15 August 1961
A demonstration of "state power". Deployment of troops and water cannon in front of the Brandenburg Gate. At the Invalidenstrasse border crossing (Sandkrug Bridge) and several other central road border crossings, pioneer units of the People's Police place cement slabs (1.20 x 1.40 m) like those used in house building over the entire width of the street as a barricade. At 8 a.m., the "Top Alarm Level" is given for the entire West Berlin police force and riot squad "Top Alarm Level" means non-stop around-the-clock duty for all officers; rest breaks are organised within the individual task forces.
The SED Politburo meets from 10 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. and decides: "1. The measures to temporarily secure the borders to West Berlin have been largely completed. It is now necessary to work out a plan for the further extension of border security in a second stage. Those tasked with this plan are: Comrade Maron, Comrade Honecker, Comrade Hoffmann. 2. Drafting of an exact plan for the transition to a regular system of border security. This plan is to be drafted by Comrades Seifert, Beater and Riedel by Monday, 21.8.1961."
Special meeting of the West German cabinet in Bonn: countermeasures are discussed. But after the meeting, the government spokesman announces that the West German government "will not do anything that could lead to unforeseeable consequences, despite the ongoing provocations." Chancellery Adviser Horst Osterheld reports on the mood in the Chancellery: "The Chancellor had spoken of countermeasures. And everyone was expecting them. But no countermeasure against the forceful separation of East Berlin from West Berlin had been prepared in agreement between the three Western Powers, the West German government and Berlin for the simple reason that no one had reckoned on such a thing happening." This is why, Osterheld says, the motto in the Chancellery was: "Stay calm, ... no sparks into the powder keg! And no one did anything; 'the boat wasn't rocked'; even the highest echelons said: "Stay calm in the Zone, stay calm in the West. Calmness as the first civic duty was the word of the day." (Osterheld 1986, p. 52 ff.)
On 15 August 1961, at the request of their governments, the American, English and French city commanders protest against the "illegal" sealing-off measures. Allied liaison officers take the statements of protest to the Soviet city commander, Colonel A. I. Soloviev, in the Karlshorst district of Berlin. The letter does not contain the demand to stop the closure and remove the barbed wire.
In response to the announcement by West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer at an election rally in Regensburg the previous evening that he was considering pulling out of the inter-zone trade agreement with the GDR as a countermeasure, the GDR Council of Ministers threatens that such a move could endanger the access routes to and from West Berlin: "It is obvious that with such a step, the West German government would also be delivering a blow to West Berlin."
At a press conference, high-ranking officials explain to American journalists - foreign correspondents are excluded - the stance of the Kennedy administration on the closing of the sector border and announce three basic rules for the future negotiating position of the USA: "1. Closure of the escape route by Soviet authorities in the Zone is no reason for war. According to the Soviet Union, there were various countries that had blocked emigration for a long time without this providing grounds for a war. 2. The signing of a separate peace treaty between the Soviet Union and the Zone was also no cause for war, as long as it did not put at risk the free access to West Berlin or the freedom of the West Berliners. 3. The United States would not participate in the legalisation of the division of Germany under any circumstances. This statement is interpreted to mean that Washington will not sign a peace treaty with both parts of a divided Germany." Economic countermeasures are seen as the most effective form of retaliation, but it is considered too early for such moves. For this reason, "the Bonn government will not be permitted to take unilateral action." (Die Welt, 16.8.1961)
In the evening, official Allied spokespeople announce that troop movements of the Soviet Army have been detected around Berlin. They say that Soviet armed forces have been brought up 'to the West Berlin border'. (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 16.8.1961)
In contrast with widespread fears in the Kennedy administration (see 12.8.1961), American intelligence services present an assessment saying that there is little likelihood of a rebellion by the people of the GDR at the present time.
Western press commentaries:
Under the title "Caught in a Trap", Conrad Ahlers, in the "Frankfurter Rundschau", laments that the West has been caught by surprise. He writes that the fact that Western foreign ministers still have no concept for negotiations with the Soviet Union gave cause for concern. "So we are now standing before the ruin of a political strategy that was intended to bring freedom to the people of the GDR and reunification to the Germans. (...) No one is likely to dare to introduce effective measures such as (...) economic sanctions for fear of provoking a new Berlin blockade. The West is caught in a trap in Berlin that could slam shut at any moment. Negotiations are the only way out. (...) It is now no longer merely a question of prudence, but also of morality, that every attempt is made to undo what has happened, after previous policies have brought us to the brink of catastrophe."
The "Westdeutsche Tageblatt" (Dortmund) also raises the question of whether a trade embargo could be a suitable countermeasure on the part of the West. But, it says, because an embargo could raise tensions within the GDR, it should be examined whether the West German government could take the responsibility for contributing to such an escalation of the situation. Then it presents another counter-argument: "But a trade embargo could possibly bring about the very thing that should be avoided: the 'GDR' would be driven economically into the arms of the Eastern Bloc even more forcefully than was previously the case. (...) The consequences of an economic blockade would affect only the citizens of the Zone. For a conflict would then have to be fought out on the backs of the innocent that should be fought at different levels. The West German government should therefore beware of worsening the lot of the people in the Soviet zone by its actions. Bonn can squirm about as much as it wants: the past failure to hold negotiations on the fate of Berlin is now having its effect. The West must take back the initiative. An economic blockade would be unlikely to bring this about and would only harden the battle lines."