Berlin: The Wall

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(8 of 10)

For two days, the mobs ran wild. Then, like a horde of waddling ducks, hundreds of Soviet tanks clattered out of their garrisons and into all the major towns; Moscow, it seemed, had not abandoned Comrade Ulbricht after all. Workers hurled bricks at the tanks and curses at their own jack-booted People's Police, but they had no arms or organization. Bitterly, docilely, East Germany's grey millions returned to work and settled down to years of hopelessness.

An End to Baptism. Since then Walter Ulbricht has ruled his people with deft application of both the carrot and the stick, always careful to keep in step with the word from Moscow. In 1956, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin at the 20th Party Congress, Stalin's old friend Ulbricht was quick to echo the new line ("One cannot reckon Stalin among the classic Marxists"). For all the thaw, Ulbricht soon cracked down on students and teachers who had friendly ideas of their own, arresting dozens, expelling scores from their universities. To stamp out religion and give new meaning to socialism, Ulbricht introduced "socialist name-giving" ceremonies to replace baptism, "socialist marriage" rituals to replace church weddings. Orders went out to force thousands of private storekeepers and handicraft shops into state-run cooperatives. More orders were issued to build a fire under the peasants who still largely declined to join the collective farms.

Early last year, collectivization was finally completed in a frenzied, three-month drive that sent thousands of farmers fleeing to the West and damaged even further East Germany's limping food production. Today no East German goes hungry, but his grocery supplies are at best erratic. Although formal rationing was finally abandoned in 1958, milk is in such short supply that it no longer is readily available; butter is distributed at the rate of a half-pound per person every ten days; beef is a rare luxury. To push a substitute. Ulbricht's regime in 1959 introduced "pony bars," restaurants that sell nothing but horse meat and urge customers to try "stallion steak," "foal filet," "goulash from the harness."

Girls on the Job. But these material facts of life were not the main force that sent 160,000 East Germans fleeing from their country this year. Under Walter Ulbricht's Communism, life is a dreary procession of rules and slogans that dragoon mind as well as body. At the Karl Marx Oberschule (elementary school) in Leipzig, kids are urged to keep an ear peeled at home for anti-Communist remarks by their parents; placards on the schoolroom walls proclaim "The Party Is Right" and "Struggle Today to Halt Atom War Tomorrow!" In the desperate labor shortage, tens of thousands of schoolchildren are taken from their studies to work several hours a week in factories and fields; already 88% of all girls between the ages of 18 and 20 are at work, and pressure is on as well to force women over 30 to take jobs.

Virtually all the comfortable old neighborhood Bierstuben have been forced out of business. Today the German worker must take his evening glass of beer at the big, bleak, state-run HO halls, where portraits of Lenin and old Spitzbart (pointed beard, i.e., Ulbricht) look down mockingly from the walls.

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