COLD WAR: THE WALL 1958-1963 {PART 9 OF 24} (TV)


The ninth in this twenty-four-part documentary series examining the events of the Cold War, from 1917 to the early 1990s. This series consists of interviews and archival footage, accompanied by historical narration by Kenneth Branagh. This episode depicts the erection of a physical barrier that came for many to symbolize the Cold War -- the Berlin Wall. It begins with footage of the induction into the army of American singer/superstar Elvis Presley in 1958. Presley's post, viewers are told, was in West Berlin. Although Berlin was in the heart of Soviet-influenced East Germany (the G.D.R.), the city was divided into Soviet and western sectors. The filmmakers argue that the presence -- and arms -- of western soldiers in Berlin greatly concerned both the East Germans and the Soviets. The East Berliners, East German interpreter Werner Eberlein recalls, were also worried about the temptation the western sector posed to the socialists across the border, who could cross between the sectors easily at this time. In 1958, the program explains, Khrushchev made two proposals to the west. First, he suggested making Berlin a separate political entity from the rest of Germany. When this plan was rejected, he offered East German leader Walter Ulbricht a treaty that would turn all of Berlin over to the G.D.R., a plan that found no favor in the United States. U.S. State Department representative Martha Mautner recalls that compromise between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. on the issue of the German city seemed unlikely. A visit from the Soviet leader to the United States, where he met with President Eisenhower, eased the tensions between the two superpowers -- until an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet airspace six months later. Meanwhile, the program asserts, East Germany was becoming a more difficult place to live. East German writer Stefan Heym remembers the hardships in his homeland and the contrast between his countrymen's lifestyle and that of their neighbors in West Berlin: "All you had to do was board a subway, and you were in another world." The program outlines the increasing anxiety of Ulbricht and the pressure he put on the Soviet Union to protect his borders from emigration. Next the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy is discussed -- as well as Kennedy's meeting in June 1961 with Khrushchev. Anatoly Dobrynin of the Soviet Foreign Ministry and Kennedy aides Walt Rostow and McGeorge Bundy recall the stalemate of the talks between the two leaders. Rostow goes on to detail Kennedy's real fear that he might have to engage in a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. As the crisis in Berlin intensified, the program notes, the flow of refugees from the western to the eastern sector grew. In July 1961 Ulbricht pressured Khrushchev to act -- which the Soviet leader finally did. In August, East German police officer Willi Bickel recalls, official workers were brought together in secrecy to plan and construct a barrier between the two sectors of the city. West Berliner Margit Hosseini remembers the shock and fear of waking to find that the border had closed overnight -- in many cases with families divided between the two sectors. Mautner remembers the surprise in the American community as well; westerners had focused on the larger threat, she explains, without thinking that a small-scale physical barrier might be erected. She indicates that there was relief on the part of the U.S. as well that the East Germans and Soviets had found a way to solve their problem without violating allied rights. West German mayor Willy Brandt, the documentary notes, wrote to Kennedy asking for help. Although Kennedy was unwilling to do much, he did sent a troop convoy across the barrier to see whether the East Germans would let it through. He also sent his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, and General Lucius Clay to West Berlin to remind Brandt and others that their rights would continue to be protected by the U.S. The program goes on to describe the escape attempts of many East Germans into the western sector. It also depicts run-ins between western and eastern troops that came frighteningly close to war. General Anatoly Gribkov of the Soviet High Command sums up the final consensus between the two sides: "Khrushchev himself said, 'We're not unleashing a Third World War because of Berlin.' The Americans realized that, too." After a description of the death of a young would-be escapee from the eastern sector, the program concludes with Kennedy's 1963 visit to Berlin, in which he said that he looked forward to the day in which the city would be united once more -- and meanwhile described Berlin as an icon for free people around the world. Commercials deleted.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, 1999.

This selection from the Alan Gerry Cable Collection has been made available by the Gerry Foundation, Inc.


  • DATE: November 22, 1998 Sunday 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:46:45
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:58480
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Berlin question, 1945-
  • SERIES RUN: CNN - TV series, 1998-1999


    • Pat Mitchell … Executive Producer
    • Jeremy Isaacs … Executive Producer
    • Vivian Schiller … Senior Producer
    • Martin Smith … Series Producer
    • Cate Haste … Producer
    • Isobel Hinshelwood … Series Associate Producer
    • Alison McAllan … Series Associate Producer
    • Ted Turner … Series Concept by
    • Svetlana Palmer … Research
    • Gerald Lorenz … Research
    • Miriam Walsh … Film Research
    • Neal Ascherson … Writer
    • Carl Davis … Music by
    • Kenneth Branagh … Narrator
    • Willi Bickel
    • Willy Brandt
    • McGeorge Bundy
    • Lucius Clay
    • Anatoly Dobrynin
    • Werner Eberlein
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower
    • Anatoly Gribkov
    • Stefan Heym
    • Margit Hosseini
    • Lyndon B. Johnson
    • John F. Kennedy
    • Nikita S. Khrushchev
    • Martha Mautner
    • Elvis Presley
    • Walt Rostow
    • Walter Ulbricht