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Literary Images of West Berlin

A Geography of Experience

Magisterarbeit 1991 120 Seiten

Geowissenschaften / Geographie - Sonstiges


Table of Contents




A. Geography and Literature
B. Methodology
C. West Berlin in History









Besides a personal interest in the city of West Berlin, what started me out on this topic were questions geographers are only too familiar with: how do people interact with place, how do they interpret their surroundings, give them shape and meaning, how does the environment influence thoughts and emotions, how do ones emotions and thoughts influence the environment, and finally, how might I, as a researcher of these questions, deepen my own experience of a place?

It was clear to me that were one to pursue answers to these questions, one would soon enter the minds and imaginations of the people who interact with a particular environment and one would have to take into consideration personal impressions, motives, beliefs and fears, just as one takes heed of the political, historical and social developments of that place. The question then was how to gain access to the different attitudes, experiences and emotions about a place. Literature seemed an obvious choice. Unlike the social sciences, literature rarely claims to be objective. It is precisely the subjectivity of fictional writing that so well transmits the personal involvement with place. Thus, the context of this work lies within the humanistic studies of geography, those that value the specific over the general, the artistic over the nomothetic.


I am very grateful for all the encouragement, hope, and friendship I received during the process of writing this thesis. I particularly wish to thank my parents for their constant support, sensible guidance, and truly unsurpassable generosity. Mark Bassin who has the rare talent of inspiring motivation, deserves extra thanks for the interest he showed during the early stages of this work and for his continuous encouragement and guidance throughout. My hospitable cousins Ulrike Damm and Benjamin List also receive warm thanks for letting me stay with them in Berlin on several occasions, even when their homes were already crowded.

I also wish to thank the graduate student body for its support in so many ways, in particular Matthew Kurtz and Deborah Dixon for their invaluable friendship, Karen Beidel for her friendship, her numerous and ever so patient editing jobs, and the wonderful year at Ingersoll, Paul Adams for his kind and keen assistance with several drafts, and Drew Ross for sharing his 'uplifting' outlook and all those ways of seeing. Very special thanks to Anne Knowles for her immense help during the final stages of this work, and for an infinitely precious friendship.

Thanks also to Donna Palomäki for her encouraging phone calls, Hildie Graebner for helping with the German libraries, and Thyl Engelhardt and his theory that a university education is also a test in endurance. Aikido of Madison no dojo doomo, arigatoo gozaimashita. And, finally, deep gratitude to the Bard's most endearing interpreter.


The meaning of places may be rooted in the physical setting and objects and activities, but they are not a property of them - rather they are property of human intentions and experiences (Edward Relph, 1976:47).

Berlin is unique. This completely crazy situation. Admittedly Vienna and Jerusalem were once divided; but that was long ago. And admittedly, Nicosia and Belfast are divided; but not since very long. Admittedly Hong Kong and Macao are also cities without a hinterland; but there at least the people who shut off are not Germans, and there you always have the possibility of stepping forward - into the water Berlin, however, Berlin is and remains to be unique (Walter Laufenberg, 1985:11).1

This paper is a study of the image of West Berlin in (predominantly West) German literature of the past four decades. There are two aims of this work: one is to illustrate how literature can be an appropriate tool for geographic research, the second is to draw attention to the exceptional political, geographic, and existential situation of the city of West Berlin. I will present some of the psycho-social mentalities connected to living in West Berlin and expose diverse impressions and creative human responses to the living conditions in that city with its unique circumstances.

My inquiries center around certain aspects of the human experience. I plan to delineate literary examples of these concepts and show how literature is able to illuminate certain experiential factors concerning the sense of place. To 'sense' can have several meanings (see Smith, 1986:i). First, it can refer to the function and action of the sensory organs. Then it may imply a more intuitive usage, as in "do I sense hostility?" When outside of common rules or understanding sense becomes nonsense, or one is out of one's senses. A sense of place is something that goes beyond these usages, it is an impression which is influenced by the sensory organs, but takes its shape in the mind. It is sensing with the help of the imagination, thereby actively involving experience, environment, and emotions.

This study does not try to conclude with a nomothetic theory or make a definite statement that can be proved or disproved with statistical or empirical data. Rather it sets out to show that a sense of a place as reflected in creative writing is not only art, but also geography in practice. I shall begin this paper with a review of literature about the combination of geography and literature. This will be followed by a methodology section and a history section which briefly outlines the developments within Berlin that lead up to the Cold War, the city's division, and finally, the dismantling of the wall. Following this, the main body of the work will present and discuss appropriate literary examples. The literature passages comprise four chapters organized according to types of literary images. I have approached the organization of these themes with the help of a geographical structure ‑ gradually moving from the outside of the city further inward until we reach deep emotions. This is essentially an organizing framework that would tie the various images together.

Thus, the first part of the literature section (chapter II) begins with those images that deal with the passage, arrival, and departure to and from West Berlin. Then I proceed to point towards images which capture the atmosphere of certain public places, such as streets, bars and night-clubs, and the people of different countries and various cultures and sub‑cultures who frequent such places. The third chapter will discuss images of the wall and the changes this image underwent with the growing accustomization to the wall. The fourth chapter approaches more inward themes and takes a closer look at people's emotions, motivations and personal relations toward living in this city. This penetration into the minds and feelings of West Berliners will end with the fifth chapter, which delves into images of the city as an island, a prison, and the focal center of threatening nuclear destruction.


A. Geography and Literature

Literature can be highly useful in pointing out the problems of people; its uniqueness focuses on the problems of a place or of places; and perhaps above all, it gives place a meaning. It shows what values people set on place. It draws for us the map of the mind and that is certainly of value to geography (J. Wreford Watson, 1983:386).

With a voice that grows in volume and persistence over the years, many geographers have argued for an increase in the use of literature in geographical research. The arguments for this use are numerous and diverse; they range from a cry for an increase in creativity and stylistic improvement (Meinig, 1983), to a call for respecting an author's ability to penetrate and effectively transmit the human experience (Pocock, 1981; Tuan, 1976, 1978), and, finally, to the recognition of interpretative methods that point toward social processes in the formation of art (Olwig, 1981; Silk, 1984). This work will revolve mainly around the argument that literature offers valuable insights into the human experience of place.

Geographers and humanists alike contend that many writers of literature are bestowed with the talent to transmit the experience of place in a lively and clear fashion, thereby bringing to light aspects of the human experience social sciences have often neglected. The reasons for this neglect might include a transmitted rigidity regarding methodology or a certain discomfort with subjectivity, both of which would restrict the studies considered valuable in academia.

Literature is a channel that transmits experiences, problems, joys, thoughts, or everyday occurrences, and it connects the reader with people and events that he or she would not otherwise have any contact with. It can encourage, disturb, move, motivate, engage, educate, console, and in general, give a feeling that life, as a whole, is a shared experience. It draws attention to the nature of human existence and offers insights into how life is lived by others and how people interact with their environment.

How can literature be used to explore the experience of place? As Yi‑Fu Tuan says, "[the] purpose of literature is to present concrete experience" (1978:196). One of the strengths of literature is that it can capture a moment and help evoke the sensation of a particular experience. Literature, hence, wants to re-enact the authors' experiences of a particular place and time (Tuan, 1978:200). Douglas Pocock believes that everybody can learn about human existence from literature, and that the geographer is justified in engaging him- or herself with literature by the universality of experience (Pocock, 1981a:12). He continues to say that “literature is the product of perception, or, more simply, is perception" (Pocock, 1981a:15).

Similarly, Donald Meinig (1971:4,5) writes that the skillful novelist often seems to come closest of all to capturing the full flavor of the environment. His or her sensitivity to a scene, to the seasons, to the special qualities of life in a particular locality are often vividly evocative. Tuan also believes that "the human reality presented by a talented novelist is much more complex than that of which a social scientist is normally aware" (Tuan, 1978:200). Frequently themes or principles discussed or illustrated in a novel can be much more effective than those delineated with the help of a social science textbook (Berger, 1977:215). However, just as one recognizes that the scientific method is not the ultimate form of the social sciences, one should not go to the other extreme and claim that literature is a higher form of human understanding (Berger, 1977:5).2

It has come to be recognized that while the scientific method of inquiry is an excellent tool for certain kinds of studies, it does not cover the full range of human experience. In his book Sogiology as an Art Form (1976) Robert Nisbet regrets the apparent loss of the "essential unity" between the arts and the sciences (p. 26) and describes this as part of the development of "scientism" which is science devoid of the spirit of discovery and creation" (p. 4). While, both science and literature try to present "total reality," neither can really do so in its entirety. Novelists, for example, are said to be just as useful in finding out about the human-environment interaction as the data of social science research or the answers on a questionnaire. In any case, one must invariably be satisfied with a selection of reality, not reality itself (Berger, 1977:3). Fiction, of course, does not always intend to be a good indicator of reality, or what we would like to think of as reality. Often the writer creates a fictional world which can present and act out his or her own reality (Berger, 1977:218). Fiction presents us with one piece of the many viewpoints that make up a person's, always subjective, world view. Of course, and this is an important point, what fiction "says," it does not have to prove (Berger, 1977:223). Nevertheless, it often points towards a very real condition of human life. The experience of the writer is transformed into language, into "the rhetorical conventions of literary forms" (Pike, 1981:11). That is to say, a writer will have to employ certain conventions of "vocabulary and imagery available to him [sic] at his particular cultural moment" in order to be understood (Pike, 198 1: 11).

In the following literature review I explore several works which deal with the relationship between geography and literature. Despite the fact that many people have contributed to the field of geography and literature, there seems to be, as yet, no consistent methodological approach. Different people are interested in different aspects of artistic output. This leads to variety of approaches for their analyses. This lack of single approach does not make the use of literature as a primary source-material any less feasible, on the contrary. A certain flexibility of approach seems almost a prerequisite when dealing with something as versatile as literature. The study of individualistic and highly personal works must be almost equally individualistic and directed toward the author as a person in a particular place and time.

How, then, have scholars looked at literature, or rather what do they look for, and how do they employ the writings they chose? Several works such as Douglas Pocock's collection of essays Humanistic Geography and Literature (1981), William Sharpe and Leonard Wallock's compilation Visions of the Modern City (1987), David Daiches and John Flower's Literary Landscapes of the British Isles (1979), and Gillian Tindall's Countries of the Mind (1991) offer an interesting variety of methodological approaches to the study of geography and literature. Not all these scholars are geographers by profession, yet their work is indubitably geographical. The unifying characteristic of Pocock's essay collection is an avoidance of positivistic methods and the use of imaginative literature as an insight into the experience of the human-environment relationship (Pocock, 1981a:17). Sharpe and Wallock focus more on the city itself and discuss various artistic outputs, such as literature or paintings, on that topic. They attempt to bring out the connection between language and perception, arguing that a new and "decentralized city" has caused a crisis of terminology. Unfortunately only one of their essays takes the discussion up to post-WII times; all others deal with earlier subjects.3 Daiches and Flower's book is a thorough treatment of literary images of the British Isles starting with Chaucer and leading up to Joyce. Their treatments vary nicely from perceptions of individual authors to perceptions of particular regions or cities. Gillian Tindall's aim is to discover the landscapes that might exist in the real world, but are also in the minds of writers. She is fascinated by the intimate interaction of certain writers with particular places. She not only looks at the written outcome of this interaction, but also how this outcome may have an effect on the places, by, for example, altering the name of a village to that of its literary reference, or by offering literary tours through places mentioned in famous novels. I basically share Tindall's concern with the literary uses to which places are put, the meanings they are made to bear, the roles they play when they are re-created in fiction, the psychological journeys for which they are the destinations. Actual countries become countries of the mind, their topography transformed into psychological maps, private worlds (1991:9).

However, as most researchers on this topic, Tindall purposefully remains amongst well known and mostly regional authors.

There are four general sections which should help to organize the existing writings on the topic of geography and literature and place them into a (however artificial) framework. These sections are by no means definite and should only be seen as a help to establish an overview.

In the first section are those scholars who have looked at literature as a source of visual perception. They mainly judge the accuracy of landscape representation. The second group looks at literature in a more personal sense, namely by employing one particular author's view on a place. The third group is more concerned with a particular place and its image portrayal in literature. The fourth group contains authors who are more interested in revealing direct relationships between literature and society.

The first group is presently the most prevalent in the field of geography. These geographers focus primarily on the topic of landscape (and all its meanings, but especially the meanings of countryside) and its description in, predominantly, regional writing.4 Their concern lies mainly with the representations of the physical landscape and its role within the story-line. For example, a large part of Christopher Salter and William Lloyd's (1977) attention revolves around the accuracy of the depiction of the imaginary landscape in relation to the objective landscape. One of their arguments for the importance of landscape depiction in literature is that the process of reading them will enhance the "ability to apply acute observation to real world landscapes" (p. 28). Similarly, David Seamon believes that one of the functions of literary experience is that it increases the awareness of one's own experience and geographical situation (1976:290).5 The landscape is often more than a mere backdrop and may be inextricably interwoven with the events and atmosphere of a story. However, an author's descriptive powers to accurately portray, or imagine a landscape is not always the key to understanding a place, which is why my work will not deal with such details.

Instead of focusing on landscape, the second group has its attention more on the relation of the individual author to his or her environment. These scholars tend to look at one particular author and either draw on strong biographical data to frame the text passages (for example, Daiches and Flower, 1979) or employ certain geographic concepts to analyze their respective authors (for example, David Seamon, 1981). Seamon employs part of Edward Relph's concept of in- and outsidedness (see Relph, 1976; chapter 4) and phenomenologically relates it to the concept of at-homeness in two of Doris Lessing's works.6 He summarizes and analyzes the parts of her texts which deal with the experience of familiar and unfamiliar places. He concludes, not surprisingly, that it was her opinion that, unless one is born and raised at a particular place, one will always remain somewhat of an outsider (p. 96). Catherine A. Middleton (1981) also looks at one author, George Eliot, and discusses the theme of roots and rootlessness prevalent in her work. Middleton draws parallels between Eliot's personal life and her writing and uses her “feeling that one of the necessary conditions for a meaningful human existence is an attachment to a specific place" (p. 101) as a base for the interpretation of several of Eliot's novels.

The third group of geographers looks at written images of particular place, usually examining more than one author. Their focus lies less with the particular authors than with place itself and the image of place as created by literature. By studying several authors recurring elements, such as certain images or the use of symbols, can be discovered. Though not exclusively, the works of this section are mostly concerned with urban writings.7 Among the works that have dealt with city literature I would like to point out the following three: Steven Marcus's analysis of two urban writers (1987), William J. Lloyd's study of Boston (1981) and Howard F. Andrew's (1981) exploration of St Petersburg.

Steven Marcus's essay "Reading the Illegible: Some Modern Representations of Urban Experience" (1987) is methodologically related to my work. Although he discusses only two authors, Saul Bellow and Thomas Pynchon, he gives an account of the development of their characters’ relationships to and strong impressions of the cities they live in (New York and Chicago). Marcus quotes passages, in order to convey the author's description and sense of the cities and argues that these authors view cities as having gone out of control, as places that have become a battleground for perversity.

William Lloyd looks at several authors over a period of roughly half a century and notes how, with the advent of modernization, the "social-geographic" image of the city of Boston changes in novels. He traces the authors' responses to changes (all depicting middle class values), such as the loss of traditions and the transformation of the city's landscape, and notes how these changes are perceived and conveyed in their writing.

Howard Andrew's study of St Petersburg as a place and as an image in the writings of four Russian authors8 is also a method resembling this study. He defines place as "a tangible reality of certain memorable and describable elements" and image as “a state of mind" influenced by place (1981:174) and traces the authors' employment of the city and these concepts. By choosing these four authors he spans the time between the foundation of the city and the October Revolution during which there were considerable changes in the way St Petersburg was perceived. Summing up, he lists the subjective impressions of various authors and how the city's images have changed with time: “For Pushkin it was an image formed in exaltation; for Gogol, an atmosphere and fantasy. For Dostoevsky it was a myth of subtle moods; and for Bely, a ghostly nightmare composed symbolically" (1981:184).

Kenneth Robert Olwig,9 a representative of the fourth group, looks at the relationship between literature, reality and society. He criticizes research on literature that deals with the perception of reality as it is, and not as it ought to be because, he says, art "due to its very form, is ... basically 'estranged' from... reality" (1981:48). He argues that literature portrays reality the way life is imagined to be and points to realities which then become depicted in art. He is less concerned with an individual artist's sensibilities, but focuses on the society that creates the symbols and follows certain tastes and conventions of the times (such as the pastoral landscape in romantic poetry). As he shows with the case of the Danish Jutland heath, literature can be used as a force in the creation of a national symbol.

John Silk (1984) (see also Nigel Thrift, 1978) argues for a Marxist analysis of literature. He places people's feelings - topics of literary writing - within social conditions and argues that it is the geographer's task to expose the influences under which literature is created. Here, literature becomes one manifestation of a particular mode of production within a society. Silk wishes to expand beyond the mere experiential, in order to point out or even "bolster" the ideology of the ruling class.10 Silk and I agree about the relative ineffectiveness of most of the existing work on literature by geographers (mainly group one), and I also agree with his use and definition of ideology. However, I do believe that there are more possibilities for working with literature than having to look at everything through class-structure terms. In my work I have tried to take into consideration many forms of literature, not merely the "imaginative" or so called "high" literature which most of the existing work is based on. I include so called "low" literature and do not assign it less importance.

B. Methodology

The work I shall carry out will align roughly with the third group discussed above, joining the rather small number of studies- that try to value literature as a creator of a sense of place and look at a place through various pieces of literature. The writings employed here, as obvious as it might seem, are not products of geographers, and hence are not meant to be essays in geographical description. They are, for the most part, not an attempt to mirror reality, but rather a personal account of a certain living area and an account where reality and imagination are allowed to mingle freely. The outcome is what is interesting. Thus, I will turn away from the general geographic practice of emphasizing the accuracy of description of physical details, it is more important for this research to describe the relation between the geographical object and people than to verify whether a location has been described physically accurately (see also Tuan, 1978:202). I will treat those places as if they are 'real', that is to say, I will treat images of places seriously and will use them as a basis for my analysis. They do, after all, exist in the authors' imaginations.

I wish to point out that it is by no means description per se that I devalue. I would take away the basis of my work were I to do so. But the mere "accurate reproduction of an objective landscape" (Salter and Lloyd, 1977:3) lacks an inherent interest when the people who interact with it are not taken into consideration.

Three criteria are important when deciding on what body of literature to employ for research. One is temporal, that is to say, from which time period I wish to study the literature. Another is topical, i.e., which images in literature I wish to look at. And the third criterium covers the choice of authors.

Temporally, the study will basically frame the post-WWII period, from the beginning of the political situation that isolated the western district of Berlin from the Soviet Occupied Zone (SOZ) until shortly after the destruction of the wall. The airlift in 1948 shall roughly be the beginning date and the opening of the German-German border in November 1989 shall be the closing date for this work. This time-period frames the existence of the city of West Berlin.

Topically, I will expose numerous images drawn from a wide range of literary sources. The topics are roughly dividable into cultural, political, and emotional themes within which the individual images can be ordered. At the beginning of my research I did not find a reason to limit the choice of sources by their genre. On the contrary. I thought an inclusive approach might provide interesting results. In that sense I kept the classification of the material as open as possible and include as many forms of literature as possible (e.g. novels, poems, detective novels, etc.). As expected, some of the themes discussed here appear frequently in poems, others more so in novels. Although this is an interesting side issue, it shall not be dealt with in great detail, as this work is not a study in literary form.

The choice of authors mainly depends on how large a role the city plays in their writings, and how they refer to the images discussed here. I have decided to focus on writings about mainly West Berlin that originated within the city. That is to say, I am employing an insider's view of the city, as opposed to a view about Berlin from someone from the outside, say Frankfurt or Scandinavia. However, in my distinction between in-and outsidedness I do not go as far as Edward Relph, who has developed a detailed system of gradation according to the intenseness and duration of involvement with place. His system ranges from the "existential outsidedness" to the "existential insidedness" and covers in between such variables as “incidental, vicarious, behavioral, and empathetic in-or outsidedness" (Relph, 1976). I have chosen to include examples of authors who were not born in West Berlin or permanently reside in that city but have lived there for some time and whose stay obviously influenced them enough to have produced artistic output.11

1 have tried to sway from the rather common practice of looking at only a handful of authors. I am also not remaining just in one social class of writings but include writings of different social classes and genres. Even the otherwise laudable collection of essays of Sharpe and Wallock (1987) stays within such established circles as Charles Dickens or the French impressionists. I think it is necessary to bridge over into the realms of more unknown artists and include underground works.

My approach will consist mainly of a juxtaposition of literary examples. Rather than analyzing the meaning of a few artists, with, for example, one strand of literary criticism, I wish to show as many examples as practicable, in order to give as complete a picture of Berlin as possible seen through the eyes of writers.

Any study of literature implies a strong selective and interpretative role by the person who employs writings. Such a work is, by its nature, fragmentary, incomplete, and highly subjective. Not only are the text examples of a certain image by no means exhaustive, there are also far more images and far more texts than can be taken into consideration within the framework of this paper. Thus, examples will have to suffice to illustrate larger themes. Another influence on selection and interpretation are the personal values, tastes, and attitudes of the selector and interpreter. Basically, the images I shall present are chosen, either because I thought them prevalent and important or because, consciously or unconsciously, I liked them. Any claim of objectivity or detachment within such a work is absurd. Gillian Tindall points toward the "double element of subjectivity" within work that deals with the meaning of place to writers (1991:vii). The first element is a writer's subjective selection and treatment of place, and the second is the researcher's choice of writers and themes.

As I would like to expose the reader to the power of literature to convey a sense of place (that is part of my argument for a combination of geography and literature), I have included many text passages as quotes. In order to get the feeling for those images and to see how they were employed by the various authors I thought it crucial to leave them intact as much as possible. I have tried to be consistent in quoting passages that I thought were especially well written and that would powerfully transmit a sense of the city, or that clearly had far more to offer than I could bring out in my own words.

C. West Berlin in History

Berlin's centrality in political and cultural affairs dates back several centuries. In the early 18th century Berlin was the seat of the elector [Kurfürst] of Brandenburg-Preussen, and remained capital city when he crowned himself King in Prussia. Political reform movements and revolutions, such as the March revolution of 1848, also often took place in Berlin. Berlin became the capital city of the German Empire after the German-French War in 1871. Berlin's centrality manifested itself not only on the political level, but also in its infrastructure and in cultural activities. During the latter part of the 19th century Berlin became a major intersection of the region's railway routes and also linked most of the surrounding area to its core by connecting nearby villages to gas and electricity. At the time, Berlin also had more theaters than most other German cities, all of which contributed early on to a metropolitan character of the city.

During the beginning of this century, major cultural and artistic strands such as architecture, music, theater, the fine and commercial arts, and literature, were, for the first time, brought together. A stage designer, for example, would be inspired by the latest architectural sketches of a Bauhaus member, while a director would try to bring together the works of poets and composers within his new play. People were highly aware of and influenced by one another. Many of these developments took place in Berlin. Before WWII, Berlin had attracted a large array of writers and artists. Berlin was perceived not only as a political but also as a cultural center of Europe. Many tried to capture the city in their artistic works. Authors such as Gottfried Benn, Erich Kästner, Hans Fallada, Alfred Döblin, Paul Gurk, and Bertolt Brecht are only a few of that period who gave the city a special kind of importance in their writings. As will be seen, the loss of Berlin's centrality and capital city function left a mark on many writers of the next generation.

Even before the end of WWII, in October 1943, a European Advisory Commission, consisting of the USA, Great Britain, and the USSR, worked out plans for the division of Germany and the city of Berlin into three occupied zones.12 These plans, known as the "London Minutes," were discussed and expanded at both the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and the Potsdamm Conference in August 1945. By May 1945 France had joined the Occupational-forces and by August Germany and Berlin were divided into four zones. Each of the zones were to be headed by one of four military Commanders in Chief, who together made up the Allied Control Council. This council, which was formed in November 1944, was responsible for the government of Germany and could only make decisions unanimously. Early on the Soviet Union was to make frequent use of their veto rights thereby, according to Ribbe, already sowing the "seeds for the future division of Germany" (1988a: 1036).

Berlin capitulated on the 2nd of May, even before the unconditional surrender of Germany on the night of the 8th of May, 1945. Until the arrival of the Western Powers in July 1945 the Soviet Union had sole responsibility for all of Berlin. Soon after the installment of the Allied Military Government the Soviet representative demanded that provisions and raw materials for the different sectors should be provided from the respective sectors' occupied zones. This meant that the western sectors were cut off, not only from the Soviet occupied zone, but also from their own hinterlands. An exchange among sectors was only possible with the permission of the respective military commanders. This made life increasingly difficult for Berliners who continued to frequent the black market and turn city parks and private gardens into arable ground.

After a failed foreign secretary conference in the end of 1947 the Soviets increasingly curtailed movement and communication across and into their occupied sector. Only the air space had certain corridors that granted inviolable access to Berlin. The reason behind these restrictions was the Soviets' claim to solely direct the administration of "Greater Berlin." Despite the Minutes of 1944 and 1945, which assigned a "special status" to Berlin and divided Berlin into four zones, the Soviets continually demanded power over the whole of Berlin. They hoped these impediments would cause enough disturbance amongst the population of the western sectors that they would revolt against the magistrate of the western zones (see also Wettig, 1981).

On the 20th of March, 1948, the three western Allies decided to unite economically and create a democracy formed after their conception. Upon this the Soviets left the Allied Control Council. In June of the same year, the three western allies implemented a currency reform in Germany which the Soviets answered two days later by introducing one in their sector. On the same day almost all land routes and waterways to and from Berlin were cut off with the argument that it was a protective measure, hindering the expected flood of depreciated money. Two days later, on the 24th of June, the Berlin blockade began.

This blockade was a total cut-off of all land-, rail-, and water-ways. Even electricity produced in East Berlin power plants was disconnected from the western sectors. The Americans were quick to act and established an air lift, transporting various provisional goods to Berlin ranging from coal to food. However, this undertaking was not enough. Food-, gas-, and electricity shortages followed and hundreds of Berliners died weakened by hunger or cold during the harsh winter of 1948/49.

In elections that were held in the western sectors of Berlin in October 1948 the main political party of the Soviet sector, the SED (Socialist Unity Party / Sozialistische Einheitspartei), did not participate. By December the three western representatives had the sole power over the Allied Control Council, as the Soviets continually failed to appear at meetings. On the 4th of May 1949, the UN ambassadors to the Soviet Union and the USA developed the "New York Agreement," which was a first sign to an end of this blockade that was to last until the 12th of May, 1949.

On the 24th May, 1949, the basic constitution (Grundgesetz) for the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was implemented. On the 1st of October the Berlin constitution gave West Berlin the status of city as well as region. On the 7th of October of the same year, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was created. It had a constitution of its own and declared Berlin its capital city.

Various subsistence measures were now taken by the West German government and the USA to help West Berlin economically. In losing the benefits of its hinterland, West Berlin had lost not only the ability to acquire fresh produce, but also a market for its own goods. In 1950 a "Berlin-help-law" was passed, permitting the Federal government to administer the portion of the Marshall plan allocated for Berlin and together with the "Berlin support law" (Berlin FG) these laws were meant to compensate West Berlin for its uncoupling from the Federal Republic. They allowed for several concessions, especially in regards to the taxation of businesses (West Berlin residents were allowed up to 20% tax reductions). Beginning in April 1955 yearly additional allowances were granted not only to rebuild the city but to re-establish Berlin's former status as a leading cultural metropolis and capital city. Thus federal funds were also funnelled into cultural matters. All of this was meant to keep the city attractive by ensuring business incentives and quality cultural activities.

In the mean time, the GDR had implemented a central market system. As there was not enough export from the heavy industry and there was a consistent exodus of workers, the country was experiencing increasing economic difficulties. Another contributing factor to the economic strain was the fact that a large sum of the existing funds went to the formation of a police force. In May of 1953 the SED declared a raise in the quotas for production in order to raise productivity. This led first to a demonstration of mainly construction workers and later, to a popular uprising against the entire system. Construction workers, having a job that depends heavily on the seasons, especially needed the extra wages one could only get when working above the quotas. If the norm were raised the workers saw no possibility to be able to save up enough money for the winter months. The workers went to the streets, and on the 17th of June 1953 they were joined by other parts of the population in what amounted to one of the largest popular uprising in the GDR. Over 270 towns in the GDR were involved in this uprising. What had begun as an economic demonstration had ended in a demand for free elections and the resignation of the government. At noon the Soviet city commander of Berlin declared martial law. Not much later Soviet tanks slowly rolled through the streets of Berlin while police fired into the crowds, killing 21 people. The West stayed out of these events entirely.

In November 1958 the Soviet Secretary of State, Nikita Khrushchev, not only demanded the recognition of two separate countries, but also declared the division into four powers to be invalid, calling for the demilitarization of Berlin within the next six months. If this "Khrushchev ultimatum" were not kept, Soviets would take full control of all land-, water-, and air-ways of the GDR. The western powers decided not to discuss this ultimatum, but instead poured even more-subsidies into West Berlin. A summit was planned for January 1960, but due to an "incident" involving the crash of a spy plane, Khrushchev declared the summit a failure before it even began.

In the beginning of 1961 restrictions curtailing movement, especially between the two city halves, were once again tightened. Border guards began arresting "border-crossers" [Grenzgänger], people who had to cross the border to reach their places of work. Some of them were even charged with crimes, such as espionage activities (Ribbe, 1988a: 1089).

Between the years 1949 and 1961 over three million people fled the GDR. In order to stop this flood, and in order to prevent the economy from collapsing due to an uneven exchange rate in the two halves of the city, the East German government ordered the erection of the wall. In the early morning of August 13, 1961 guards began sealing off the border between East and West Berlin. The three crossings (instead of the former 80) could now only be passed with a special permit, the city train [S-Bahn] was interrupted completely, and the underground train had only one stop in the east and this was heavily controlled by border guards. In the following days West Berliners were forbidden to enter East Berlin and even telephone connections between the two city halves needed a special permit. The entire enclosure, once completed, was to be 166 km long, of which 46 km lay between the two halves of the city (Ribbe and Schmädeke, 1988b:208).

In the years following the building of the wall, two main contradictory view points about the wall developed in the West, each attached to a political party. Whereas the more conservative CDU (Christian Union) was inclined to insist that "the wall has to go,” the SPD (Social Democrats) and later also the liberal FDP, thought more along the line of "living with the wall" (Ribbe, 1988a: 1096). While one demanded the immediate tearing down of the physical structure, the other, seeing that a coming together would be a slow process, was more willing to give concessions to the East.

After the Berlin elections in 1963 the SPD split from its coalition with the CDU and formed a new coalition with the FDP. A resulting more lenient “German Politics” [Deutschland Politik] was in part responsible for West Berliners being permitted to see their relatives and friends from East Berlin for the first time in years for Christmas in 1963. Beginning in 1964 a West Berliner was permitted to enter East Berlin five times a year.

Despite continuing political tensions and travel restrictions, the USA and the USSR desired to come to a better understanding. On the 26th of March 1970 a four power conference was held, and in September of the following year the "Four Power" - or "Quadripartite Agreement" was worked out (see Sutterlin and Klein, 1989, especially pp. 199-210). This was the basis for an elimination of tensions and an attempt at mutual respect without threat. Transit traffic was to pass unimpeded and West Berliners were now allowed to travel within the GDR. In December 1972 the two German countries officially recognized their existence, borders, and status quo. East Berlin now officially became the capital of the GDR. Since the Four-Power-Agreement which was enforced in June 1972, relations had been much easier, even though practically this had meant an ever deepening rift for the city of Berlin, as each part became more fully integrated into its respective state-system.

During the 1960s West Berlin was not only the center of the cold war, but also of national political affairs. The student uprisings which began in West Berlin spread to other major cities in West Germany as well. Whereas the first demonstrations were directed towards university reforms they soon began to deal with national and international politics, in particular the USA's involvement in Vietnam. Out of this political involvement not only arose the more militant terrorism groups, but also the "alternative" scene. This group started by occupying old houses that building speculators had left to rot until they could claim them unprofitable and tear them down. Due to these squatters many old apartment buildings were preserved and unused factories were transformed into cultural centers. The growth of the alternative scene certainly profited from the fact that West Berlin was a refuge for those who sought to escape mandatory military service.

In addition to the Berlin support law, the fact that West Berlin residents were excluded from military service was also unique to West Berlin and a strong attractive point especially for young people. The fundamental law of the Federal Republic was applicable to West Berlin unless the three Allied powers restricted its use to that city and as the House of Representatives [Abgeordnetenhaus] did not make a specific point for the applicability of the law for compulsory military service, West Berlin was exempted from that law.



ISBN (eBook)
694 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Wisconsin-Madison – Department of Geography
ortsempfinden raumwahrnehmung sense place meaning landscape



Titel: Literary Images of West Berlin