50th anniversary of Berlin crisis marked by exhibition and release of declassified documents

  • Last updated: 30 Jun. 2011 10:44

“The Wall and the Allied Response to the Berlin crisis of 1961” is the subject of a multimedia exhibition which opened at NATO Headquarters on 23 June. The exhibition was co-organized by the NATO Archives and the German Delegation to NATO and coincides with the public disclosure of NATO planning documents related to this pivotal moment of the Cold War.

The Assistant Secretary General for Executive Management, Ambassador William Eaton, opened the exhibition together with the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to NATO, Mr. Ekkehard Brose.

“The construction of the Berlin Wall was in many ways a metaphor of the barrier that existed for many years between countries, between societies, between ideologies,” said Ambassador Eaton. “And for Germany it was more than that. It was a daily, bitter reminder of the physical barrier that divided the German people,” he said.

Mr. Brose spoke about the isolation of West Berlin. “Isn’t it extraordinary,” he noted, “when you think of this little piece of city surrounded by the GDR that existed for decades in this completely abnormal island situation." Referring to the sudden way in which the people of east Germany were able to break down the barrier after so many decades of confinement, Mr. Brose said: “The yearning for free movement, free travel, just for freedom of some 14 million east Germans was able to crush this mighty bulwark”.

NATO planning documents released

It was only towards the end of 1961 that the Alliance decided to play a more active role in the crisis which led to the construction of the Berlin Wall.  The North Atlantic Council tasked the NATO Military Authorities to draft a series of top secret contingency plans to prepare for the possibility of a Berlin emergency. 

SACEUR’s Berlin Contingency (BERCON) Plans involved ground and air actions along the access routes and air corridors to Berlin, and also included the possible demonstrative use of nuclear weapons. SACLANT’s Maritime Contingency (MARCON) Plans proposed putting pressure on the Soviet bloc though worldwide maritime measures.

Files consisting of close to four hundred declassified Council documents and correspondence spanning the years 1961 to 1968, have been presented on the NATO Archives website (www.nato.int/archives/berlin).

The release of these documents on the NATO Archives website marks the first time that declassified and publicly disclosed NATO files have been uploaded to the Internet for consultation and download.

Ambassador Eaton described the newly-released material as, “a treasure-trove of documents about the Berlin crisis,” available to researchers, librarians, students and anyone with an interest in the political and military history of this era.  He said the collection offered, “a greater appreciation and awareness of the fast-breaking events” and provided “real-time analyses done by our colleagues at the time,  that spotlight NATO’s role and the unique contributions of the Council, of our military Alliance and also of individual Allies.”

To celebrate the release of these documents and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Berlin crisis, the NATO Archives organized a series of events in addition to the exhibition:

  • a screening of the film 1962 NATO-produced “Background to Berlin”
  • the publication of a commemorative booklet
  • and a seminar featuring presentations by noted historians on 22 June.

For online access to the documents on Berlin, as well as other forthcoming documents please visit the NATO Archives website at: www.nato.int/archives.

For complete access to the thousands of other declassified documents that have been publicly disclosed, researchers and others interested in the history of the Organization are welcome to visit the NATO Archives Reading Room at NATO HQ in Brussels.