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
Before the wall, aspirant refugees from
One family used a homemade balloon for
a twenty-eight-minute flight across the East—West border to
also used horses to get people out of
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
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
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.
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
Christian Democrats did not ignore the de facto realities of life. But just
as the Nationalist Chinese in
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
These feelers eventually led, in March
1970, to negotiations among the four occupying powers designed to
“normalize” living conditions for citizens of
The Quadripartite Agreement was finally
signed on September 3, 1971. Among the immediate results, the GDR would no
longer hinder traffic between
The four-power negotiations on
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
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
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
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
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
The scandal was the main topic in
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
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
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