature of Mr. Ulbricht's "state frontier" at Berlin is, of course, that it is designed not to wall out but to wall in. In an attempt to conceal this, and to minimize the ugly impression it makes on all those visitors whom the West Germans bring to see this unusual tourist attraction, the East German authorities are reconstructing the Wall - demolishing the buildings for a hundred metres behind it (notably in the famous Bernauerstrasse, the scene of many escapes in former days), digging new trenches, installing new barriers, constructing more sophisticated lighting, warning signals, watchtowers, and, as a crowning piece of horror, stationing along it large numbers of savage police dogs with leads attached to cables running parallel with the Wall. The emphasis is on "beautification", efficiency, economy of manpower, and permanence - for despite the bold assertion in the title of a recent book by Mrs. Eleanor Dulles that The Wall is not Forever, the new streamlined Wall seems to be saying that it is there to stay. It is also, and obviously, an increasingly formidable barrier. Press reports tell us that in 1967, 800 East Germans, each having said, with the Psalmist, "With the help of my God I shall leap over the wall," escaped through, over, or under the Wall to the sanctuary of West Berlin. As a connoisseur of its formidable qualities, I can only say that I marvel that anyone attempts, let alone makes it.

Like the blockade of 1948-49, the prolonged crisis of 1958-62 left Berlin even more sharply divided. From this shock West Berlin recovered with characteristic quickness. The city seems in fact, to be taking an unconscionably long time to "Dry out like a lemon", as Mr. Khrushchov predicted. After a brief period of wavering confidence, the loss of some 50,000 Grenzgangers, those who lived in the east and worked in the west, was made up by a flow of workers from West Germany, and the population was stabilized. Berliners soon learned, in short, to live with the Wall in their own half of the city, cut off from direct contact with East Berlin, apart from the holiday passes which were available from Christmas 1963. Since early 1966, however, the price for a new agreement has been judged to be too high, and the gates, for West Berliners, have remained resolutely shut.

No one working in, or visiting, West Berlin today can fail to be conscious that it is a busy, vibrant, bracing city, showing few of the scars of wartime destruction, boasting miles of new streets, many new and some handsome buildings, and managing to live and to prosper in a quite extraordinary fashion, despite the ugly scar of division down its centre and the barring off of its hinterland. If all this owes much to subsidies, and special tax arrangements from Bonn, it also owes greatly to the sturdy qualities of its population. Berlin is a proud city, proud of its unique post-war record and determined to live out quieter days in prosperity and freedom, as it overcame the stormy and dramatic challenges of 1948, 1958, and 1961. It stands today, still, as spectacular evidence of the surrounding German Democratic Republic's failure to convince people who are free to choose.

And yet, despite economic and social and cultural advances, despite the air of calm and the appearance of normalcy, it is clear that West Berlin faces serious prob lems which strike at the root of its very existence. For two decades the city has served as a lonely outpost of freedom behind the iron curtain, occupying a unique position that called forth such oratorical flourishes as "a democratic island in a communist sea". Sebastian Haffner once summed up the city's political role as the threefold one of providing "a showplace, a refuge, and a token of four-power commitment to German unity". The crisis of 1958-62 weakened the function of showplace, it almost destroyed the function of refuge, and it threw doubts on the validity of Berlin as a pledge for reunification. An isolated exclave of the Federal Republic, West Berlin is quite literally a product of the partition of Europe; it owes not only its limitations but its security, its prosperity, and indeed its very existence to the cold war. In an age when Moscow and Washington are seeking to abate the acerbities of the cold war, West Berlin inevitably faces a major problem of adjustment: Berlin did not create the crises which centred on the city in the past two decades, but it certainly thrived on them. What function remains to an isolated and divided city that was a product of the cold war in an age of developing detente?

Cold war memories and attitudes, the reiteration of the old slogans and the worship of the stale taboos, will not suffice for a policy in a different age, and of this Berliners, despite the precariousness of their situation, are more aware than most. Their problem is to define a role or to find a mission which takes account of Berlin's peculiar situation, geographically and politically, and which will assure the city's vitality without compromising its security. To turn the front line city of the cold war into a bridge to eastern Europe is splendid in concept but breaks down on the hard fact that by its mere existence West Berlin is a standing challenge and a tempting opportunity for its surrounding neighbour. To try to develop West Berlin as an entrepot for trade with the East fails to take account of the fact that Berlin's trade is overwhelmingly with West Germany and beyond, for the simple reason that the East cannot buy, or cannot pay for, what Berlin produces. If it is to live, West Berlin - Germany's largest industrial city - must continue to produce the industrial goods it can sell in the West, and sustain its population at present levels, and this places a premium on maintaining the ties with the Federal Republic which it is a primary objective of Russia and East Germany to break.

As it strives to maintain its economic, and thus its political viability, West Berlin will have to reckon with occasional external threats, especially along the precarious access routes now entirely in the hands of the German Democratic Republic. At the turn of the year there was a flurry of excitement associatd with Ulbricht's projected new constitution which is presumably to redefine West Berlin's status as an independent free city by grace and favour of the German Democratic Republic, on whose territory, in the communist view, it lies. But there appears to be ample evidence that at the moment the Soviet Union does not want to risk a further confrontation over Berlin; and Ulbricht has been obliged to backtrack. Although in recent weeks his customary diatribe has been more violent in tone, it has become increasingly non-committal in substance, while the Soviet Union has refrained from pressing demands it knows are unacceptable, such as the ending of the economic integration of West Berlin with the Federal Republic, and the presence of the forces of the Western Allies. On the other hand, Berlin, like Quebec, is not a Land, or province, comme les auCres, and in present circumstance cannot be. Any debate with the East must begin with these basic points clear to both sides: the recognition, that is, of Berlin's anomalous status as a remainder of four-power control. Whatever talks do take place over Berlin, it is worth remembering so to speak, that not many more slices of salami can be cut from the sausage without drawing blood.

Internally, too, West Berlin faces, and will continue to face, difficult problems. There must always be concern for Berlin's economy. The city suffered from the same recession which hit the Federal Republic in 196667, though it escapes, for example, the problems associated with the perennial crisis in coal districts of the Ruhr. Rationalization has resulted in increased productivity with a smaller labour force, and more beneficial results would flow if it were ever possible to cut down the excessively large bureaucracy which is a product of the past as national capital. Raw materials flow in and finished goods flow out along the access routes, relatively unhindered, because at the moment it is in the interests of the German Democratic Republic that they should do so. There are those who fear that only a fresh wave of industrialization, reorganization of the economy and new directive measures will preserve the city's viability and head off a creeping structural crisis. New industries, new functions, are, and clearly will be, needed. Moreover, with a population of some 1300 women to every 1000 men, with half the Berliners over fifty years of age, and a fifth over sixtyfive, and so dependent on the earnings of the rest, there is a continuing need to attract young people to the city and to keep them there-and this means housing, jobs, security, and opportunity.

A profound sense of the need for political stability in an exposed situation contributed to the recent political tumult in the streets of Berlin. Berlin has a healthy history of left-wing agitation. In 1848 Berliners humiliated the Hohenzollern monarchy; in 1918 they overthrew it. In 1920 a general strike saved, for a time, the infant Republic from right-wing nationalists. Goebbels boasted that he won his battle against the workers of Berlin; but he misrepresented the facts. Even in the elections of March 1933, with Hitler as Chancellor, Goering in control of the police, and the SA in command of the streets, Berliners voted overwhelmingly socialist and communist. Hardly surprisingly, since 1945 Berlin has been a socialist stronghold. The Social Democrats have dominated the government, and have led the reconstruction of the city and the battle to preserve its freedoms. Willy Brandt, the foreign minister in the present "grand coalition", held Berlin firmly in his hands, employing a judicious mixture of traditional Berlin bleibt frei gestures with attempts to overcome or at least to mitigate the facts of division.

Brandt was described by his successor as a kind of manhole cover; for when he left for Bonn a year ago, "all the underground poisonous gases exploded". Spearheading the mixture was student unrest. It is also easier to explain this than the unrest in Berkeley or London or Toronto, or, in recent days, in Warsaw. In part it is the familiar generation problem; in part frustration at the dead end of the road to reunification marked by the Wall; in part disillusionment at the formation of the "great coalition" in Bonn; in part a general protest against surviving authoritarianism, especially in the universities, and the traditional postures of the past two decades. It is easier to explain the paradox that German student agitation, in part very earnest, in part the result of deep personal engagement, but in part naive, laughable and even shameless, should centre in the front line city. Until 1961, Berlin's Free University (itself a product of the cold-war splitting of the city) was composed of students from West Berlin, East Germany, and the Federal Republic in roughly equal proportion. But the Wall cut off the recruits from the East who guaranteed a solid anti-communism, and now West German students greatly outnumber Berliners, and find in the divided city, free from the presence of the Bundeswehr and with a university constructed on a more democratic basis than any in West Germany, an ideal field for political engagement in which the principal target is not Ulbricht and the Wall but Johnson and Vietnam.

The bitter encounter with the police last June 2, on the occasion of a visit by the allegedly slave-owning Shah of Iran (in which a student was shot and killed by a police officer who has subsequently been acquitted of responsibility), contributed to the downfall of Heinrich Albertz, the likeable, upright and well-meaning ex-pastor on whom the heavy mantle of leadership had fallen following Brandt's departure. To succeed him Brandt agreed to part with Klaus Schutz, the 41-year-old scholarly socialist who had masterminded much of Brandt's recent political campaigns and whom Brandt had taken to Bonn to fill the heavy role of state secretary in the foreign office. But Schutz, too, has failed to meet the political crisis inside the city and inside the socialist party, which is sharply divided on how to cope with student unrest and Berlin's other domestic problems. When the students persisted in a massive anti-Vietnam demonstration despite a police ban, Berlin was saved from a bloody confrontation only by good sense of the courts who rescinded the ban. Once again on February 18 the Kurfurstendamm witnessed the curious spectacle of pictures of Mao being carried in procession and chants of Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi-Minh, as left-wing leaders of the Social Democrats joined in on the grounds that they could not abandon the students to their radical leaders. Three days later the government contrived a counter demonstration two miles away on the John F. Kennedy Platz in front of the Rathaus. The extent of the clash has been exaggerated in banner headline in one Toronto evening paper; and I doubt that there is sufficient similarity to the atmosphere of Russia before 1914 or of Nazi Germany before 1939 to justify the use of the term "pogrom". None the less, the students have discovered techniques which can stir up violent opposition, and the divided front line city presents a dismaying confrontation of total and irrational negation on the one side and a mindless instinct for repression on the other. Klaus Schiitz's position is one of the most difficult in Germany. Whereas the leftist students have only one enemy - the Establishment, Schutz must defend many interests. He knows that Berlin owes its continued freedom to the United States, and is accordingly troubled by antiAmerican demonstrations. Still, as we have seen again in the past few days, the United States itself preserves the right to dissent in striking fashion; and what Berlin must demonstrate to the surrounding East is that it has a genuine democratic structure in which the right to protest in an orderly fashion is guaranteed -and that official or state organized demonstrations belong on the other side of the Wall.

I have been talking about Berlin and its problems rather in isolation; but it is clear that Berlin is a product of the larger German problem, that is, of the East-West confrontation over Germany which has led to a prolongation of the division of the country and the division and isolation of Berlin. The Berlin problem, in other words, will endure as long as the German question remains unresolved, and here, of course, we are up against a major and genuine clash of interests. It is ironical that, at the very time when the lines of division appear to be hardening as detente progresses, when in the West there is so marked a tendency and so thoughtless a readiness to acquiesce in the recognition of the fait accompli of the division of Geramny, German interest in reunification should have quickened. Why I think there is a strong case against any abandonment of the West's moral and treaty pledges to work for German unification in freedom and through peaceful means, would require a special talk; on this occasion you will just have to take it as my opinion that the stability of Europe and the security of Germany's neighbours require a solution that does not build in potentially explosive resentments. In passing, however, I should like to bury some myths about East Berlin's claim for recognition and about Bonn's claim to speak for all the German people. An East German state unquestionably exists; but to recognize that fact, to have commercial and even official dealings with the East German state is rather different from diplomatic recognition. Diplomatic recognition is a political act, fraught with political consequences. Before embarking on any such course we must consult our own interests and, not least, the interests of our West Germany ally. That ally, to advert to the other myth, possesses in fact the only freely elected German government, and that is the only basis of its claim to speak for the German people.

How the Germans and the Allies are going to solve, or at least to ease, the harsh fact of division is difficult to see, it is certainly not to be solved by panaceas. Bonn's current efforts to work out political and economic accommodation with the countries of central and eastern Europe, including the German Democratic Republic, have been to date relatively unrewarding, but under present circumtance there appears to be no other way. These efforts have received far less recognition in the West than they merit. This seems to confirm two results of the Berlin crisis of 1958-62. West Berlin's role in the 'fifties had been to hold the door open to reunification; after the crisis emphasis shifted to a defence of Berlin's (and West Germany's) position, with the West apparently willing to pay for the freedom of West Berliners with the unfreedom of East Germans. Secondly the crisis resulted in a marked rise of anti-German sentiment in the West - an antiGermanism that is more than an irrational prejudice but rather a political factor resulting from the wartime Vansittartism which regarded the Germans as having received a double dose of original sin. This, indeed, may have been Khrushchov's chief gain from the crisis. Too often the Western press seems to have little interest in reporting anything from Germany save the rantings of Adolf von Thadden or the lamentable but inconsequential past of Heinrich Liibke. Little attention, and scant respect, is paid to the accomplishments of the vast majority of Germans, who have displayed a really quite remarkable success in learning and applying the rules of the democratic game, and who have been remarkably unaffected by the siren calls of the ultra nationalists.

In the last few minutes I've been talking not about Berlin but about the German problem, which Richard Lowenthal recently described as "the major remnant of the cold war and a nuisance to both sides". In this problem Berlin, though devoid of any military significance, plays an important political role. A great Russian leader was once said to have remarked that, "Whoever holds Berlin, holds Germany, whoever holds Germany, holds Europe." And that statement is probably as true today as it was when, forty years ago, it was made by Nicholai Lenin.

by B. J. Legge.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed

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Berlin and the Future of Germany

Some personal remarks. Changes on the Berlin front. What the Berlin Wall represents and means. The misnomer of "German Democratic Republic." Economic conditions in the GDR. Some consequences of events in Berlin. West Berlin today. Problems for West Berlin both external and internal. Recent political tumult in the streets of Berlin. Berlin as a product of the larger German problem, of the East-West confrontation over Germany which has led to a prolongation of the division of the country and the division and isolation of Berlin. Burying some myths about East Berlin's claim for recognition and about Bonn's claim to speak for all the German people. How the Germans and the Allies are going to solve, or at least to ease, the harsh fact of division.