November 13, 2017

1950. East Germany Threatens to Impose New Traffic Blockade on Berlin

Crisis Season Arrives Early in Berlin
A float protesting the Atlantic Pact drives through Leipzig in East Germany, 1950. The sign on the side reads: "Der Kampf um den Frieden ist der Lebenskampf unseres gesamten deutschen Volkes" ("The struggle for peace is the struggle for survival of our whole German people") (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 18, 1950

A new Berlin crisis appears to be in the making today. West Berlin police, acting under American orders, seized a building in the American sector occupied by the Soviet-directed Berlin rail management.

A dozen Communist police guarding the building were disarmed without incident and escorted to the Russian sector border where their arms were returned and they were released.

The building was seized under orders of the American High Commission property control division. Technically the building is under Russian supervision, since the four-power agreement gives the Soviets control of all rail property in the city. But nine months ago during the Berlin rail strike, the Russians moved the rail offices to their sector. Only a switchboard remains in operation in the disputed office, and it was manned this morning.

The West Berlin police seized the building in order to utilize some six hundred badly needed offices for their own city government.

This morning some of Berlin's elevated trains were running only at forty-minute intervals. Many workers were late. The rail management said the holdup was due to curtailment of service at the switchboard in the routing of trains.

A few hours ago General Chuikov, Russian commandant for Berlin, phoned a protest to American headquarters. Deputy commander William Babcock promised to investigate and reply to Chuikov.

High Commissioner John McCloy arrived in Berlin this morning to attend a three-power meeting of all Western high commissioners which began a few minutes ago.

Although it's freezing weather outside, the various charges and counter-charges and other moves by East and West would indicate that the political Spring crisis season is arriving very early. Such maneuverings in the Cold War usually don't come until there is a prospect of warm weather.

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

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 19, 1950

The cold winds of crisis again are blowing in Berlin today. And again the crisis point is the Russian-controlled elevated rail system.

The Soviet-directed rail authority today has cut down elevated traffic fifty percent in retaliation to the seizure of a building in the American sector that formerly contained the offices of the system. The administration of the railway was moved to the Soviet sector during last year's rail strike. A Russian-operated switchboard is all that remains in the building.

Night before last, West Berlin police moved in on the building under American orders. They were told to occupy some 550 badly needed unused offices in the building, but not to interfere with the space or personnel operating under Russian direction.

The Western police, however, disarmed a dozen East Berlin police, took them to the Russian sector border, gave them back their guns, and released them.

Russia's General Kotikov immediately protested vigorously. American authorities replied that they did not intend to interfere with the operation of the railway—only to take up the office space.

The situation is being regarded seriously by both the East and the West. The American action was unilateral—the British were not informed.

Last night General Kotikov and his deputies made a last-minute rejection to attend a four-power party of the High Commission. The reason: they were too busy dealing with railroad matters. And today we are being called provocateurs and instigators of a new Berlin crisis. It may be that the Russians will seize this opportunity to mark a new test of strength of the people of West Berlin.

High Commissioner John McCloy and General Maxwell Taylor, Berlin commandant, will leave tomorrow for a week of consultations with government authorities in Washington. McCloy will report to President Truman and check in at the State Department for consultations on German policy.

Today he is seeing Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to get the West German government's views on the Saar problem. Adenauer is seeking support to retain the Saar economy and political integration into Germany. Secretary of State Acheson's statement yesterday backing the French policy on the Saar came as a surprise in Bonn. Adenauer is now looking for a friend.

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

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 20, 1950

East German Communist authorities are threatening partial blockade of rail traffic into Berlin today in the dispute centering around the American-directed seizure of the former headquarters building of Berlin's elevated rail system.

Although Maxwell D. Taylor, American commandant, has informed Russian transportation officials that there is no intent of interfering with operation of the elevated, the rail directorate today continues to allow only fifty percent capacity to run.

At a news conference in the office of Gerhart Eisler yesterday, East Berlin officials said that the situation growing out of the seizure of the building might seriously affect rail traffic into Berlin from the West.

The elevated system handles all railroad trains coming into the city. In other words, the East Berlin government implied that it might slap on a partial blockade of the city. However, this morning all inter-zonal schedules are running normally.

The Communist excuse for this current hullabaloo is that a switchboard in the former headquarters building in the American sector controls all trains running on the elevated system.

I talked with General Taylor yesterday about this potentially dangerous situation. He said that if the German Communists attempted to impose a blockade on Berlin—which they could do without a Russian being in sight—he would recommend to the United States government that force be used to break any such blockade. Taylor today canceled a trip to the US to deal with the situation.

While we have our troubles with the East German government, we also are facing difficulties with our own West German republic.

The growing problem concerns the Saar, that industrially rich valley in the French sector which has become a point of dispute in our relationships with the Bonn administration.

Secretary of State Acheson's statement backing French claims on the Saar caused a sensation in the Bonn government. The French want a fifty-year lease on Saar coal mines. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer says the mines are German property and cannot be leased.

Now Adenauer is hinting that if any action is taken on the Saar without the consent of his government, West Germany may refuse to join the Council of Europe and other Western Union organizations.

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

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 22, 1950

The United States has lost a skirmish to the Russians in Berlin's Cold War this morning, but the threat of another crisis here is abated and the tenseness that has marked the East-West atmosphere in the city the past week is disappearing.

General Maxwell Taylor, American commandant of Berlin, yesterday evening ordered that West Berlin police withdraw from the headquarters building of the Russian-controlled rail system. He suspended the American notice of custody and turned some six hundred badly needed empty offices back to Soviet transportation authorities.

The offices were ordered seized by American officials last Tuesday as part of a program to utilize all empty living space in the city. But technically under the four-power agreement, the building is under jurisdiction of the Russians, although it is in the American sector of town.

Taylor's explanation says that it was the American intention to put this space to use for the benefit of Berlin. "Unfortunately, the unreasonable and provocative attitude of the Soviets makes it appear probable that the hardships which they intend to impose outweigh the benefits arising from the American plan."

The rail management recently cut elevated service fifty percent in reprisal for the seizure, and a Russian slowdown of truck shipping at the zonal border created fears that a new blockade was in the making.

As is to be expected, the Communists hail the American decision as a great Soviet victory. According to one newspaper, "the main enemy of the German people—the American imperialists—has suffered a sensitive defeat at the heart of his West Berlin bridgehead."

West Berliners with whom I have talked today seem to show an understanding for General Taylor's action. "It is a wise move," they explain, "because Nie wieder Blockade—never again a blockade."

However, our transportation troubles continue. The three Western Berlin commandants have just revealed they have dispatched another protest to the Russian commandant, this time over the confiscation of eleven trucks loaded with non-ferrous metal scrap traveling from Berlin to the West.

Soviet border guards have never allowed this type of metal through their zone, presumably because it is needed in East Germany.

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