Ulbricht to Khrushchev on the Berlin Wall (1961)

In September 1961 East German leader Walter Ulbricht wrote to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, reflecting on the consequences of putting up the Berlin Wall:

“We achieved the following things by closing the border around West Berlin:

1. The protection of the GDR against the organisation of a civil war and military provocations from West Berlin.

2. The cessation of the economic and cultural undermining of the capital of the GDR by the West Berlin swamp.

3. A change in the political situation will occur. The Bonn government has understood that the policy of revanch [retaliation] and the plan to roll back the GDR by the organisation of a civil war and a small war has been destroyed for all time. This will later have great effects on the tactics of the Western powers regarding Poland and Czechoslovakia.

4. The authority of the GDR state, which was weakened by its tolerance towards the subversive measures from West Berlin, was strengthened and a revolution in the thinking of the population of the capital and the GDR has occurred.

The experiences of the last years have proven that it is not possible for a socialist country such as the GDR to carry out peaceful competition with an imperialist country such as West Germany with open borders. Such opportunities first appear when the socialist world system has surpassed the capitalist countries in per capita production. The adversary tried to answer our defence measures with a cry about the division of Germany. The attempt to call forth difficulties for us through chauvinistic propaganda and the use of the slogan of the “right to self-determination” failed, because large groups of the population had believed for a long time that it could not continue further as it was…

In West Berlin itself, the border areas have become desolate. Many stores and cinemas are closed, many members of the bourgeoisie are moving their homes to West Germany. There are now many villas for sale in West Berlin. The new aspect of the situation is that West Berlin has finished playing its role as a show window of the capitalist West and also will continue to function only partially as a centre of subversion. Further, it has been made clear that by the regulation of the use of the transit routes of the GDR to West Berlin, this part of the city will not escape from the difficulties. West Berlin can develop only on the basis of normal relations with the GDR.

Until now West Berlin received about 1.5 million marks in subsidy from the USA and the Bonn [West German] government per year. In addition, there are the many buildings which were made with money from the USA and Bonn. The West Berlin Senate demands in addition from Bonn a further one billion mark subsidy each year. From this, it is clear how much West Berlin has lived at the cost of the GDR.

After the closing of the border, suddenly there was still present in the GDR capital even in the evenings enough meat of the best quality, while before, especially on weekends, it was already sold out by midday. We also do not have any more problems with bread or butter in the capital. Even the women are satisfied that they can now go to the hairdressers since, until now, the big hairdressing salons were occupied by West Berlin women…

The key thing is economic, to make the GDR economy safe from subversion by December 1st. It will facilitate the international talks if the Bonn government knows that we are well prepared for any possible blockade measures, that such measures will concern us much less than they will concern West Berlin…

I wish you good health and remain, with communist greetings, yours truly.”

W. Ulbricht