On Thursday 10 December the Ambassador of Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States meet in the Allied control Authority Building in West Berlin for another rounding the four-power talks on the city's future.
On Thursday 10 December the Ambassador of Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States meet in the Allied control Authority Building in West Berlin for another rounding the four-power talks on the city's future. They are Sir Robert Jackling for Britain, M. Jean Sauvagnargues for France, Mr. Pyotr Abrasimov for the Soviet Union and Mr. Kenneth Rush for the United States. Their meeting will be a resumption of the talks which began in March after eleven years of diplomatic protest and counter protest over Berlin.
Berlin has been an embattled city in one way or another since the Second World War. But the present bitter confrontation began with the all-out blockade of the British, French and American sectors of the occupied city in 1948. All ground traffic was halted between Berlin and western Germany and the biggest airlift in history began. 200,000 flights brought two million tons of goods into the beleaguered city, including coal to keep the power stations and bakeries going. In April 1949 it was obvious to the Russians that the relief of Berlin could be maintained almost indefinitely. But when they lifted the blockade, a separate city council had been formed in East Berlin. The creation of the two Germanys sealed the partition of the city.
Through the fifties disaffected Germans tracked westwards, in small numbers at first and then in increasing strength. The East Germans tightened up their frontier security. But there remained the loop-hole of Berlin where 25,000 East Germans were arriving every year. In 1960 West Germany reported that 347,000 East Germans had been resettled there.
The flow of refugees, which was bleeding East Germany of some of its most enterprising people, was stopped abruptly on the night of August 12, 1961. The East German authorities built a nine-feet high wall a cross the city, separating East and West Berlin. West Berlin was now completely sealed off from East Germany.
Since then traffic between West Germany and West Berlin has been subject to arbitrarily enforced controls by East Germany though whose territory all roads and railways run. They operate checks without notice; they close the check points on the autobahns and keep traffic jammed at one end or another for days at a time. The harassment of communications is a constant reminder to West Berliners that they are an island, surrounded by an openly hostile administration. Their freedom of movement is subject to unannounced restrictions imposed for a wide variety of reasons. On December 1 1970, for instance, the East German authorities protested against a meeting of the German Christian Democratic Party in Berlin. Traffic piled up in West Berlin an din West Germany while East German officials demanded the completion of extra formalities by drivers wishing to use the autobahns between the two.
In 1963 the East Berlin authorities relaxed their structures and issued permits for West Berliners to visit relatives on the other side of the Wall for Christmas. Thousand of Berliners availed themselves of the passes. And some East Berliners took advantage of them to escape to the west.
But for the rest of the time a total ban was maintained on unauthorised travel between the two halves of the city. Hundreds defied the ban to escape to the west. But they took their lives in their hands. Since the Wall was built 70 people have died attempting to escape to the west. The Wall now stretches the entire length of the city, north to south. On the eastern side of it a strip of ground has been cleared and is constantly patrolled by guards. Watchtowers with armed guards in them look out over the strip which has barbed wire barricades across it and is mined in some places.
Nearly 500 border guards are among those who have escaped to the West. People have attempted to swim across the canals, to dig tunnels to the west or to use old war-time underground passages. The biggest of these was discovered near the Brandenburg Gate in 1969. Its eastern end had been sealed off and it is not known how many people had used it.
Every year on the anniversary of the building of the Wall, Berliners lay wreaths at memorials to Germans who died trying to cross it.
This year a new attempt was made to work out a new deal for Berlin and its inhabitants. The representatives of the four powers still responsible for the city met in March at the Allied Control Authority Building in West Berlin to discuss measures which might alleviate the plight of the city. The meetings have been adjourned and resumed several times, taken up again at higher or lower leaves and been overshadowed by the frontier agreement between West Germany and poland. When the ambassadors meet again on 10 December they will discuss possible concessions which might make life more tolerable for Berliners - access to the city from the west, access to East Berlin, the maintenance of political and legal ties between West Berlin and West Germany.
Until agreement can be reached, harassment of West Berliners can be resumed at any time. Road traffic is always vulnerable. Lorry drivers on the autobahns are resigned to have their journeys interrupted but hopeful of freer times.