February 26, 2017

1948. War of Nerves Behind the Iron Curtain

Developments in East Germany
"An automobile arriving from the eastern sector of Berlin is halted by West Berlin police in 1953" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

October 2, 1948

In Germany, as in America, the main topic of conversation these days concerns the fate of the "Rot Strümpfe" (Red Sox), the "Hochrots" (Cardinals), the Yankees, and the Dodgers in the current American and National League Championship Playoffs.

Such questions as the East-West Cold War, the threat of another Berlin crisis, and the Tito-Cominform break are taking a back seat among Americans here. And every night at 9:30, virtually the entire American colony can be found at home beside the radio listening to the American Forces Network shortwave broadcast of the games.

A German liaison official the other day asked me to explain the principles of "basa-ball." The process included explaining the name "Rot Strümpfe," the Red Sox, has no political implications, that there are no known Communists in the Cincinnati Reds, and that, just because Ted Williams plays left field, it does not mean he is a Socialist, Marxist, or otherwise.

Things should return to normal after the World Series.

Today is another one of those Communist-sponsored "peace days." Throughout the Russian zone of Germany mass meetings are being held. In the communities along the East-West zonal borders, the Soviet guards have let down the barriers and thousands of East zone Germans are reported to be swarming across into the American and British zones, ostensibly to demonstrate the German desire for unity and spread the word of how good things are behind the Iron Curtain.

Actually, as happened a couple of weeks ago during similar demonstrations, the East zone residents take the lifting of the border gates as an opportunity to come into Western zones to do some shopping, visit friends, and generally make a holiday of it.

The occasion also is a golden opportunity for political refugees to escape the Soviet zone.

Here in Berlin, the so-called peace rallies also are marked by demands for what they call an "all-German government." The Red Army newspaper Tägliche Rundschau this morning carries a series of resolutions from workers' organizations calling for an East German government to represent all the German population and reject the puppet government established in Bonn.

This move is assessed here to be the first step toward establishing some form of East German government, and perhaps for new elections some time before the first of the year.

The American-licensed newspaper Tagesspiegel today claims to have information that since the first of September thirty-two Russian military trains from Poland have passed through the rail center of Küstrin headed south for Hungaria. These trains, according to the newspaper, move only at night on an express, clear-track basis. German railroad personnel, it is said, are not allowed to speak to the Soviet guards.

If this is another part of the war of nerves being waged here against Yugoslavia, then it certainly is succeeding. In isolated Berlin, West sector Germans—and foreigners too, for that matter—feel they have plenty to worry about if trouble breaks out in Southeast Europe.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.