Crossing the Wall
From SARAH GAINHAM
DURING the Christmas period, according to official Western figures, 1,300,000 West Ber- liners visited relatives in East Berlin—only to see relatives was it possible to get a pass and the relationship had to be proved. The official East German news agency puts the figure of day passes issued at 1,188`,000, including those who went several times on separate passes. The nego- tiations for this arrangement were made between an official of the West Berlin Senate and a State Secretary (highest civil service rank) of the East German Minister of the Interior.
What has happened, in fact, is that the arrangement for issuing passes to West Berliners into East Berlin, which was rejected in the autumn of 1961, has now been accepted. Then the Western allies in Berlin and the Senate re- fused to allow East German officials to issue passes in some of the city's underground stations in West Berlin, the city railways being partly under the control of the East German main-line railways. The change of mind has two disad- vantages, apart from the climb-down in itself. The passes were issued in buildings in West Berlin to which the East has no possible claim and which belong to West Berlin schools. And the agreement—Protocol, as it is called—was signed directly between the Berlin Senate and the East German Government. These two details form a distinct victory for the Communists. Willy Brandt, the Mayor of West Berlin, had the origi- nal backing of the Western allies and the Federal Chancellory to go ahead, though he is left to answer growing criticisms by himself, for politi- cal reasons not too far to seek. This, too, was to be expected, for Brandt certainly had his own popularity in mind during the negotiations as well as the longing of West Berliners to see their families for the first time since the Wall was started in August, 1961; like all politicians, he must now take the rough with the smooth.
The rough may prove to be rougher than any- body saw at the time, however. Once people have seen their relatives again—especially the old— they will naturally not. be willing to accept what looks like legalistic quibbling preventing them from going over again. And they will be right, for once political virginity is gone there is little point in refusing a second assignation. Nothing can be done now about the signature of State Secretary Wendt of East Germany on a paper recognised by the Berlin Senate in its own right, and no amount of talk about a 'technical agree- ment' at city level makes any difference to that.
Negotiations to continue allowing West Ber- liners to visit their families—West Germans have always been able to enter East Berlin by getting passes—are going on. They will presumably be restricted to family members, in itself a conces- sion by the West. The presence of East German officials (who are supposed to be from the post office but are, of course, policemen) in West Berlin could perhaps be got round with a little cunning—if anyone thinks of it in time. There are a number of buildings directly on the Wall, one face to the west and the other' to the east, which could be used both as issuing offices for passes and as the entry points into East Berlin.
The desire of West Berliners to see their families was matched by the desire of East Ber- liners; there were some painful scenes and at least one poor devil threw himself under an underground train on his return from a visit. It is suggested that the effect West Berliners will have in the East may soften the stern Com- munist reign. It never did before the city was divided by the Wall. And East Berlin, by means of such devices as special travel passes and road checks, is partially screened from the rest of East Germany because of the number of foreigners and West Germans who go there and because for that reason its shops are better stocked than anywhere else in East Germany. So even if East Berliners could be much more dis- affected than they are, the influence would not leak out much and in any case disaffection has little weight with their rulers. The stories of workers asking awkward questions about being given passes to West Berlin at factory meetings may well be true; but the only effect they will have is to step up party propaganda work. On Christmas night a boy of eighteen was shot on the Wall and died of his injuries. Since he fell forward into West Berlin he was not left to bleed to death like Peter Fechter, but there is no other difference. He was just a boy, and even his name, Paul Schultz, is a kind of anonymity as if one said Peter Brown, or perhaps Thomas Atkins. It is true that the Russian Ambassador to East Germany hurried off to see Ulbricht, who was spending Christmas in the country, but there is no evidence at all that his errand had anything to do with the shooting. It was almost certainly concerned with the Russian peace offensive.
But it was Christmas and people wanted to see their families; the Berlin Senate had the grudging agreement of the Americans and the Federal Government, neither of which wanted to Scrooge up Berlin's Christmas. What would have taken the danger out of the direct negotiations was completely forgotten; the announcement that this was a local and temporary arrangement for Christmas only. Further negotiations ought to have been clearly and unambiguously left to the Western Commandants in Berlin and the Bonn Government. They were not; they are going on between the West Berlin Senate and Ulbricht's goyernment. This is a de facto recognition of the East German Government by just that authority which has most to lose from such a recog- nition.
Two important things have happened through the sentimentalisation of Christmas. The West Berlin Senate has recognised its own separate identity, and thereby the notion of three German States; with this recognition goes the de facto recognition of the East German Government. Even more important for the whole of the West is that there is no sign of any political concession over West Berlin from the East; any further relaxation there appears to be an act of grace from Russia and Ulbricht, and it really is .so; it can be withdrawn at any time or made the subject of further demand. The present atmosphere of goodwill in Moscow depends on a small group of people, led by one man. It could change in a matter of days as it has done before now. But we and the Americans have given absolute guarantees over Berlin; shall we never learn to think before we act, or in this case, before we let others act?
'Make a noise like an armoured division. . .