SPD Politician in divided Berlin
You can read the full text of the multimedia timeline 1947-1956 here.
In 1947, Willy Brandt moves to Berlin. In the Four-Powers city he works as press attaché at the Norwegian Military Mission. In 1948, Brandt goes into German politics and regains his German citizenship. His gradual ascent in Berlin’s SPD takes place against the background of the Cold War between East and West. The Berlin blockade and the “Airlift,” the division of the city as well as the founding of the Federal Republic and the GDR in 1948/49 are formative experiences. In the Bundestag in Bonn and in West Berlin’s parliament, of which he is elected President in 1955, he passionately devotes himself to the re-unification of a free Germany.
17 January 1947
Norwegian press attaché in Berlin
On 17 January 1947, Willy Brandt assumes his duties at the Norwegian Military Mission at Uhlandstraße 7 in Berlin. He is responsible for press and information work and maintains contacts with journalists, representatives of the Allies and German politicians. Despite his purely diplomatic assignment, as a “civil officer” Brandt must wear a Norwegian uniform with the rank of major at official functions. Pictures depicting him dressed in it are misused later in defamation campaigns against him.
Brandt authors more than 400 reports on Allied policies toward Germany, developments in the four zones of occupation and matters of particular interest to Norway for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Another subject concerns the supply situation for Germans, who are suffering through a very severe winter.
First meeting with Ernst Reuter
Since his arrival in Berlin, Willy Brandt frequently visits Annedore Leber, the widow of Julius Leber. At her house in Zehlendorf is frequented by many prominent conversational partners. Here in February 1947, for the first time, the Norwegian press attaché meets Ernst Reuter, who will later become Governing Mayor of Berlin. The 57-year-old social democrat had returned from exile in Turkey in autumn 1946. From the very beginning, Brandt gets along well with Reuter, whose “humanly accessible manner” radiates warmth and optimism.
Arrival of Rut Bergaust in Berlin
Shortly after Easter 1947, Willy Brandt’s partner, Rut Bergaust, moves to Berlin. He made every possible effort to secure a job for her at the Norwegian Military Mission as well. There Rut is employed as an office assistant at the rank of cadet. The young Norwegian woman is shocked by the destruction of the city from the bombing and by the misery of the post-war situation. However, she is impressed by the zest for life and the humour of Berlin’s citizens, among whom she soon feels very much at ease.
A few weeks later, the 27-year-old moves in with Brandt to a villa in the Marathonallee, in the west end of Berlin, where three other Norwegian officers are housed. In autumn 1947, Willy’s divorce from his first wife, Carlota, from whom he has been separated for more than two years, is finalised.
Trip to Prague
In July 1947, Willy Brandt and his partner, Rut Bergaust, spend a few days in Prague. Both are impressed by the lively political discussions there. Freedom of expression still exists in Czechoslovakia, which is governed by an all-parties coalition. However, pressure from the Soviet Union and the communists is increasing steadily.
Previously, Brandt had observed the SPD party convention in Nuremberg from 29 June until 2 July. In a report to the Foreign Ministry in Oslo, the press attaché of the Norwegian Military Mission in Berlin stresses the “dominating position” and the sharply anti-communist rhetoric of the SPD chairman, Kurt Schumacher. But according to Brandt, “the objective manner” in which the Berlin delegate Ernst Reuter reasoned, also made an impression.
7 November 1947
Re-entry into German politics
On 7 November 1947, in a letter to Foreign Minister Halvard Lange, Willy Brandt requests to be released from Norwegian service by the end of the year. During a vacation in Norway in late summer 1947, it became clear to him that he not only wants to observe politics in Germany but also to shape them himself.
His farewell to Norway is not easy for Brandt. As he writes to Lange: “Norway has shaped me as a political person and in other ways.” Now he wants to attempt “to help with the task of leading Germany back to Europe.” In Berlin, the 33-year-old would like to become the successor to Erich Brost as representative of the SPD executive committee. After discussions with party leaders in Hannover in early November 1947, Brandt’s appointment to the position seems to be merely a matter of formalities.
23 December 1947
Courageous letter to Kurt Schumacher
During a trip through Scandinavia in late November 1947, the SPD chairman, Kurt Schumacher, hears negative rumours about Willy Brandt. “Illegal profiteer,” “wheeler-dealer,” “SED man in disguise,” “Cominform agent” are the various aspersions which, for the most part, Kurt Heinig is behind. For that reason, the decision to name Brandt as Berlin representative of the SPD executive committee is delayed.
Subsequently, Brandt turns directly to Schumacher in a letter dated 23 December 1947. He emphatically refutes the slanders from emigrant circles and clearly expresses his devotion to the policies of the SPD. At the same time, the 34-year-old reserves the right to form his own opinions. The letter has a positive effect. In late January 1948, SPD leaders unanimously elect Brandt to be their representative in Berlin.
Berlin representative of the SPD executive committee
In January 1948, Willy Brandt begins his work in the “Berlin Secretariat” of the SPD party executive committee. In the four-sector city he is the liaison for party chief, Kurt Schumacher, with Allied officials and with the SPD national association. Until November 1949, in a total of 372 written reports, Brandt informs the SPD leaders in Hannover about the dramatic developments in Berlin and makes political recommendations concerning them. His activity is strongly characterised by the inception of the “Cold War” between East and West.
In order to participate personally in meetings of the executive committee and in party conferences, he flies two to three times per month to West Germany. His base of operations in Berlin is a small villa on Trabener Straße 74 on Lake Halen where Brandt also lives with his fiancée, Rut.
Speech against the coup in Prague
On 12 March 1948, at a conference of district executive committees of Berlin’s SPD, Willy Brandt delivers his first public address in Berlin before approximately 500 social democrats. The representative of the party executive committee speaks about the communist coup in Prague and the lessons to be learned from it. Two weeks previously, the communists in Czechoslovakia took over exclusive power in a coup d’état.
Many now fear that this could also be repeated on the River Spree and all of Berlin could fall under the power of the Soviet Union. Brandt sharply separates himself from the communist dictatorship in the East and emphasises the close connection with the democratic western powers in the struggle for freedom. His speech is met with considerable applause and makes him well-known in Berlin’s SPD.
24 June 1948
Soviet Berlin Blockade and Western “Airlift”
In 1948, co-operative control by the four victorious powers over Berlin and Germany as a whole falls apart. As early as March 1948, the Soviet Union withdrew from the Allied Control Council. In mid-June 1948, the Soviet representative also leaves the Allied Headquarters for Greater Berlin. On 20 June 1948, a currency reform takes place in the three western zones, whereby the D-mark replaces the Reichsmark. Three days later, when the Soviets announce the issuance of a counter currency for their zone and Berlin, the western powers also issue the D-mark in West Berlin. Subsequently, on 24 June 1948, the Soviet Union cordons off all land and waterways to the three western sectors of Berlin.
Despite this blockade, the USA, Great Britain and France are determined to remain with their troops in Berlin. On 26 June 1948, the Americans and the British begin to supply the western sectors by air. They organise an “airlift” by which food and supplies are flown in minute by minute for the city’s more than two million inhabitants.
On the German side, Berlin’s struggle for freedom is led by Ernst Reuter, the elected Mayor of Berlin who had hitherto been hindered from carrying out his duties by a Soviet veto. Willy Brandt supports him and soon comes to be known as “Reuter’s man.” Their demand is that the western powers must under no circumstances ever give up the city. At a meeting of the SPD leaders in Hannover, Brandt declares on 30 June 1948 “that the rescue of Berlin (…) also signifies the guarantee of establishing democracy in the West.”
1 July 1948
Regaining the German citizenship
On 1 July 1948 in Kiel, the document is drawn up by which Willy Brandt officially becomes a German again. This administrative act comes into effect only on 24 September 1948 when – ten years after his deprivation of citizenship by the Nazi authorities – the certificate is delivered to him in Berlin in presence of a notary. With that, Brandt’s Norwegian citizenship expires.
The clarification of his citizenship was a requirement of the SPD leadership which engaged the 34 years old politician in January 1948 as their representative in Berlin. Since there is not yet a central German government, he had to submit his application for repatriation with the state of Schleswig-Holstein, to which his birth city of Lübeck now belongs. The repatriation document is still left over from the time of the “Third Reich.” Only the swastika has been covered over with ink.
The official attestation of change of name from Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm to Willy Brandt is certified on 11 August 1949 by Berlin’s superintendent of police.
1 September 1948
Prelude to founding a state in the West
With the Berlin Blockade, the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, intended to stop the new economic and political order in West Germany. In reality, his course of confrontation hastened the founding of a nation in the West.
On 1 September 1948 in Bonn, a Parliamentary Council is constituted which is tasked with working out a provisional constitution, a basic law, for the three western zones. The creation of a democratic federal state harkens back to recommendations by the western powers.
Brandt is extremely pleased that there are five Berlin representatives with an advisory voice in the Parliamentary Council. As he states in early August 1948 at a meeting of the SPD executive committee, Berlin’s participation is so important because the population in the eastern zone is feeling increasingly isolated.
9 September 1948
Reuter‘s appeal to the “people of the world”
In front of the ruins of the Reichstag, on 9 September 1948, more than 300,000 people demonstrate against the Soviet blockade of Berlin. In his speech, Ernst Reuter appeals to the “people of the world” not to abandon the city. However, its political division can no longer be halted. Three days previously, communist troops had again prevented a meeting of the freely elected city council. From then on, the representatives of SPD, CDU and LPD meet without the SED in West Berlin only.
Willy Brandt admires Berlin’s citizens in their unbroken will to resist. In the SPD brochure, “What is it all about in Berlin?” which appears in autumn 1948, he writes: “Yesterday still the hated citadel of Nazism, Berlin has today become an outpost of European freedom.”
4 October 1948
Birth of son Peter
On 4 October 1948, Peter, the first child of Willy and Rut Brandt, is born in Berlin. He is a genuine child of the blockade. Peter enters the world by candlelight in a poorly heated hospital. Precisely one month before, Willy and Rut were wed in the mess room of the Norwegian Military Mission in Berlin by a Norwegian military chaplain.
Trip to Scandinavia
In mid-November 1948, Willy Brandt travels to Sweden and Norway for a few days. In Stockholm he speaks with Swedish politicians in the Diet Building. In Oslo, Brandt takes part in a major assembly in the “Arbeidersamfunn” and in a meeting of the executive committee of the Norwegian Workers’ Party (DNA). In addition, the 34-year-old has discussions with students and is a guest on the radio and in conservative and liberal newspapers.
Brandt is impressed by evidence of solidarity with Berlin’s struggle for freedom and with German social democracy. “Of course, that does not mean that the Scandinavians have forgotten the past or express complete confidence in future German developments,” he writes on 26 November 1948 in the Social Democratic Press Service.
5 December 1948
Big election victory for Berlin’s SPD
On 5 December 1948, new elections for the city council take place in the three western sectors of Berlin. The SPD receives a dominant 64.5% of all votes. However, it renews its coalition government with the CDU and LDP. The local chairman, Franz Neumann, and Willy Brandt, as the Berlin representative of the party executive committee, have to emphatically defend this decision to the SPD leadership in Hannover.
The city council unanimously elects Ernst Reuter (SPD) Mayor on 7 December 1948. Now West and East Berlin respectively have a parliament, a communal administration and a municipal leader asserting a formal claim to responsibility for all of Berlin. Since November 1948, Friedrich Ebert (SED) has been Mayor in the eastern sector.
7 February 1949
Protest against communist terror
On 7 February 1949, Willy Brandt presents the SPD brochure, “Forced to be an informer!” at a press conference in Berlin. It documents the system of agents and the despotism of the Soviet secret police in the SBZ (Soviet Occupation Zone).
As early as September 1948, with the report “Terror in the Soviet Zone,” Brandt denounced the fact that thousands of opponents of communist rule have been incarcerated, tortured and deported to the Soviet Union. Even the 35-year-old must himself fear being abducted. In February 1949, a social democrat friend of his from West Berlin is snatched into the eastern sector.
Soon after that, the SPD leadership orders Brandt to no longer make appearances for speeches in East Berlin. Indeed, the SPD has the legal right to be active there but is subject, however, to increasing pressure.
6 March 1949
Support for the founding of NATO
In early March 1949, the Norwegian government decides to participate in negotiations for a North Atlantic defence alliance which the governments of the USA, Canada, Great Britain, France and the Benelux nations have been discussing in Washington since late 1948.
On 6 March 1949 in the Berlin journal “Telegraf,” Willy Brandt welcomes Norway’s participation as a “political and moral success for the West.” With unashamed sympathy, he writes: “One of the smallest European nations in population has given Soviet expansionism one of the most significant setbacks that it has experienced.”
The official founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Portugal are also part of, is enacted on 4 April 1949.
12 May 1949
End of Berlin blockade and founding of the FRG
The Americans and the British have flown more than two million tons of freight by the “Airlift” into West Berlin when, on 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union lifts the blockade after eleven months. Stalin has neither been able to force a western withdrawal from Berlin nor to prevent the founding of a West German state.
On 23 May 1949, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany goes into effect in Bonn. Due to a veto by the western powers, West Berlin is not allowed to belong to the new nation. However, Willy Brandt sees that a turning point in post-war history has been reached. “The struggle for the fourth zone of the Federal Republic has begun,” he writes on 13 May 1949 in the SPD Press Service.
However, the foreign ministers’ conference of the Four Powers, which begins ten days later in Paris, does not result in a rapprochement between East and West.
14 August 1949
Election as Berlin member of Bundestag
On 14 August 1949, the day of the first elections to the Bundestag, Willy Brandt along with Louise Schroeder, Paul Löbe, Franz Neumann and Otto Suhr are elected for the SPD to the parliament in Bonn. Previously, Brandt had not wanted to accept the earlier offer from Ernst Reuter to become councillor for traffic in West Berlin’s urban administration. Due to Allied objections, the election of the eight Berlin Bundestag representatives is not by direct vote of the people, but rather by the city council.
In the elections to the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU surprisingly garners 31.0% of the vote ahead of the SPD with 29.2%. On 15 September 1949, the Bundestag elects Konrad Adenauer Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Three days prior, the Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) elected Theodor Heuss (FDP) to the office of Federal President.
7 October 1949
Founding of the GDR
On 7 October 1949, the Volksrat, the provisional parliament of the Soviet zone of occupation, announces in East Berlin the founding of the German Democratic Republic. In actuality, its constitution gives only lip-service to democracy. For elections in the GDR, the distribution of mandates is pre-determined by a unity list. Sovereignty over state and society is exclusively in the hands of the SED Politburo chaired by Walter Ulbricht.
The democratic parties in the West are unified in their sharp rejection of the communist dictatorship in the eastern part of Germany. For Willy Brandt as well, the Federal Republic is the only legally valid representative of all Germans. Recognition of the “Soviet protectorate,” as he calls the GDR in autumn 1949, and political relations with the “zone regime” in “Pankow” are taboo.
20 November 1949
End of activities for the SPD executive committee
On 20 November 1949, Willy Brandt sends his final report to Hannover as Berlin’s representative of the SPD party executive committee. His position in Berlin has been eliminated. Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the establishment of the Bundestag in Bonn, the Allied High Commission, the supreme representation of the three western powers in Germany, has now moved its headquarters to the Rhine.
As a result of his different professional situation, the Brandt family has to leave the villa on Lake Halen. In early 1950, Willy and his wife, Rut, with son Peter, move into a terraced house on Lake Schlachten. Their new address is Marinesteig 9. During the weeks that the Bundestag is in session, Brandt lives in a furnished room in Bonn.
SPD district chairman in Wilmersdorf
In December 1949, Willy Brandt becomes an office holder in Berlin’s SPD for the first time. Surprisingly, he is elected chairman of the Wilmersdorf district. With this he heads one of the twenty SPD district associations in Greater Berlin, of which twelve represent the western part and eight the eastern part of the city.
According to Brandt’s depiction, his election was completely unplanned. He was actually supposed to mediate, as conference leader, a disagreement between rival groups in Wilmersdorf. Because he succeeds so well at it, the conference decides that Brandt should immediately assume chairmanship of the district association.
1 January 1950
Editor-in-chief of the “Berliner Stadtblatt”
On 1 January 1950, Willy Brandt becomes editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper “Sozialdemokrat” which is published by the SPD in Berlin. He writes many articles himself, such as the ironic commentary section “Pepper and Salt” and the “Letter from Bonn.”
Although Brandt changes the name of the paper to “Berliner Stadtblatt” and also devotes copy to tabloid subjects, he never achieves economic success. By the middle of 1951, the number of subscribers sinks to 3,500, at which point the publication of the paper is suspended. Several Berlin SPD functionaries blame Brandt for the paper’s demise. He considers this criticism unjust since, in his opinion, “the task could not be completed.”
To augment his income, the 36-year-old is also active as a correspondent for the “Arbeiderbladet” in Oslo and for the “Morgontidningen” in Stockholm.
24 March 1950
First speech in the Bundestag in Bonn
On 24 March 1950, Willy Brandt delivers his first speech in Bonn’s Bundestag. The SPD representative welcomes the suggestion by the federal government that the first step toward re-unification of Germany in freedom should be German-wide elections. At the same time, Brandt demands that the Adenauer government relocate more federal agencies than planned to Berlin.
The speaker vigorously attacks the KPD representatives present who defend the SED regime in the GDR. The German people, according to Brandt, have been deprived of their right to self-determination “with the aid of foreign bayonets, with the aid of the most brutal terror, with the aid of methods which can only be compared with those of the Nazi regime.” There is a “national and democratic duty to resist” the communist ruling powers in the East.
1/2 April 1950
Election to Berlin’s SPD executive committee
At Berlin’s SPD convention on 1/2 April 1950, with the third-highest number of votes, Willy Brandt is elected as a member of the executive committee for the first time. Moreover, in May 1950, the regional association nominates him as one of its delegates to the SPD national convention in Hamburg. However, the 36-year-old has previously decided against running for the deputy regional chairman position which he had earlier considered.
It displeases regional chairman Franz Neumann considerably that from now on Willy Brandt, as a follower of Ernst Reuter, is a member with voting power of Berlin’s SPD executive committee. The personal and political friction between the two politicians continues to worsen.
21–25 May 1950
Dispute over the Council of Europe
At the party convention in Hamburg, the SPD debates first and foremost the Adenauer government’s endeavours to have the Federal Republic join the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In his speech to the delegates on 22 May 1950, Willy Brandt opposes the “No” expressed by party chairman Kurt Schumacher.
Together with the Mayors Ernst Reuter, Max Brauer and Wilhelm Kaisen, the Berlin member of the Bundestag belongs to the few delegates who favour a ”Yes” to the Council of Europe, even if the Federal Republic does not immediately become a member with equal rights.
However, Brandt abstains during the vote because it is formally a vote on the general policies of the SPD fraction in the Bundestag. The leaders of the party around Schumacher and the Neumann-wing in Berlin sharply criticise the dissenters.
26–30 June 1950
“Congress for Cultural Freedom”
From 26 to 30 June, the first “Congress for Cultural Freedom” takes place in the Titania Palace in West Berlin. Notable international intellectuals, writers and politicians have come together to endorse western values and form a front against communism.
Willy Brandt also participates in the congress. Through his contacts in Scandinavia, he succeeds in winning some of his Norwegian friends, among them Haakon Lie, for the event.
The founding meeting of the anti-totalitarian association is completely overshadowed by the effect of the Korean War which began on 25 June 1950 with the attack by the communist north on the southern part of the country. There is considerable concern about the possibility of a similar development in Europe.
1 August 1950
Lecture in Norway
On 1 August 1950, Willy Brandt holds a lecture on “German Problems” at an international summer school in Sørmarka, 20 km southwest of Oslo.
The discussion afterward with socialist youth representatives from 14 countries centres primarily on one subject: “Since Korea (…) the desire has increased to an extraordinary extent to be able to rely on German contributions to the defence of Western Europe and consequently to a hoped-for deterrence of potential aggressors,” as Brandt, after his trip, reports in the “Berliner Stadtblatt.”
While abroad, he also hears a number of reservations about a re-armament of Germany because of the Nazi era, for which he expresses understanding. Especially virulent is the opposition by representatives of the Israeli workers’ movement with whom Brandt spoke in Oslo.
4 November 1950
Debate on re-armament
In autumn 1950, the issue of re-armament causes quite a stir in the Federal Republic and in West Berlin. On 4 November 1950, in the regional committee of Berlin’s SPD, Willy Brandt accentuates the categorical “Yes” by his party for a West German contribution to the defence of Western Europe. However, Brandt considers it premature for Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to have already offered the western powers a German contingent for late August 1950.
The SPD Bundestag representative is also very sceptical about the suggestion by the French Prime Minister, René Pleven, for a European army. The Pleven Plan of 24 October 1950 becomes the starting point for negotiations between France, the Federal Republic, Italy and the Benelux nations toward a European Defence Community (EDC).
3 December 1950
Election to the Berlin House of Representatives
On 3 December 1950, Willy Brandt is elected for the first time to the parliament of West Berlin. There he assumes chairmanship of the newly formed Committee for Federal Affairs. The new election of the House of Representatives, as the parliament is now called, results from the new constitution for the “federal state of Berlin”.
Compared to 1948, Berlin’s SPD loses almost 20 percentage points and wins only 44.7%. Therefore, Franz Neumann and his friends want it to become the opposition party. By contrast, Willy Brandt advocates continuation of the government coalition with CDU and FDP. On 18 January 1951, the House of Representatives elects Ernst Reuter Governing Mayor and confirms the Senate led by him. Shortly afterward, the SPD regional party convention also agrees to the three-party coalition.
2 January 1951
Suggestion for a law against GDR agents
Willy Brandt endorses drastic measures in the struggle against the SED regime in the GDR. On 2 January 1951, in a letter to his fellow party member, Herbert Wehner, the Berlin SPD’s Bundestag representative advocates a law against kidnapping and espionage. With that, Brandt intends to put a stop to “communist informers” and “Soviet zone terrorists” in the Federal Republic and in West Berlin.
He also wishes for a more severe course of action against West German politicians, journalists and associations maintaining contacts to mass organisations in East Germany and who would be disseminating communist propaganda due to “misguided tolerance.” However, in the SPD fraction in the Bundestag, Brandt is unable to win adoption of his petition for a law against eastern agents.
21 February 1951
Against German neutrality
In early 1951, Willy Brandt reacts with biting criticism to an appeal made by 51 prominent personalities in the Federal Republic who speak out against any re-armament of Germany whatsoever. In several articles, he vilifies the signatories as “neither-nor-nihilists,” “dreamers” and “forgers” and at the same time condemns the “without me” attitude which has been spreading through the population.
Brandt especially addresses the concept that there could be for Germany, in the middle of Europe, the possibility of neutrality guaranteed by the Four Powers. On 21 February 1951, the editor-in-chief of the “Berliner Stadtblatt” writes: “Only the person who has remained neutral on intellectually political and morally political issues can actually believe” in eastern guarantees.
Defeat in SPD fraction’s election
In the March 1951 elections to the executive committee of the SPD fraction in the Bundestag, Willy Brandt fails in his candidacy for the position of committee member. Since he criticised the policies regarding Europe by the SPD during the previous year, his relationship with party and Bundestag fraction chairman, Kurt Schumacher, has been heavily encumbered. Schumacher’s leadership style also does not sit well with Brandt, who is more intent on personal and political independence.
Since such narrow restrictions are set on his work as a Bundestag representative for Berlin, in January 1951, he seriously considered giving up his mandate in Bonn. In late march, Brandt requests an open, clarifying talk with Schumacher, but that does not occur for the time being.
18 April 1951
Critique of the European Coal and Steel Community
On 18 April 1951, the treaty for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) is signed in Paris. It is the initial building block of European integration. France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and the Benelux nations are participants in the supra-national ECSC which harkens back to an initiative in 1950 by the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman.
Three days before the signing, Willy Brandt expresses his opinion of the treaty under the headline “Poor Europe” in the “Berliner Stadtblatt.” By contrast to the gruff rejection by SPD chief Kurt Schumacher, who has characterised the ECSC as “conservative, clerical, capitalistic and cartel-like,” his own criticism sounds relatively mild. Brandt asserts that a good compromise between the necessary and the possible has surely not been realised. The Bundestag representative from Berlin finds fault with the fact that the ECSC is not founded on the basis of equal status and that a “southwestern Mini-Europe” could come about that isolates itself from England and Scandinavia. He qualifies his position by stating: “However, it would be a shame if the initiative of the Schuman Plan were to lead to nothing.”
Brandt accuses the German Federal Chancellor of undemocratic behaviour. Nevertheless, he recognises that Konrad Adenauer is honestly striving for a German-French reconciliation. On 11 January 1952, the German Bundestag ratifies the treaty on the ECSC against the votes of the opposition.
3 June 1951
Birth of son Lars
On 3 June 1951, Willy Brandt becomes a father for the third time. As he writes later, his second son, Lars, like his older brother, Peter, has “become a dyed-in-the-wool Berliner by dint of his speech and other demeanour.”
The surroundings of the Brandt family home in southwestern Berlin is ideal. Rut Brandt recalls later: “The naval settlement on Lake Schlachten was beautifully situated, open and friendly to children. (…) The children were allowed to be children, and pranks and fantasy were a part of it all.”
In 1955, the Brandts move into a larger terraced house situated on the same street. The new address is Marinesteig 14. The married couple, as well as their two sons, form close friendships with the neighbouring family, the Bohmbachs, a relationship which especially bonds the two women to one another.
Brochure on Yugoslavia
“Problems of Titoism” is the title of a paper by Willy Brandt which the executive committee of the SPD publishes in August 1951. In it, the Bundestag representative from Berlin deals with Yugoslavian communism under Tito, who broke with Stalin and the Soviet Union in 1948. For that reason, Brandt believes, Yugoslavia is an “international factor of rank” and finds itself with the model of “workers’ self-government” in a “societal and idea-oriented process of development.” Therefore, he favours the Socialist Internationale taking up contacts with the Yugoslavian Communist Party. In the final analysis, it is a question of trying to open up “new territory for democracy and for liberal socialism” in Yugoslavia and beyond.
28 October 1951
Controversy over federal laws in Berlin
At its regional convention on 28 October 1951, the SPD in Berlin debates the controversial question of whether and how West Berlin should adopt federal laws. Ernst Reuter and Willy Brandt argue for an unconditional adoption to underscore its adherence to the Federal Republic. Contrarily, Franz Neumann and Otto Suhr demand the right to amend federal regulations so that Berlin, for example, can keep its unified social security system intact.
In the meantime, in autumn 1951, the Bundestag in Bonn decides to legally codify the federation’s financial aid for Berlin and increase the number of Berlin’s representatives from 8 to 19. However, just as before, the western powers reject the total inclusion of West Berlin in the Federal Republic as a genuine federal state wanted by Reuter and Brandt.
27 November 1951
Working Group on West-East Aid
On 27 November 1951 in Berlin, the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft West-Ost-Hilfe” (“Working Group on West-East Aid”) is constituted. In it, ca. 30 organisations have come together to better care for visitors from East Berlin and the GDR. While staying in West Berlin, they are to be supplied with money, food, medicines and books.
According to Willy Brandt, “The working group intends to strengthen and promote pan-German solidarity through practical means of aid.” He initiated the West-East Aid and assumes one of the two chairman positions. Conversations with young people from the eastern sector who came to West Berlin during the World Youth Assembly in August 1951 have shaken Brandt. Since then he warns: “The danger of the young generation being alienated from its people is bitterly serious.”
19 December 1951
Free elections in all of Germany?
In autumn 1951, Willy Brandt emphatically supports the suggestion by SPD chief, Kurt Schumacher, to hold free elections in both parts of Berlin. They should serve as a prelude to, and test case for, democratic elections in all of Germany which the West has been promoting for a long time and which should lead to re-unification.
Since September 1951, even the SED regime in the GDR has been propagating pan-German elections. The SPD intends to take the wind out of the sails of this campaign and put the Soviet Union’s policies toward Germany to the test.
When the United Nations decides, on 19 December 1951, to test the external preconditions for free elections in all of Germany, Brandt presses for the possibility of elections in all of Berlin during a debate in West Berlin’s House of Representatives. But the CDU refuses to support the SPD initiative.
17 February 1952
Rally against anti-Semitism
On 17 February 1952, the rally “Reconciliation with the Jews” takes place in Berlin’s Titania Palace. The call for this has come from the “Congress for Cultural Freedom” and the “Society for Christian-Jewish Co-operation.” The organisers around the Hamburg publicist, Erich Lüth, protest against the newly emerging anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic and advocate a reconciliation between Germans and Jews.
The speakers forcefully remind everyone of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and dedicate themselves to the “obligation to restitution.” Willy Brandt is a co-initiator of the rally. In his address, he emphasises: “Wherever racial hatred dominates, not only human dignity but also freedom are in danger.”
10 March 1952
Stalin Note and the FRG’s Western treaties
On 10 March 1952, shortly before the conclusion of negotiations between the Federal Republic and its western partners concerning the European Defence Community (EDC), the Soviet Union offers the western powers talks on the re-unification and neutralisation of Germany. Federal Chancellor Adenauer promptly rejects the so-called Stalin Note. He insists on a rapid realisation of integration into the West as a precondition for re-unification. By contrast, the SPD chairman Schumacher favours a thorough examination of the Soviet offer in Four-Power negotiations.
In 1952, Willy Brandt is also in favour of sounding out the Stalin Note. He explains that in case of necessity, the West might even have to accept the armed neutrality of Germany if this were the price for re-unification in freedom. Actually, Brandt does not believe that the Soviet Union really wants to give up the GDR. This conclusion can be derived from his statement that he considers the military integration in the West to be unavoidable in case the Soviet offer should turn out to be a bluff. However, the Berlin SPD representative cares little for the EDC, since it withholds equal status from the Federal Republic and denies it membership in NATO.
The EDC treaty and the Treaty on Germany coupled with it are both signed on 26 May 1952, but in Brandt’s estimation, represent in general a major impediment to re-unification.
24/25 May 1952
Candidacy for Berlin SPD’s chairmanship
At the party convention of Berlin’s SPD on 24/25 May 1952, Willy Brandt runs for the first time for the post of regional chairman. Despite the support of the Governing Mayor, Ernst Reuter, he clearly loses to the incumbent, Franz Neumann, with 93 to 193 votes. Brandt is appalled that, before the election, some social democrats circulated slanders about him and his time in exile.
Alongside the controversy about adoption of federal laws in West Berlin, contrasting notions about the future of the SPD belong to the political causes of the power struggle. The Reuter/Brandt wing wants to modernise the party and open it up to all social strata. By contrast, Neumann and his followers insist on the concept of a traditional workers’ party.
8 July 1952
Protest against kidnapping
On 8 July 1952, the West Berlin attorney Walter Linse, who has been chronicling human rights violations of the SED regime, is abducted to the GDR by orders of the Stasi. The abduction in broad daylight unleashes a wave of public indignation.
After a protest rally in West Berlin on 16 July 1952, the Bundestag in Bonn also occupies itself with the case of Linse. The Berlin representative Willy Brandt speaks for the SPD fraction. He demands the immediate release of the attorney and of more than 100 other Germans who, according to the federal government, have been abducted to the East since 1948.
The world does not learn until years later about the execution of Linse in late 1953 in Moscow. In 2007, it is finally revealed that the lawyer had taken part in the dispossession of Jews during the Nazi era.
24–28 September 1952
SPD convention in Dortmund
At the debates of the SPD national party convention in Dortmund, Willy Brandt delivers two speeches. On 26 September 1952, he gives reasons for his regional association’s proposal for changes in the action programme of the party.
The Berlin social democrats affirm the military defence of the country and, thus, also the formation of a German army. Brandt explains: “Divisions alone will not do it. But (…) we live in a world in which it would look even worse if there were only divisions in Moscow.” Just days before, he had already touted his idea of a re-united Germany which was bound to the West politically but should be militarily neutral.
The party convention elects Erich Ollenhauer to be the new SPD chairman, the successor to Kurt Schumacher, who died in August 1952.
3 December 1952
Bundestag vote on the Western treaties
On 3 December 1952, as recording secretary of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Willy Brandt reports to the Bundestag in Bonn on the treaty for the European Defence Community (EDC) and the Treaty on Germany.
The accords, agreed upon by the Adenauer government with its western partners, provide for the Federal Republic’s involvement in the defence of Western Europe and in return, it is being granted extensive sovereignty. Moreover, the three western powers commit themselves to supporting the goal of German re-unification.
In his speech, Brandt gives the reasons why the SPD rejects the treaties. It fears that the military integration into the West will block the Federal Republic’s possibility for re-unification. Despite this, the Bundestag ratifies the west treaties with the majority of the governing coalition.
Against the division of Germany
In the “Social Democratic Press Service” of 27 February 1953, Willy Brandt’s theme is the increasing division of Germany and that of Berlin.
In late May 1952, the GDR sealed its border to the Federal Republic to prevent mass escapes. Additionally, the SED regime systematically separates West Berlin from East Berlin and the surrounding countryside. Therefore, West Berliners who have properties in the GDR are no longer allowed to visit them. The telephone connections between both parts of Berlin are interrupted.
This separation from the West is supposed to assure the “construction of socialism” in the GDR, according to the Soviet example, which Walter Ulbricht announced in July 1952. Consequences of the new SED course are the special promotion of heavy industry, the collectivisation of agriculture and the abolishment of the regional states.
17 June 1953
People’s uprising in the GDR
On 16 June 1953, after a renewed increase in labour standards, East Berlin construction workers go on a spontaneous strike and take to the streets. Days afterward, nearly a million people everywhere in the GDR protest against the SED dictatorship. They demand the resignation of the government, free and secret elections and the re-unification of Germany. The SED shows itself incapable of mastering the situation. But Soviet tanks suppress the people’s uprising in short order.
Since he has to speak in the Bundestag in Bonn on this day, Willy Brandt is unable to fly to Berlin until the evening of 17 June 1953. In crisis meetings of the Berlin SPD, he emphasises that despite the bloody conclusion, they must not give the protesters the impression that their efforts have ended in defeat.
1 July 1953
Heated Bundestag debate on 17 June
In a speech on the people’s uprising in the GDR on 1 July 1953, Willy Brandt causes an uproar in the Bundestag. His sentence, “German unity is more important than the election concerns of the current Mr German Federal Chancellor!” provokes impassioned heckling from the CDU/CSU fraction. Brandt accuses Adenauer of doing nothing for the re-unification of Germany and of trying to prevent an initiative for a Four-Powers Conference because of upcoming Bundestag elections in September.
With respect to 17 June, which becomes a legally appointed holiday called the “Day of German Unity,” Brandt publishes many articles in the following months as well as the brochure “Workers and Nation.” For him, the social democratic worker’s movement stands at the forefront of the German nation in its struggle for freedom and unity.
6 September 1953
Bundestag election: debacle for the SPD
In the Bundestag election on 6 September 1953, the CDU/CSU, with Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, wins a major victory. The Christian Democrats receive 45.2% of all votes while the SPD and its top candidate, Erich Ollenhauer, only make it to 28.8%.
Since the western powers do not allow direct elections in West Berlin this time either, the House of Representatives again elects the 19 Bundestag representatives for Berlin. Once more, Willy Brandt is among them. After the serious defeat of the SPD, he belongs to those social democrats who are pushing for a reform of the party, especially for a modern programme and up-to-date forms of organisation.
In June 1954, Brandt presents his thoughts on the matter in a position paper to the regional party convention of the Berlin SPD. At first, however, the efforts for reform hardly get anywhere.
1 October 1953
Mourning for Mayor Ernst Reuter
With a large demonstration, the SPD in Berlin bids farewell on 1 October 1953 to Ernst Reuter. The Governing Mayor died suddenly and unexpectedly two days earlier. Deep mourning prevails in the city.
At the widow’s request, Brandt delivers the eulogy. He characterises Reuter as a “teacher, admonisher and good friend at the same time” and eulogises him: “They sometimes called you an effusive optimist. What indeed would have come of this Berlin without unbending will and without the kind of faith that is able to move mountains?” On 3 October 1953, Reuter is laid to rest in the forest cemetery of Zehlendorf.
In 1957, in collaboration with the political scientist, Richard Löwenthal, Willy Brandt publishes the biography “Ernst Reuter – a Life for Freedom.”
12 November 1953
End of three-party coalition in Berlin
After turbulent meetings, the executive committees of Berlin’s SPD decide on 12 November 1953 to end the coalition with CDU and FDP and to withdraw from the Senate government. Three weeks previously, Walther Schreiber (CDU) won the election in the House of Representatives for Governing Mayor against Otto Suhr (SPD). The subsequent negotiations for a coalition proceed with difficulty.
In spite of his misgivings, Willy Brandt speaks in favour of continuing the three-party alliance. The special situation of Berlin, where a foreign ministers’ conference of the Four Powers is due to take place in early 1954, requires in his opinion a collaboration of the democratic parties. But with these arguments, Brandt is unable to prevail against the SPD regional chairman, Franz Neumann, and his adherents.
Berlin conference of the foreign ministers of the Four Powers
From 25 January until 18 February 1954, for the first time in almost five years, the foreign ministers of the USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union come together for a conference on Germany. However, the meeting ends without any results. Willy Brandt attributes responsibility for the failure to the Soviet side, where he cannot recognise any willingness to accept the re-unification of a democratic Germany.
Brandt distances himself from the contrary evaluations by the SPD leadership in Bonn and from portions of the SPD in Berlin. Re-unification in freedom does remain the foremost goal for him. However, he does not understand it as a precondition for a relaxing of East-West tensions but as its possible result in the long run.
First trip to the USA
Together with the SPD Bundestag representatives, Carlo Schmid and Fritz Erler, as well as the Berlin Senator for Federal Affairs, Günter Klein, Willy Brandt departs on 2 March 1954 on his first trip to America. From Washington, he travels to New Orleans and further on to San Antonio then San Francisco. Brandt is impressed by the diversity and potential of the USA.
The information tour lasts several weeks and is generously financed by the State Department. The four social democrats meet, among others, with Eleanor Dulles, the sister of the US Secretary of State, Vice President Richard Nixon as well as the senators James W. Fulbright, Hubert H. Humphrey and Lyndon B. Johnson. Focal point of their discussions is the issue of a contribution to defence by the Federal Republic. On 27 March 1954, Brandt returns to Germany by way of New York.
9 May 1954
Another defeat against Neumann
At the party convention of Berlin’s SPD on 9 May 1954, Willy Brandt again fails in his attempt to replace his bitterest rival, Franz Neumann, as regional chairman. Unlike the previous two years, this time the decision is by a notably slim margin. The incumbent Neumann receives 145 delegate votes, only two more than his challenger.
Immediately afterward, Brandt is elected deputy chairman with 184 to 83 votes. The 40-year-old has become the spokesman for those social democrats who want to advance Ernst Reuter’s policies. Organised by Klaus Schütz, his successor as SPD district chairman in Wilmersdorf, Brandt has systematically visited the district executive committee meetings of the party and, by doing so, won over many new adherents.
20–24 July 1954
Setback at the SPD convention in Berlin
At the national convention of the SPD in Berlin from 20 to 24 July 1954, Willy Brandt runs for the first time for a position on the party’s executive committee. The disappointing result, 155 of 372 votes, has to do in large part with an interview in the “Neue Ruhr-Zeitung”, published a few days before the vote. In it, Brandt makes it clear that he, contrary to the SPD leadership, considers a defence contribution by the Federal Republic to be unavoidable, either in the European Defence Community (EDC) or – in case that fails – in NATO.
After the party convention, to get away from the “domestic political and intra-party feuding,” Brandt flees to Norway for a vacation. He writes to Hans Hirschfeld, the press speaker of Berlin’s Senate: “It is not my inclination to be resigned. Quite to the contrary, this means I need to strap on my helmet more firmly.”
30 August 1954
Failure of the EDC
On 30 August 1954, the French National Assembly refuses to ratify the treaty for the European Defence Community (EDC), which France, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Benelux nations have signed. Soon after the failure of the EDC, negotiations begin for a West German entry into NATO.
Willy Brandt considers this step to be unavoidable. He argues on 10 September 1954 before Berlin’s SPD office holders that efforts for a re-unification of Germany should be continued, but must not be allowed to block the Federal Republic’s incorporation into the western defence system any further. By contrast, as previously, the party’s executive committee in Bonn considers NATO membership inconsistent with the goal of re-unification.
13 October 1954
Ascent in Bonn’s SPD fraction
On 13 October 1954, Willy Brandt achieves the seventh-best return in the elections to the executive committee of the SPD fraction in the Bundestag. With that, for the first time, the Berlin representative achieves the promotion into a social democratic executive committee.
5 December 1954
House of Representatives election in West Berlin
The SPD emerges as the victor in the elections to Berlin’s House of Representatives on 5 December 1954. Despite minimal losses compared to the previous election in 1950, it achieves an absolute majority of the mandates.
Actually, the social democrats have only one seat more than the previous government coalition of CDU and FDP. After the election, on the recommendation of its chief candidate, Otto Suhr, the SPD enters into a grand coalition with the CDU.
In his electoral district, the worker’s district Wedding, Willy Brandt is ahead by a clear margin and is directly elected into the House of Representatives.
11 January 1955
Election as Berlin’s Parliament President
On 11 January 1955, Berlin’s House of Representatives unanimously elects Willy Brandt as its new President. Thereby, he becomes the successor to Otto Suhr, who assumes the office of Governing Mayor.
A rigorous tug-of-war in Berlin’s SPD proceeded the election. Both Suhr and the regional and fraction chairman, Franz Neumann, tried to prevent Brandt’s candidacy for the office of President. However, at the nominations in the SPD fraction, the 41-year-old was able to prevail with 36 to 25 votes against Kreuzberg’s district Mayor, Willy Kressmann.
After the election, Brandt promises the representatives to grind down his north-German linguistic characteristic of not pronouncing “sp-” and “st-” as “shp-” and “sht-”. He succeeds in his endeavour surprisingly soon.
Paulskirche Manifesto and the Paris Treaties
In a letter dated 2 February 1955, Willy Brandt turns to the SPD party and fraction chairman, Erich Ollenhauer. In it he distances himself from the “German Manifesto,” proclaimed four days previously in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche (Paul’s Church), which speaks out against the re-armament and for the re-unification of Germany.
The document by the extra-parliamentary opposition of SPD, trade unions, churches and scientists, calls for resistance against the Paris Treaties of 23 October 1954, which granted the Federal Republic both entry into NATO and extensive sovereignty rights. In Brandt’s opinion, the text is one-sidedly directed at the West. He also doubts the validity of the SPD’s thesis that the ratification of the Paris Treaties would close the door on negotiations with the Soviet Union on re-unification. Brandt is also annoyed by the fact that SPD leaders put his name on the manifesto against his expressed wish, simply because he belongs to the executive committee of the Bundestag fraction.
On 24 February 1955, the Berlin representative is again elected to the position of general correspondent of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag in Bonn. In addition, he takes a position on the treaties as speaker of his fraction. Brandt loyally expresses the viewpoint of the SPD, but refuses to polemicize against the Adenauer government. Three days later, against the votes of the SPD, the Bundestag ratifies the West Treaties, which go into effect on 5 May 1955.
For humanitarian relief
On 27 April 1955, Willy Brandt delivers an address to the congress of the Trade Union of Police (GdP) in Remagen on the subject, “What can we do for the re-unification of Germany?” The President of West Berlin’s parliament assumes that the division will still last for a considerable time. Therefore, it is an “existential matter for the nation” to maintain and promote contacts and cohesion between Germans in the East and West.
Since the beginning of the year, Brandt has advocated a process by which West and East German officials, by order of the Four Powers, speak to one another about practical matters of trade and traffic in divided Germany. From that he hopes for agreements which would gradually make life easier and more normal for people. However, just as before, Brandt rules out any recognition of the GDR as a separate German state.
For peaceful co-existence
At the regional convention of Berlin’s SPD on 22 May 1955, Willy Brandt speaks of a transformation in world politics. There are a variety of attempts to organise a peaceful co-existence of nations. Brandt explains that co-existence is necessary, because the destructive power of nuclear weapons endangers the existence of humanity, and for that reason, large-scale war no longer can be a political tool.
The 41-year-old adopted these ideas from the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, whom he met in April 1955 at a meeting of parliamentarians in Rome. According to Brandt, co-existence does not necessarily mean abandoning attempts to change the status quo through peaceful means. The Federal Republic must do everything it can to incorporate the issue of German re-unification into international efforts toward easing tensions.
1 June 1955
Talks with East Berlin?
On 1 June 1955, Willy Brandt suggests to the press discussions between the managerial departments of West and East Berlin on the worst excesses of the division of Berlin. Immediately afterward, Mayor Fritz Ebert (SED) offers direct political negotiations to Governing Mayor Otto Suhr (SPD). But the West Berlin Senate will agree only to technical contacts at the expert level.
Brandt regrets that Suhr does not name an authorised representative for discussions with the municipal authorities in the East. In the leadership committees of Berlin’s SPD, he emphasises on 20 June 1955 the necessity of doing everything possible to make life easier for the population. With reference to the Geneva Summit Conference of the Four Powers in June 1955, Brandt warns that the SPD cannot conduct politics only in the spirit of the Cold War.
19 July 1955
Commemoration of German Resistance
On the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the failed assassination attempt on Hitler, a commemoration ceremony is held for the second time in Berlin-Plötzensee on 19 July 1955. In his speech, the President of the Berlin House of Representatives, Willy Brandt, pays tribute to the men and women of the German resistance as “pioneers of freedom and justice”.
The fact that the Federal Republic of Germany officially commemorates 20 July 1944 and honors the Resistance fighters, who many Germans still defame as “traitors to the country”, is above all thanks to Annedore Leber. Assisted by Willy Brandt and Karl Dietrich Bracher, the widow of Julius Leber in 1954 published the book “Das Gewissen steht auf. 64 Lebensbilder aus dem deutschen Widerstand 1933-1945”. The volume is later reprinted several times.
Visit to Yugoslavia
In August 1955, Willy Brandt visits Yugoslavia for the first time. Following a holiday on the island of Lopud, he conducts political discussions at the invitation of the Commission for International Relations of the “Federation of Yugoslavia’s Communists.” In the process, the Berlin Bundestag representative detects, on the Yugoslavian side, considerable interest in economic co-operation with the Federal Republic.
The Balkan nation is especially interesting for Brandt due to its unorthodox socialist model and its independence from the Soviet Union. Chief of state Tito favours a “politics of active, peaceful co-existence” between East and West. In addition, Yugoslavia is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Many young nations in Asia and Africa belong to this “Third World” organisation.
21 October 1955
Admonitory words on re-unification
On 21 October 1955, West Berlin’s Parliamentary President, Willy Brandt, opens the meeting of the House of Representatives at Schöneberg Town Hall for the first time with the sentence: “I proclaim our unyielding will that Germany, with its capital city Berlin, must be re-united in freedom.”
By doing so, Brandt satisfies a request by the “Curatorship of indivisible Germany” which wishes that this opening formulation be used by all German representative bodies. From then on until 1990, every meeting of Berlin’s House of Representatives will begin with these admonitory words on re-unification.
10 November 1955
Against the two-nation thesis
After the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations during the course of Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s trip to Moscow in September 1955, the Kremlin demands that the West recognise the existence of two German nations.
Therefore, at the foreign ministers’ conference of the Four Powers in Geneva in autumn 1955, the Soviet Union suggests the establishment of a pan-German council comprised of members of the Bundestag and the People’s Chamber. This committee should pave the way for re-unification, whereby the “accomplishments” of the GDR must be preserved.
On 10 November 1955, in a contribution to the weekly newspaper, “Die Zeit,” Willy Brandt issues a clear rebuff of the Soviet demands. In his opinion, the German question cannot be solved at the Bonn-East Berlin level and not without the Western Powers.
Lecture trip to Sweden
In late March 1956, Willy Brandt travels to Stockholm for a series of lectures. Before the “Svensk-Tyska Sällskapet“ (“Swedish-German Society”), he delivers an address on the subject, “Is the re-unification of Germany still topical?” Brandt cannot foresee any chances for a quick and insulated solution for the German problem. But he hopes for international negotiations on easing tensions and on disarmament, which he views as preconditions for German re-unification.
In the Swedish capital city, the President of West Berlin’s parliament also pays visits to the “Svenska Kommittén för Kulturens Frihet“ (“Swedish Committee for the Freedom of Culture”), to the “Treuegemeinschaft Sudetendeutscher Sozialdemokraten” (“Confraternity of Sudeten-German Social Democrats”) and to the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
28 April 1956
Propaganda battle over spy tunnel
On 24 April 1956, the Soviets reveal their discovery of an espionage tunnel in the East Berlin district of Treptow, where the Americans have been listening in on Soviet headquarters for eleven months. Following that, East Berlin’s Mayor, Friedrich Ebert (SED), invites Willy Brandt to a tour of the tunnel. The President of the West Berlin parliament agrees only under the condition that Ebert bring along four political prisoners to the meeting point at the Brandenburg Gate.
On 28 April 1956, when Brandt appears there accompanied by the press and many curious on-lookers, he is given a letter. In it Ebert informs him that the magistrate of East Berlin does not have the authority to release criminals. Brandt immediately turns around while an associate of his loudly and accusingly calls out the names of the four prisoners.
30 May 1956
Speech in the Bundestag on intra-German relations
On 30 May 1956, in the Bundestag in Bonn, Willy Brandt gives his reasons for a Major Query to the federal government on the “developments in the Soviet Zone and possibilities for closer ties between the two parts of Germany.” He and his SPD colleague, Herbert Wehner, played a large role in formulating the query, which is put forth by all parliamentary fractions.
Brandt emphasises that it is not about the foreign policy conditions for re-unification, but rather about measures for a maximum amount of relations between Germans in the East and West. Before its own people and before the rest of the world, the Bundestag wishes to make clear its firm resolution to “make life easier in an arbitrarily divided Germany” and “meaningfully fuse together again what has been senselessly torn apart.”
10–14 July 1956
No place in the SPD executive committee
From 10 to 14 July 1956, the national party convention of the SPD meets in Munich. In his speech, Willy Brandt addresses, among other issues, the unclear position of the social democrats on the establishment of German federal armed forces. A few days previously, the SPD in the Bundestag rejected a law on compulsory military service. Brandt admonishes them that a great party wishing to govern cannot evade issues of public authority.
Just like the two previously years, he again runs for a seat in the party executive committee. But he fails once more with only 194 of 386 votes. Brandt is deeply affected by the defeat. The 42-year-old writes to his wife, Rut: “I am very sad, nearly in despair. (…) They did not want to have me this time either. (…) I will indeed get over it, but at the moment I would, most of all, prefer to become a hermit.”
15 October 1956
For reconstructing the Reichstag
On 15 October 1956, Willy Brandt speaks to the “Curatorship indivisible Germany” in favour of the reconstruction of Berlin’s Reichstag building, which was severely damaged during the war. With this suggestion, which he first expressed in 1951, Brandt weighs in on the capital city debate which is starting in autumn 1956.
The President of West Berlin’s parliament and SPD Bundestag representative calls for preparations to begin right away for a complete move of government and parliament from Bonn to Berlin. By doing so, Brandt believes the Federal Republic would then affirm its will to re-unification and bind West Berlin more firmly to it. Moreover, the emphasis on Berlin’s role as capital city should replace its image of a “front city” of the Cold War. The work on the reconstruction of the Reichstag building begins in 1958.
5 November 1956
Solidarity with Hungary
In autumn 1956, the Hungarians attempt to free themselves from communist rule. But the Soviet Union crushes the people’s uprising with brutal armed force.
On the evening of 5 November 1956, 100,000 people assemble in front of Schöneberg Town Hall in West Berlin for a protest rally. But the speakers, most of all the SPD regional chairman, Franz Neumann, do not fulfil the crowd’s expectations and are roundly booed. When enraged demonstrators want to advance on the Soviet embassy in East Berlin, the President of the House of Representatives, Willy Brandt, contributes to defusing the situation with his valiant demeanour.
For his efforts, he wins considerable recognition in the general population, in the media and in the Berlin SPD. Brandt is now clearly at an advantage in the intra-party power struggle with Neumann.
Author: Dr. Wolfgang Schmidt, Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt Foundation