June 16, 2015

1949. The Dawn of the German Democratic Republic

The Communists March Through Berlin
East Berlin in 1949. The banner reads "Freundschaft für immer mit der Sowj. Union" (Friendship forever with the Soviet Union).
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

October 11, 1949

Tonight I saw German history repeating itself—with a vengeance.

The occasion: the proclamation of Communist leader Wilhelm Pieck as the first president of what is called the German Democratic Republic.

The scene: Unter den Linden and a reviewing stand in front of the old Berlin University, which for more than four hours this evening was turned into a replica of Moscow's Red Square for one of the biggest political demonstrations since Adolf Hitler used to march his stormtroopers down that historic street.

Germany's communists tonight proved that they learned a lesson in political showmanship from the Nazis. It was all there—the singing, the flags, the torch parade. The only differences are that "hoch" has replaced "heil," the clenched fist has replaced the Nazi salute, and the flowing Georgian mustache of Joe Stalin has been substituted for the amputated version sported by Hitler.

A quarter of a million people—mostly young boys and girls, members of the Communist-sponsored Free German Youth organization—paraded down Unter den Linden tonight to honor Pieck and the Russian-backed government which claims jurisdiction for all Germany.

They carried tens of thousands of torches, the smoke from which blacked out the silhouette of the Brandenburg Gate a mile up the street.

The surprising thing is that these 250,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 were brought into the city on special trains from all over East Germany. There was no mention of it or of the preparations to premiere the new East German government tonight with all the pomp and fanfare of a kind of Russian Hollywood.

The Red Army cooperated to the extent of providing a half-dozen antiaircraft searchlights. Sky rockets were fired. An excellent military band marched some five thousand members of the People's Police to control the crowds. This was perhaps the most significant touch in the demonstration, because the People's Police, trained by the Russians after careful communist indoctrination, are responsible for maintaining the Pieck government in power—as is the duty of such organizations in a police state.

Everyone did a double take when the puppet president himself appeared out of Göring's old Air Ministry, and a squad of 150 black uniformed ex-Wehrmacht soldiers snapped to a Prussian salute and escorted the 73-year-old communist as an honor guard.

It was the Free German Youth organization that stole the show—trained to sing marching songs; carrying placards damning America and the West German government; dressed in bright blue shirts and neckerchiefs and carrying blue flags of their organization. These youths are the stormtroopers of this new Russian satellite state.

Tonight they cooperated by helping the police push back the crowds, throwing themselves into the police lines to shove the people away.

If the German communists aimed to demonstrate their strength in the show they put on tonight, they succeeded.

The most revealing and startling fact to emerge from Unter den Linden is the care and trouble that the Communists have taken to capture the youth of their zone—youth that is or will soon be of military age.

These kids, all 200,000 of them, are tough, rowdy adolescents. The Communists gave them a symbol and a uniform, and today they have a free trip to Berlin and an exciting parade. The appeal to any young person has to be tremendous.

The other significant fact evident from today's demonstration is the strength of the People's Police. The five thousand or so on hand are well-fed, extremely well-trained, and their uniforms differ from the SS regalia only in that they do not carry the deaths-head insignia.

The West Berlin press is regaling the steamrolled government of Wilhelm Pieck today with ridicule. Pieck, they say, is "Wilhelm the Third"—his government should be called "Pieck-istan."

But the East German satellite government is not one to be laughed off, and tonight the world has another source of war with which to contend.