Berlin: The Wall

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Among his relentless, cold-blooded fellow plotters. Walter Ulbricht stood out as the iciest of them all, for he had no trace of sentiment or warmth. He was generally despised even by his colleagues; "Tovarish Woodenhead," they sneered behind his back because of his mimicry of Moscow. The great female stalwart of German Communism, Klara Zetkin, once remarked: "May a benevolent fate prevent this man from ever rising to the top of the Communist Party. I cannot stand him. Look into his eyes and you will see how sly and false he is."

But as long as he had Stalin's blessing, Ulbricht neither needed nor wanted close friends. In Moscow's Hotel Lux he enjoyed not only the companionship of his Berlin-born girl friend, Lotte Kuhn,-but also the comfortable knowledge that each purged comrade meant more room for himself as he scrambled toward the top job in Communism's German party. No one cherished leadership more avidly, nor curried favor with the Kremlin more expectantly. When the Hitler-Stalin treaty was signed, Ulbricht dutifully put his pen to work in the pact's support. "Whoever intrigues against the friendship of the German and Soviet people is an enemy of the German people," he wrote in 1940. "Under no circumstances can a breach of the pact be tolerated."

On to Wall Street. Such sterling services produced their due reward. When the Germans finally attacked their "ally." Stalin named Ulbricht a top member of the National Committee for Free Germany, which organized anti-Hitler propaganda campaigns in German prisoner-of-war camps, broadcast Moscow's message by loudspeaker to the Nazi divisions around Stalingrad. The National Committee was no great success in winning over the enemy. But it did serve as a readymade nucleus for Communist administration when the time came to move into postwar Germany. When Hitler's armies collapsed, one man was the logical choice to carry the Red flag into shattered Berlin: on May 2, 1945, Walter Ulbricht. flown from Moscow for the honor, drove into the Nazis' burning capital in a convoy of limousines with ten tough, trustworthy German Communist aides.

Headquarters of Communism's first postwar political commissariat in Berlin was on the second floor of a dismal concrete building on a thoroughfare named, of all things, Wallstrasse—Wall Street. From these few dingy rooms, the faithful Ulbricht, now sporting a wispy mustache and a pointed little Lenin beard, sent his agents fanning out to grab control—first of the Berlin city administration, then of every town and city in the Soviet zone.

Cops and Robbers. Ulbricht's formidable stamina kept his colleagues on an 18-hour workday, and his astonishing memory enabled him to pull the names and addresses of hundreds of loyal Communists out of an ever ready mental file. "When we set up the East Zone's first Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs," recalls Wolfgang Leonhard, a member of Ulbricht's original Berlin group who has since defected to the West, "Ulbricht assigned every department head and his staff—some 40 appointments, down to the motor-pool boss—in about an hour."

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