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The Fall of the Berlin Wall by William F. Buckley, Jr.


Rating: (Recommended)


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One of the latest books in the Turning Points series is The Fall of the Berlin Wall by William F. Buckley Jr., an interesting author to choose for this subject. One of Buckley’s novels, The Story of Henri Tod, was set in Berlin, and the many National Review articles Buckley wrote about the Wall and Communism meant that he had multiple perspectives to bring to readers. This short book is a perfect summary of the Wall for general readers. Historians will find it grossly incomplete. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3, “In the Shadow of the Wall,” pp. 116—126:


Before the wall, aspirant refugees from all over East Ger­many made their way to East Berlin intending to continue their journey over to the western part of the city. After the wall, although East Berliners continued to venture to the West, Berlin was no longer the magnet it had been. Those who sought to go west gravitated now to other parts of East Germany, where the barriers were less intensely guarded.

One family used a homemade balloon for a twenty-eight-minute flight across the East—West border to Upper Franconia. Munich attorney Heinz Heidrich hired Barry Meeker, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, to fly his clients to the Free World in a helicopter. Meeker gave a wry trib­ute to the complicated machine he had used in Vietnam: “I thought, ‘Here’s a really good thing to do with a helicop­ter.” A symphony orchestra percussionist was permitted from time to time to tour abroad, but his wife had to stay home as hostage. Finally, the percussionist fitted her into a kettledrum, and over she went to the West.

Herr Heidrich also used horses to get people out of East Germany—not by mounting the refugees on horseback, hut by creating a horse van with a hidden compartment that would hold five people, no less. Of course, for verisimilitude, he had to transport real horses along with his real refugees. “What those horses cost!” he com­plained to the American journalist Peter Wyden. (Unlike Fuchs and Spina and other early saints of the movement, these second-generation escape helpers charged expenses plus; $10,000 to $12,000 was considered reasonable, and some charged considerably more.)

In the early days of the wall there were frequent scenes of painfully distant reunions, many of them captured on film, since the wall and its implications never ceased to he a magnet for photographers. A daughter hands her mother flowers across the barbed wire, wishing her a happy birth­day. Wedding parties gather near low places in the wall to wave to their separated families. A West Berlin woman climbs up a ladder, helped by her husband and young daughter, to show the face of her new baby to relatives in the East. Whole buildingsful of people, some with binocu­lars, wave handkerchiefs at the windows in the buildings opposite, whose inhabitants wave back.

But even such attenuated intimacies became more diffi­cult and eventually impossible as the wall grew to thirteen feet tall, with a death strip and a second wall behind it. And then, once it was permitted (though it was never easy or cheap) for West Berliners to travel to the East for real reunions, the long-distance trysts faded out. But a differ­ent sort of reunion persisted, as simple crosses were placed near the wall, with flowers and wreaths frequently renewed, in memory of those who had tried to come over and failed.



On October 21, 1969, Willy Brandt finally took the prize he had been seeking the night the border was closed: he was now chancellor of West Germany. His political victory didn’t bespeak a dramatic shift in voting patterns since the previous election. The Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, led by the doughty conservative Franz-Josef Strauss, took 46.1 per­cent of the vote, down narrowly from their 47.6 in 1965. The Social Democrats took 42.7 percent (up from 39.3). The difference came from a shift in loyalty of the small Free Democratic Party (FPD).

In 1966 the Free Democrats had precipitated a govern-merit crisis by withdrawing from the CDU/CSU coalition. This had led to the formation of the so-called Grand Coali­tion: the CDU/CSU under Kurt Georg Kiesinger, and the SPD under Brandt. Now, after the 1969 elections, the FPD declared its willingness to form a government with the SPD.

Thus Brandt became the first Social Democratic chan­cellor in postwar German history. He was now free to go full bore on his Ostpolitik (East-oriented politics), which he had tentatively launched as foreign minister in the Kiesinger government. Ostpo!itik was the brainchild of Brandt’s longtime associate Egon Bahr, who had first floated the concept in a speech in 1963.

Bahr had had a brief taste of life in East Germany At the end of World War II, his neighborhood had wound up in the Soviet Sector of’ Berlin. He staved on for a while, scrounging about for work as a freelance investigative reporter. He SOOn found that the last thing the new rulers of East Germany wanted was accurate reporting, and he left for West Berlin in 1946. Now, in the 1960s, he enun­ciated a policy for West Germany based on the realities as he saw them. There were now two Germanies, like it or not. For West Germany to refuse to acknowledge East Germany as a separate polity, he believed, was simply self-indulgent nostalgia. Moreover, the problems of ordinary Germans on both sides of the border could be much bet­ter addressed by negotiating than by stonewalling.

Adenauer’s Christian Democrats did not ignore the de facto realities of life. But just as the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan refused formal relations with Communist China, so, Adenauer maintained, West Germany should not deal formally with East Germany. To negotiate with the GDR, to sign treaties, would undercut Bonn’s position as the legitimate authority over the entire country.

By 1968 Adenauer was dead and Brandt had a cabinet post in the Grand Coalition government. Bahr was now’ able to put out cautious feelers toward the East. Richard Nixon sent out a feeler of his own during his visit to Berlin in February 1969, a month after his inauguration as president. Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko tentatively responded. Gromyko was looking for ways to minimize problems on the Soviet Union’s western flank, in order to give greater attention to what Moscow viewed as a developing Chinese menace.

These feelers eventually led, in March 1970, to negoti­ations among the four occupying powers designed to “normalize” living conditions for citizens of Berlin. These negotiations frequently stalled, and in January 1971 Bahr flew to Washington to meet with Henry Kissinger and solicit his help. Kissinger had strong reservations about Bahr’s Ostpolitik, which seemed to legitimize the division of Europe. But Kissinger accepted the proposition that something needed to be done to ease the strains on the daily lives of Berliners, and he endorsed the negotiations.

The Quadripartite Agreement was finally signed on Sep­tember 3, 1971. Among the immediate results, the GDR would no longer hinder traffic between West Germany and West Berlin. Direct-dial phone service would be intro­duced within “the relevant area” (that was the name given in the agreement to Berlin). Permission, subject to fees and credentials, for West Berliners to visit East Berlin, granted fitfully since 1963, would be made permanent. Further negotiations would lead, by the end of 1972, to a formal treaty between the two Germanies in which each recog­nized the other as a sovereign and independent state.

The four-power negotiations on Berlin overlapped with Kissinger’s top-secret preparations for Nixon’s trip to China. The parallel was there: diplomatic steps to acknowl­edge realities.


In April 1968, East German citizens were allowed to vote on a new constitution, which they approved, in true Bolshevik style, by 94.54 percent. The new document, replacing the 1949 constitution, brought the Eastern Zone’s law into line with its practice. The rights to strike, to demonstrate, to emigrate, granted in the earlier consti­tution as exhibitionistic human-rights festoonery, were revoked. Freedom of the press, which had never been prac­ticed, was formally nullified. The Socialist Unity Party was formally recognized as the only legal party in the German Democratic Republic. Any steps toward unification of the two Germanies could he taken “only on the basis of democracy and socialism.” The new constitution was the high-water mark for Walter Ulbricht, who would be the principal casualty of Ostpolitik.

Ulhricht had been the de facto head of the East German government almost from the moment he rode hack into Berlin with Marshal Zhukov in 1945. Immediately after the war, he helped to engineer the merger of the Commu­nist Party, under Wilhelm Pieck, with the Social Demo­cratic Party, under Otto Grotewohl, to form the Socialist Unity Party. Ulbricht was junior both to Pieck, who became the president of the new German Democratic Republic in 1949, and to Grotewohl, who became pre­mier. But Ulbricht was Moscow’s man, and it was he, not his technical superiors, who regularly visited the Kremlin to advise on German policy. In 11950 he was made secretary­general of the Socialist Unity Party.

Now, in May 1971, the true believer foundered on the rocks of détente. Because he resisted rapprochement with the West, the Kremlin decided to replace him. But he was let down gently, by comparison with many Eastern Bloc leaders who had proved unsatisfactory to Moscow. Although he resigned as secretary-general of the Party, he was allowed to remain actively involved in the government, as chairman of the Council of’ State. He would die of a stroke in 1973, at age eighty.

And of course his successor met all the qualifications. Erich Honecker, age fifty-eight, was a true believer too, the son of a Communist and a Communist himself from age ten, a man “treasured by the entire Party,” as Ulbricht put it in his retirement speech. Honecker, however, lacked his mentor’s inflexible sense of rectitude. If Moscow wanted détente and “normalization” in Eastern Europe, Honecker would not lie awake nights worrying about devianonism.



On October 20, 1971, Willy Brandt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “concrete initiatives leading to the relaxation of tension” between East and West. The prize did not bring serenity. Two years later Brandt’s polit­ical life fell apart with the revelation that one of his chief aides, Gunther Guillaume, was a Communist spy.

Guillaume was a teenager when the war came to an end, living in what would soon become the Soviet Sector of Berlin. His first real job was as a low-level editor with Volk und Welt, the semiofficial publishing house of the East German government. In the late 1940s he was approached by the HVA (Hauptverwaltung Autklarung), the foreign-intelligence division of the Stasi. He would serve under the legendary spymaster Markus Wolf.

Guillaume was sent for training to a school in Kiev founded by Comrade Beiria himself. When he returned to Berlin, he was ordered to marry another member of’ the HVA, Christel Boom. In 1956 the couple was sent to Frankfurt as agents in place, with instructions to infiltrate and report on the activity of the Social Democratic Party.

The Guillaumes proved able and extraordinarily resourceful. With Wolf’s encouragement, Gunther rose in the ranks of the local SPD. In the 1969 federal election, he served as campaign manager for Georg Leber, an elderly trade-union official who had been minister for transport in Chancellor Kiesinger’s Grand Coalition. When that elec­tion resulted in Brandt’s coming to power, Leber strongly recommended Günther Guillaume find a post in the new government.

Some questions were raised about Guillaume’s past, hut he answered them satisfactorily—Brandt’s people had no stomach for Red-hunting. Guillaume rose quickly to become one of Brandt’s top assistants. The intimacy between the two men went beyond office work. Guillaume often traveled with the chancellor and sometimes went with the Brandts on family vacations, bringing along Christel and their son, Pierre.

Guillaume soon had unlimited access to NATO secrets, including information on nuclear weapons in Europe, Allied contingency plans for meeting a Warsaw Pact attack, interrogation protocols for refugee camps, and Western negotiating positions in the four-power talks on Berlin. It was often he who retrieved messages from Brandt’s per­sonal telex; he once netted some unbuttoned comments by President Nixon on the stance of the French government.

Guillaume’s information was of such high quality that KGB chief Yuri Andropov frequently sent copies of his raw reports to Gromyko, to give him the full flavor of Guillaume’s achievements.

It wasn’t until May 1973 that West German intelligence caught on to the Guillaumes. Accosted with the evidence, Brandt was for a while in hot and wide-eyed denial. But the BND ( Bundesnachrichtendienst, the West German intelligence agency) had a strong enough case that Brandt finally had to submit. The BND requested him to keep Guillaume on staff until further notice, intending to pass on disinformation to East Berlin and Moscow, and to accu­mulate further evidence to present, in due course, to a West German court. Brandt agreed to play along, and the deception went on for eleven months, sorely testing Mr. Brandt’s theatrical resources.

At 6:30 A.M. on April 24, 1974, there was a knock on the door of the Guillaumes’ apartment and eighteen-year­ old Pierre went to answer it, thinking it was the usual morning delivery from the bakery. Instead, it was four policemen. Pierre called out to his father, who came to the door. The police told Gunther he was under arrest for espi­onage. Ignoring all his training (apprehended agents, much like prisoners of war, are supposed to recite only their name, address, and date of birth), he declaimed: “I am an officer of the National People’s Army of the GDR and a member of the Ministry for State Security. I beseech you to respect my honor as an officer.” Why he did this, he never explained; his boss, Markus Wolf, speculates that he wanted to cut a dashing figure before his son, who was going through a teenage rebellion. In any case, it was a godsend to the West Gem-man police, whose case had not been airtight.

The scandal was the main topic in West Germany for weeks—-and not entirely at the geopolitical level. There were rumors that Guillaume, a dedicated womanizer, had some­times made arrangements fur his boss, similarly inclined. On May 6, Brandt went on television to announce that he was resigning “out of respect for the unwritten rules of democ­racy and also to prevent my political and personal integrity from being destroyed.” But it was not until July 1975 that Günther and Christel Guillaume were put on trial in Düsseldorf, with a rueful former chancellor testifying fur the prosecution. On December 15, 1975, Gunther was con­victed of high treason and sentenced to thirteen years in prison; Christel was convicted of treason and complicity in espionage and sentenced to eight years.

At the time of their sentencing, a West German govern­ment spokesman announced that the Guillaumes were too

potentially dangerous to he repatriated in exchange for Westerners held in East German prisons. However, by 1981 the danger was judged to have passed, and they were exchanged (Christel in March, Gunther in October) for fourteen assorted spies and political prisoners.

Gunther was in poor health. He “had been out of the game too long” to be of much further use, Wolf com­mented in his memoirs. And the Guillaumes’ marriage, rocky before their arrest, had not survived the separation. The Stasi gave Gunther a nice house in the countryside from which he commuted into Berlin three times a week to lecture at the Stasi espionage school. He died in 1995, at age sixty-eight.

Brandt had become president of the Socialist International, a post he held until his death in 1992 at age seventy-eight.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall presents a readable story of how the Wall came and went. Buckley’s writing style is full of energy, and peppered with the occasional word that will propel a reader toward the dictionary.

Steve Hopkins, June 25, 2004


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the July 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Fall of the Berlin Wall.htm


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