The Sixties in Berlin and in Hollywood: City with a Wall in Its Center—The Attempt to Erase the German Past



Berlin was the location in which most of the intelligence operations in Europe have taken place in the first twenty years of the conquest and the Cold War. In November 27, 1958, Khrushchev issued a formal letter to the Allies, demanding that the western Allies evacuate Berlin and enable the establishment of an independent political unit, a free city. He threatened that if the West would not comply with this, the soviets would hand over to the East Germany’s government the control over the roads to Berlin. In the coming months Moscow conducted a war of nerves as the last date of the end of the ultimatum, May 27, 1959, came close. Finally the Soviets retreated as a result of the determination of the West. This event reconfirmed the claims of the West that “the US, Britain and France have legal rights to stay in Berlin.” According to Halle: “These rights derive from the fact that Germany surrendered as a result of our common struggle against Nazi Germany.” (Note 2) The Russians have done many attempts to change Berlin’s status. In 1961 Berlin Wall was constructed, almost without response on the part of the West, and by so doing, the Soviets perpetuated the status quo that had been since 1948. In July 25, 1961 Kennedy addressed the Americans on television, saying that “West Berlin is not as it had ever been, the location of the biggest test of the courage and the will power of the West.” (Note 3) On June 26, 1963, Kennedy went out to Berlin, which was divided by the wall, torn between east and west, in order to announce his message. In his speech outside the city council of West Berlin, Kennedy won the hearts of the Berliners as well as those of the world when he said: “Ich bin ein Berliner”, I’m a Berliner.

The sixties were years of heating of the conflict with the Soviet Block. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was constructed. Then Kennedy came into power, there was the movement for human rights and the political tension between whites and blacks in America. The conflict increase as the Korean War started, and afterwards when America intervened in Vietnam. There was also the crisis in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, which almost pushed the whole world into a nuclear war and catastrophe. During the 28 years of the Berlin Wall, 13.8.61-9.11.89, this was notorious as an example of a political border that marked the seclusion and freezing more than freedom of movement, communication and change. At the same time there was the most obvious sign of the division of Germany after WWII and the division of Europe to East and West by the Iron Curtain. The wall was the background of stories by writers from east and west. The writers of espionage thrillers were fascinated by the global conflict between east and west and the Cold War with Berlin as the setting of the divided city. Berlin presented a permanent conflict that was perceived as endless, or as Mews defined it: “Berlin is perfect, a romantic past, tragic present, secluded in the heart of East Germany.” (Note 4) The city presented the writers with a situation that demanded a reassessment of the genres and the ideological and aesthetic perceptions of this type of writing. This was the reason that the genre of espionage books blossomed in the sixties, mainly those with the wall. The wall was not just a symbol of a political failure, as East Germany could not stop the flow of people escaping from it. The city was ugly, dirty, and full of wires and lit by a yellow light, like a concentration camp. A West German policeman says: “If the Allies were not here, there would not have been a wall. He expressed the acknowledgment that the Western powers had also an interest in the wall as a tool for preventing the unification of Germany. But his colleague answers: If they were not here, the wall would not have been, but the same applies for Berlin. (Note 5) Berlin was the world capital of the Cold War. The wall threatened and created risks and was known as one of the big justifications for the mentality of the Cold War. The construction of the wall in August 1961 strengthened Berlin’s status as the frontline of the Cold War and as a political microcosmos, which reflected topographical as well as the ideological global struggle between east and west. It made Berlin a focus of interest, and this focus in turn caused an incentive for the espionage literature with the rise of neorealism with the anti-hero, as it also ended the era of romanticism. (Note 6) The works of le Carré and Deighton are the best examples of this change in literature. Both of them use the wall as the arena of events and a symbol in their works. Only at the end of the fifties, upon the final withdrawal of McCarthyism and the relative weakening of the Cold War, there started have to appear films with new images about the position and nature of the Germans and the representations of Nazism in the new history.

The films of the Cold War presented the communists as enemies or saboteurs. Together with this view about the Soviets, developed the rehabilitation of the German image. Each part of the German society was rehabilitated and become a victim instead of an assistant of the Nazis. The critic Dwight MacDonald was impressed by the way in which the German populationhas changed from a fearful assistant of one totalitarian regime to the hero opponent of another totalitarian regime”. (Note 7) This approach has to be examined, and how it influenced the development of the German representation, since many films I have investigated demonstrate a different approach of the German representation.


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