Cold War: The Berlin Wall 1961 Return to the gallery menu
Worksheets Big Question  

What sources will you choose from the case study on the Berlin Wall and why?

The Background
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1955. At first it seemed that he would be a new type of Soviet leader, keen to co-operate with the West. In some ways he was, but he was also anxious not to be seen as weak. By the early 1960s his main concerns were nuclear weapons (see Gallery 5) and Eastern Europe. His biggest concern in Eastern Europe was Germany:

  • There had never been an actual peace treaty signed with Germany at the end of World War 2. Germany had simply been divided into West Germany (friendly to the West) and East Germany (friendly to the USSR).
  • West German leaders were keen to see Germany reunited. However, West Germany joined NATO in 1955, but East Germany was part of the Warsaw Pact.
  • Khrushchev's Communist allies in Poland were worried that if Germany was reunified then it might try to take control of territory on the Polish - German border.
  • Then there was Berlin. Khrushchev believed that the US, French and British were simply using Berlin as a staging post for spying on the USSR (he was not entirely wrong!).
  • Worse still, Berlin provided an easy route for East Germans to flee Communist East Germany and seek better jobs and more freedom in West Germany. And they went in their thousands. This was humiliating and damaged the East German economy.

The Wall
So, by 1961 Khrushchev wanted a final solution to the question of Germany. He wanted a peace treaty signed which made it clear there would be no reunited Germany, and he also wanted to stop the flow of refugees from East Berlin.

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He decided the best way was to show the Western powers that he meant business. Throughout the summer of 1961 it was obvious to Berliners that something was going on. Then, on August 13th 1961, barbed wire barricades went up, dividing the city. They were soon reinforced by concrete walls. Movement of military and civilian personnel was restricted. There was outrage. US and Soviet tanks faced each other in Berlin, and for a short while a real war rather than a Cold War looked possible.

In the end, however, all sides accepted the wall. President Kennedy was deeply critical of the wall, but even he pointed out that 'a wall is a lot better than a war'.

Your Task
Your task is to study the sources on the Berlin Wall and decide what they tell historians about how the Cold War worked. You will also have to decide which sources you want to use in your exhibition.

The worksheet will help you to keep track of your work.

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