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The “border pass agreement” of 1963

20.06.2014 - Article

After the Berlin Wall went up, the border pass agreement of 1963 provided for a regulation which enabled the population of West Berlin to visit their relatives in the eastern part of the city.

After the Berlin Wall went up, the border pass agreement provided for a regulation which enabled the population of West Berlin to visit their relatives in the eastern part of the city.

The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall© photothek.net

The erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the complete division of Berlin left the population of West Berlin without any possibility of visiting their relatives in the eastern part of the city.

Under Chancellor Adenauer, the Federal Government had already broached the topic with the GDR and had made efforts to find a solution to the issue. Nevertheless the breakthrough only came during direct negotiations between the GDR and the (West) Berlin Senate.

Exchange of letters between East and West

Letter personally addressed to Willy Brandt
Letter personally addressed to Willy Brandt© AA

In a letter dated 5 December 1963 to Governing Mayor Willy Brandt, Alexander Abusch, the Deputy Chair of the GDR’s Council of Ministers, offered to open negotiations on a border pass regulation which would allow people to make visits to East Berlin for a limited period up to January 1964.

The authorities in East Berlin would have liked to see the negotiations run by Brandt himself, but eventually they accepted a senior civil servant, Horst Körber, and for their part appointed State Secretary in the culture ministry, Erich Wendt.

The letter from West Berlin
The letter from West Berlin© AA

The style of the correspondence is revealing: whilst the letter from East Berlin takes a more forthcoming tone and is addressed directly to Brandt, the answer contains many passive formulations and begins with “The Governing Mayor of Berlin lets it be known that...”.

Agreement on a “protocol”

The agreement signed on 17 December 1963 also confronted the negotiators with several problems relating to the technical details. The GDR wanted an official treaty, whereas the Berlin Senate would have preferred to simply reach a spoken agreement.

The protocol of 17 December 1963
The protocol of 17 December 1963© AA

Finally a “protocol” was agreed upon, in which the fact that the parties had been unable to agree on common titles for places, authorities and offices was stated in a neutral manner. Referring to the eastern part of Berlin as the “capital of the GDR” was not acceptable to the Berlin Senate, whilst calling Willy Brandt the Governing Mayor of Berlin – without the addition of “(West)” – was not an option as far as the GDR was concerned.

Relief for the divided city

The agreement was the first piece of humanitarian relief that the Berlin Senate had been able to secure following the construction of the Wall which had come as a shock. The border pass agreement was a resounding success. During the Christmas period of 1963 and up to 5 January 1964 over 700,000 West Berliners made some 1.2 million visits to their relatives in the eastern part of the city.

Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989© photothek.net/Imo

In the spirit of Egon Bahr’s statement “change through rapprochement”, made the same year and often cited since then, an initial, if only hairline, crack in the wall had opened up. It would however take another twenty-five years for it to fall.

The border pass agreement of 1963 PDF / 12 MB

The Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office preserves the acts of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the GDR, from which the correspondence cited was taken.

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