The Golden Twenties saw Berlin rise to become the third largest municipal city in the world, famed as much for it decadence and debauchery as it was for its cutting edge scientific achievements and architecture. Twenty years later though, Berlin lay in ruins.
The industrialised city and capital of the Nazi Third Reich was subject to 363 air raids over the course of the Second World War, with the British, French, Soviet and United States air forces dropping a combined total of more than 70,000 tonnes worth of bombs on the city. By 1945 there was little left but rubble.
At the start of the war, 4.3 million people called Berlin home; by 1945, there were just 2.8 million left. 40% of the population had either died in the bombings or had fled. The Red Army entered Berlin on the 16th of April, 1945 and had taken the city completely and forced the German surrender by the 2nd of May. In the aftermath, at least 100,000 women in Berlin were raped by the occupying army. When Churchill visited Berlin a few months later on the 16th of July, he mused that, ‘the city was nothing but a chaos of ruins.’ This was ‘Stunde Null’, the zero hour, and few people could ever envisage the city rising again.
Berlin’s immediate fate – a fate with far reaching consequences – had been decided in London seven months earlier. The four Allies had agreed in September of 1944, that should Germany be defeated, Berlin would be divided into four zones: a British zone, a French zone, a Soviet zone and a United States zone. In July of 1945, this is what came to pass.
From this point, the city was supposed to be administered jointly by the occupying powers. A Four Power Allied Control Council was created to govern the city, with the leadership rotating on a monthly basis. But as early as 1946, tensions were arising between the four occupying powers regarding the future of Berlin and, more broadly, Germany itself.
The Americans, desperate to avoid a repeat of the hyperinflation seen in Germany in the early 1920’s, were keen to introduce a new currency and stabilise the German economy. They were, however, not in charge of monetary policy. The Soviets were able to print money on demand, and were happy to do so as it reduced the costs of the expensive occupation. The Soviets were less concerned that the continuous printing of money was starting to generate damaging inflation. The upshot of this, is that – independent of the Soviets – the British, the French and the Americans introduced the Deutsche Mark to their zones as the official currency on the 20th of June, 1948.
It was never intended for the Deutsche Mark to be introduced to the three western sectors of Berlin, as it was clear the Soviets would perceive this as being belligerent and deem it as threatening. But the success of the Deutsche Mark in staving off inflation, had the unintended consequence of rendering the old currency worthless. There was now a currency crisis in Berlin, and the only way to address it was to begin circulating the Deutsche Mark about the city.
The Soviets could not accept this. The Four Power Allied Control Council of Berlin had already collapsed due to less important differences, but with the introduction of the Deutsche Mark to the western occupation zones of Berlin, co-operation between the Soviets and the three other occupying powers truly broke down. This was the beginning of the Berlin Blockade.
The Soviets swiftly blocked all rail, road and canal access from the western sectors of Berlin to their zone. The blockade was to remain until the Deutsche Mark was withdrawn from Berlin. West Berlin was clearly unviable without road and rail access to the rest of Germany, and the Soviets believed the blockade would doom the Deutsche Mark. But a huge logistical air effort by the Americans, British, Canadians and others kept the western half of Berlin functioning, despite it being a choked enclave. As many as 200,000 flights were made to West Berlin, providing everything necessary for life, including fuel and food.
A year later, when it was clear to the Soviets that the airlift was working, the blockade was lifted. People and goods could once again move freely about Berlin. But by this point, the western economies were starting to consistently outperform the communist economies of the east. Emigration from the newly formed, communist GDR to West Germany was starting to become a problem. In 1952, the year of Stalin’s death, 182,000 people left the East for the West, while the following year as many as 331,000 made their way across. Emigration, it was already clear, was going to prove an existential threat to the GDR, should West Germany continue to outperform it economically.
And so it did. The tide of economic migrants from the East to the West continued throughout the 1950’s. The demarcation lines between the Soviet Occupation Zone (now the GDR), and the other three Occupation Zones (now West Germany) had since 1952 already been a hard border. In fact, in the words of the Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, it was ‘not just any border, but a dangerous one’. Those leaving for West Germany, then, were doing so almost exclusively via the ‘loophole’ of West Berlin.
In the twelve years that the GDR had existed (from 1949 to 1961), it had lost 20% of its population. This to its leader, Walter Ulbricht, was unacceptable. The loophole allowing GDR citizens to escape to West Germany via West Berlin had to be closed. Berlin would need a wall, there was no other way. The city would have to be divided into two.
It started on the 13th of August, 1961, when soldiers of the East German army laid barbed wire and brick down, creating a barrier between their zone of occupation and the three other zones. In propaganda terms, it was the ‘Anti-Fascist Protective Wall’. In reality, it was an anti-exodus wall. To the world it became known as the Berlin Wall, the ultimate symbol of Cold War division!
It was now 16 years since the end of the Second World War. And the ever deteriorating relationship between the Eastern and the Western Bloc meant that another war on the European continent was, at the least, now a very real prospect. In response to this threat, the Americans started looking at ways of stepping up their clandestine spying operations against the GDR and the Soviets.
A listening station in Berlin was deemed necessary, one which could intercept and monitor radio communication between the militaries of the Warsaw Pact nations. It was decided that Teufelsberg – a manmade hill located in the old British Occupation Zone of West Berlin – would be the best location for such a listening station. Rising 80 metres above the rest of Berlin, Teufelsberg’s height meant that interception from atop the hill was better than from anywhere else in the city.
The manmade hill was constructed from 75,000,000 cubic metres of rubble; rubble left behind in West Berlin, all of it from apartment blocks destroyed during the Berlin air raids. Built in the Grunewald, a dense forest to the west of the city centre, the hill buried an under-construction Nazi military college, designed by the architect and Minister of Armaments and War Production during the Third Reich, Albert Speer.
Spying operations began from Teufelsberg in 1961, with construction of the permanent radar domes commencing in 1963. The site became an integral part of the ECHELON program, a secret surveillance program involving the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Without Teufelsberg, it is hard to imagine how ECHELON – or the Five Eyes as it was also known – would have been able to successfully spy on radar communication from behind the Iron Curtain.
Spying at Teufelsberg continued around the clock, right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. ‘The Hill,’ as it was colloquially known to the American National Security Agency employees that worked there, was then vacated and has since stood abandoned.
Teufel in German means devil, while berg means mountain. Teufelsberg, then, takes the sinister name of ‘Devil’s mountain’. Today the listening station atop the Devil’s mountain is abandoned and heavily graffitied. It is gusty up at the top, and the torn pieces of the main Radon’s white fabric skin flap violently and loudly, barely clinging on to the otherwise naked concrete structure. Beyond the forest, the sprawling metropolis of Berlin is visible. Visible but silent. Whatever secret information was detected at Teufelsberg will, to history, perhaps always remain a secret.