From the Airlift to the Bridge of Spies

On a grey winter’s day, a top Soviet spy and a US pilot walk onto opposite ends of a heavily guarded bridge for an exchange arranged by their intelligence services. It sounds straight out of a spy thriller – except it really happened. This exchange took place in 1962 at the Glienicker Brücke Bridge in Potsdam in front of what is now the Villa Schöningen Museum. Berlin has a wealth of such fascinating incidents and locations vividly recounting the tragic narrative of German 20th century history. And that’s hardly a surprise. For over 50 years, Berlin was the Cold War’s geographical and political epicentre, a point where the West and East power blocs relentlessly fought each other.

Although the Second World War Allies fought side by side to end Hitler’s fascist Third Reich, the ideological gulf between them soon re-emerged after victory. While the Western Allies wanted to establish a German democratic state in their zones of occupation, the Soviet Union planned a “Sovietisation” of east German society on Russian lines – governed centrally by one single socialist party loyal to Moscow. The onetime allies were quickly embroiled in their first conflicts. The fault lines were evident as early as 1948 when the West German Deutschmark was introduced into West Berlin. In response, Russia blocked all land routes from the west to the city. For over a year, West Berlin was supplied entirely by the legendary Berlin Air Lift.

Today, you can find out all about the operation with the “Candy Bombers”, as they were nicknamed, in Berlin’s Allied Museum. But fortunately, neither the Berlin Blockade nor later crises between the communist and capitalist systems escalated into a military conflict. The Cold War finally ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Read more stories about the Berlin Wall in the brochure Berlin Wall by visitBerlin. Read more