Study Guide

East Germans in Ich bin ein Berliner Speech

By John F. Kennedy

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East Germans

The Wrong Side of Town

East Berliners were the unlucky individuals who just happened to live in the section of the city assigned to the USSR after World War II. Long before the first brick was placed in what would become the Berlin Wall, a lot of these East Berliners realized that they were not living in a good place.

Soviet rule left something to be desired, especially when compared to the highly successful rebuilding efforts going on in the American, British, and French sectors.

The Soviet strategy for Germany seemed to consist of printing lots and lots of German money (making it worthless) and not doing anything about all the rubble laying around from when the city was bombed. Many people found better jobs on the West side of town, where the other allied governments were actually rebuilding stuff—like places to work and make money that had actual value.

In fact, why stop at getting a job on the West side, why not just move there? Thousands packed up and did just that. Which became a problem for the Soviets.

They started calling it the "Brain Drain." It wasn't just that people were leaving East Berlin; it was that all the educated and skilled professional people were leaving East Berlin. Hospitals lacked doctors and nurses, schools lacked teachers and professors, and basically any position requiring a specific skill was hard to fill with a qualified applicant.

Lying Will Only Make It Worse

This is one of those problems that snowballs into something larger. As people leave it makes the services in East Berlin worse, which makes more people want to leave. But the Soviets were trying to show the world that their way was best—after all, communism relies of the idea that ordinary workers will love it. That working-class people everywhere will revolt against their masters and insist on living in a society that values their contributions and shares the profits among them.

Except in East Berlin the workers were leaving in droves. So the Soviets decided to stop them physically.

The Soviets had already tried to blockade West Berlin over disputes with the U.S. and others. That plan failed to achieve its desired results, but the Soviets tried again by building a wall…and this time they didn't give up. In their propaganda they called it an anti-fascist barricade and accused the U.S. of letting Nazis roam free in their part of town.

Actually, pretending that there were a lot of secret Nazis everywhere was at the center of most East German explanations. With Soviet help the East Germans created a seriously impressive system of spying on their own people. Back before digital anything, or even computers that didn't take up an entire room, the East Germans were snooping on each other at amazing rates.

While the West Berliners were listening to Kennedy, the East Berliners were on the other side of the wall getting spied on by the secret police, known as the Stasi. Under the thin excuse of "Nazis, Nazis everywhere!" the Stasi listened in on phone calls, watched people through keyholes, and encouraged everyone to report on everyone else.

Because nothing says that you're against fascism like creating a government that controls people's every action and takes away basic civil liberties… oh wait, that kind of sounds like fascism. They became the very thing they claimed to hate the most, like the pigs at the end of Animal Farm.

For the people who didn't leave East Berlin before the wall went up, and for all the other people living in the rest of East Germany, life wasn't great. They were unwitting participants in a communist experiment forced upon them by a country that no other country was willing to stand up to due to the whole nuclear weapons thing.

And they weren't allowed to listen to music or own products from the imperialist, capitalist Americans or their allies. Of course, radio waves aren't blocked by a wall…so most East Berliners did listen to American music (and eventually watched TV) as they waited for the day when the stupid wall would come down.

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