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BERLIN: Kleine Blockade

3 minute read

Somewhere in the Kremlin, the Communists appear to keep a Machiavellian UNIVAC with buttons, lights and levers that can bring into operation any one of 10,000 devices of skulduggery. Press the button labeled Peace, and peace doves take off from dovecotes in every capital; pull the lever marked Hate America, and such words as “jackal” and “hyena” leap into stereotype on a hundred printing presses. The cold-war machine comes equipped with a Parliament-Persuader that brings out Communist hecklers in Rome, Paris and Tokyo, a Double-Meaning Coding Machine for use during U.N. debates, an Automatic Truce Violator with wave lengths set for Korea and Indo-China. But of all the mechanisms, the most carefully calibrated is the squeezer known as the Berlin Blockade. It is so sensitive that it can register cold-war pressure by the raising or lowering of a road barrier, or by a sudden slowdown in the Berlin elevated railway.

Push Button. The Berlin squeezer was used at full pressure in 1948-49 (when it was broken by the airlift), and at half pressure in 1951, after the West proposed West German rearmament. Last week the Kremlin pushed the button again.

Without warning, the Reds clamped down on the narrow highway lifeline that links the Red-encircled island of West Berlin with free West Germany. Tolls on Western vehicles crossing the Soviet zone to and from Berlin were raised by 1,100% for the heavy trucks and trailers which carry two-fifths of all goods entering West Berlin, 400% for buses, 300% for cars, 200% for motorcycles. Heavy vehicles, which formerly paid less than $5 a round trip, would now have to pay as much as $95. West Berliners wondered whether die kleine Blockade, as they were soon calling it, was the start of another attempt to starve them into submission.

Counter Device. The Communist pretext was that the highways linking Berlin to West Germany had been damaged by frost and overuse, and that the extra tolls were needed for their repair. “Sheer chicanery,” snapped Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who recognized the new Red pressure for what it was: an attempt at revenge for the decision to rearm West Germany. Adenauer ordered 18 new trains to be put on the Berlin run (so far, the Reds have not interfered with railroad traffic). West Berlin set up a special fund of $250,000 to pay the truckers’ extra tolls.

The West also has its mechanisms, suitably adjustable to the occasion. Prosperous West Germany supplies the hungry East Germans with substantial quantities of food, coal and machinery, and the Communists would like to increase this trade. At week’s end, the Bonn government casually let it be known that it was far too busy with the question of increased tolls to be bothered about increasing trade. Said Konrad Adenauer: “It won’t last. They need East-West trade too badly.”

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