Sir Freddie






Q: Would you describe the feelings of the Berliners as fear sometimes, or what kind of emotions were in the atmosphere in the city?

A: No, nobody thought that anything worse could happen. This was bad enough. It simply became clear that the solution to the problem of the refugees taken by the East was to stop the flow of refugees. I don't think any West Berliner had any fear that they would go beyond that. But of course it was a terrible blow that the city was now divided into two and, as I say, above all this frustration that the allies could not or would not do anything about it, and so we had a lot of rumours that this was all sub rosa agreed upon with the Soviets beforehand, and of course there were many of these charges that we had known about it and among others, based on the fact that the USIA director, the famous wartime correspondent Ed Murrow, who had a reputation for always being for the action, where the action was, colleagues of mine in the West Berlin press would for years not believe me that it was an accident that he came to Berlin the night of the 12th of August. They said, 'don't tell me that that doesn't show that the Americans know. That's why they sent him.' But I know it's the honest truth. He had only been named by Kennedy something like in March, very late after the new administration came into power. And so after working himself into the job in Washington it was logical that his first overseas trip came to the biggest overseas operation of USIA, namely RIAS in Berlin. And so I can swear it was a pure accident that he arrived the night of the 12th. In fact, we'd made a programme for him that on Sunday he would meet with an young East Berlin teacher who spoke fluent English at my house, because we thought Murrow would get much more out of that than out of the standard briefing at the US mission, where among other things some tired Major in front of maps which show arrows, what we would do if the Russians invaded and that kind of thing, that that would bore Ed Murrow to tears. So we had set this up as proof again, if you wish, that we had no inkling of the wall starting. Well, all that was out and therefore he asked me to take him round in - in the afternoon. We went first to the Brandenburg Gate on the Western side and then to East Berlin and we went to the then still existing rear wing of the famous Adlong Hotel, which is right next to the Brandenburg Gate, and in with the windows open we heard the noise of the hammers pressing the door, the street open, makes a tremendous noise, and the angry shouts of the hundreds of West Berliners who were confronting them. And drinking warm, lousy East Berlin beer, Murrow reminisced a little about the many times before the war that he'd been in Berlin as a correspondent. And then we had to go on to this party, because with Murrow having cabinet rank, of course the US mission chief had arranged the usual reception with top Germans. And during that reception is when he made that phone call to the President, and at another stage one of the top secret service people of the Germans who had come from Bonn, rushed to Berlin in the morning, took me over into a corner and with great agitation said, 'isn't it incredible that your and our secret services are so lousy that we had no inkling of this coming on.' So to me, this was just on a private basis, we knew each other well, it's also proof that the Germans had no inkling. In fact, years later at a meeting of the foreign press club with mayor Brandt, he said that on two occasions before the actual wall went up they, the SPD, through their contacts in East Berlin, had received these rumours that something drastic was about to happen to staunch the haemorrhaging of the refugees, and in both occasions it turned out to be false alarm. And so he said during the day of the 12th we again received such warnings and we were kind of hesitant to - not that it would have made any difference. But to show you how well the East prepared this whole action, we out later that at Neues Deutschland, the official Communist newspaper, during the

Q: Talking a bit about the US reaction to building the wall, why was it was that there was such a delay in the kind of official response?

A: Well, if you call sending the Vice President and Clay six days later as an undue delay I couldn't judge. I would have been happier if they'd come the day after, but I guess that kind of thing can't be done. Meanwhile of course that wasn't all. Kennedy decided, and this required consultation with our allies, to send an extra strong military unit up from Frankfurt. And that surely takes a couple of times days. So all in all, I would say they probably put as much pressure behind all these moves to have them accomplished as early as possible. But that then unquestionably did help to reverse this collapse of West Berlin morale, this additional American, which was accompanied with all the publicity that you could imagine, and above all the arrival of the hero of the airlift, General Clay, which was far more important to the West Berliners than the Vice President. Who'd ever heard of Johnson?

Q: Did you think that it suited the US to react in that way to the crisis?

A: Oh yes, let's make no bones about it. In a way we were relieved because this certainly removed the immediate crisis of this staunch haemorrhage of refugees. And it is certainly fair to say that with his famous three essential speech several weeks before Kennedy in a way gave the Soviets a signal what you do in your sphere of responsibility is one thing as long as you don't touch our rights. And that's where you get the three essentials, of course, and in that sense I don't think it's sinister to say so, he gave them a signal he realised that they or the East Germans had to something. And so he only warned them do it within your own sphere, but don't interfere with our sectors. And so in that sense there was a, if you wish, a sigh of relief that this particular crisis was over. And of course for a while it did succeed, the East German economy did pick up again then when they were not confronted every day with thousands escaping.