159. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, May 16, 19551


  • Current Berlin Problems


  • The Honorable Dr. Otto Suhr, Governing Mayor of Berlin
  • Mr. Paul Hertz, Senator for Commerce, City of Berlin
  • The Deputy Under Secretary
  • Mrs. Eleanor L. Dulles
  • Mr. Richard Strauss
[Page 373]

Mayor Suhr called on Mr. Murphy on May 16 at 11:30 a.m. and presented the Deputy Under Secretary with a replica of the Freedom Bell in recognition of Mr. Murphy’s interest in the City of Berlin.

After an exchange of amenities, Dr. Suhr turned to the question of the Congress Hall which is planned to be the U.S. contribution to the Berlin Building Exhibit of 1957. Dr. Suhr pointed out that it was most important for Berlin to have such a hall; for in a divided country professional, social and youth organizations and similar groups are especially important in reestablishing unity. He recalled that in his younger years, while studying political science, he wrote a thesis on the factors which brought about German unification n the late 19th century and came to the conclusion that it was congresses of professional people that contributed more than anything to Germany’s unification. He asked Mr. Murphy to excuse the fact that he was “blowing the trumpet of unity” but he felt that as a Berliner this was his major concern, and that as to the Congress building, he hoped sincerely that it might be possible to have the Bundestag meet in it when holding a session in Berlin.

In response to a remark of Mr. Murphy’s concerning Berlin’s relative slowness in absorbing Nazi principles in the thirties, Dr. Suhr replied that in 1931 unemployed Nazis and Communists joined together in a major strike which paralyzed the City. He noted that it was remarkable that in spite of the large unemployment now in Berlin, there are no successful radical elements. He had feared that the Communists and the Deutsche Partei might win some seats in the 1954 elections, but noted with gratification that the voters rejected both parties.

In this connection, Dr. Suhr turned to the current structure of the Berlin City Government and said that he prefers to have a party in opposition because it strengthens the democratic process, especially since there are no major issues which divide the coalition and the opposition.

Mr. Murphy then asked Dr. Suhr about the Autobahn tolls. Dr. Suhr replied that he had always been of one opinion with Ambassador Conant and Chancellor Adenauer that traffic to and from the City had to continue at its present level, and as long as it was necessary, appropriate payments had to be made. He said this opinion was not always shared by Finance Minister Schaeffer. Dr. Suhr was especially forceful in expressing his approval of the reference to the Paris Agreement of 1949 in the latest note to Mr. Pushkin,2 since it seemed to him vital that the partners to that agreement solve this problem among themselves. He indicated that in the meantime, Germany [Page 374] was imposing a slow-down on steel deliveries. Dr. Suhr also ventured the assumption that the decision on the road tolls was made at Pankow and not in Moscow and that it was therefore relatively easy for Moscow to change the policy.

Dr. Suhr pointed out there continued to be other methods of needling the people of Berlin. For instance, during the last 2 weeks, it has become necessary for people leaving the Soviet Zone to have certificates issued by the local SED Control Office certifying that they will not work against the GDR regime. He also indicated that the Soviet Zone Border Police had orders to shoot to kill illegal border crossers. After pointing out these Communist techniques, Dr. Suhr hastened to assure Mr. Murphy that there is no nervousness in Berlin.

Mr. Hertz then turned to the problem of unemployment in Berlin pointing out that figures are now lower than at any time since the blockade, having reached 160,000 unemployed and that it may be expected that this figure will be reduced to 125,000 providing the present trend continues. He indicated that one of the reasons why it was necessary to maintain Autobahn traffic even at the excessive toll rate was to assure the downward trend in the unemployment rate.

Mr. Murphy asked the level of the present unemployment compensation and Dr. Hertz explained that unemployment compensation was at ⅔ of the unemployed person’s normal salary, but even at that level, the individual was likely to become a political liability if unemployed over any length of time. He also explained that about ¼ of the total unemployment compensation expenditures are going to white collar workers who are being maintained in Berlin in preparation for the future when Berlin will once more become Germany’s administrative center. He reiterated, however, that it is impossible to maintain the present unemployment level, and that efforts must constantly be made to reduce that level as much as possible.

Dr. Suhr agreed with Dr. Hertz’ statement and noted that anyone visiting Berlin now would recognize that there is no waste, that the monies that have been invested are well-invested and have brought about political stability.

Dr. Suhr then returned to the problem of reunification and expressed the hope that the President’s statement made at the time of Ambassador Krekeler’s presentation of his credentials would be given additional publicity as it had not been sufficiently publicized in Berlin.3

The Deputy Under Secretary then asked how the average Berliner views the methods of achieving reunification. Dr. Suhr replied [Page 375] that Berliners were generally realistic on the subject and did not expect a solution to come out of the forthcoming Four Power Conference,4 but did expect a step in the right direction. It should be clear, however, that Berliners will not favor a solution which cannot be agreed to by the United States. Any so-called “Schauckelpolitik”5 is out of the question. There seems to be a general feeling in Berlin, however, according to Dr. Suhr, that the situation is more fluid since the Austrian Treaty has been signed and that the recent speech by Marshall Bulganin at Warsaw was read with interest in Berlin.6 The Bulganin-Tito visit7 will also contribute to a feeling that the international situation is becoming more fluid. Dr. Suhr then pointed out that a visit of President Eisenhower to Berlin would really bolster the cause of German reunification.

Dr. Suhr proceeded to point out that what Berliners really oppose is the solution sometimes discussed, namely a coexistence of the two Germanys. While there may be a coexistence of the two world powers, there cannot be coexistence on German soil.

Mr. Murphy asked about the Eastern Territories, a question that was somewhat misunderstood both by Dr. Suhr and Mr. Hertz because in their reply they addressed themselves to trade relations with the satellites. Dr. Suhr pointed out that the Leipzig Fair has somewhat reduced the importance of the Berlin Industrial Fair and while he favored trade relations with the Eastern bloc if it helped reunification, he was opposed to it if it would detract from Berlin’s position as a fair center. Dr. Hertz added that it had been hoped to turn the Berlin Fair into a real trade fair but that it had seriously felt the competition of the Leipzig Fair in 1954. He hoped this could be remedied, however, since both buyers and sellers had been disappointed at the Leipzig Fair because the Eastern bloc had very little to sell. Dr. Hertz hoped the United States would strengthen the Berlin Industries Fair by its participation in it as well as in the Berlin Building Exhibit.

Dr. Suhr ended with a personal invitation to Mr. Murphy to visit Berlin very soon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762A.00/5–1655. Unclassified. Drafted by Strauss on May 20.
  2. For text of the note from Conant to Pushkin, May 2, see Department of State Bulletin, May 23, 1955, p. 834.
  3. For text of President Eisenhower’s remarks on May 6 on the occasion of Ambassador Krekeler’s presentation of credentials, see ibid.. May 16, 1955, p. 795.
  4. For documentation on the preparations for the Four-Power Conference, see vol. v, pp. 537 ff.
  5. The policy of playing the East off against the West and vice versa.
  6. For text of Bulganin’s speech at the opening session of the Warsaw Conference, May 11–14, see Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1955, pp. 182–193.
  7. Bulganin and Khrushchev were scheduled to visit Belgrade May 26–June 2.