Capital of Spies

Bernd von Kostka

After the end of the Second World War, Berlin was a hotbed of espionage.
Berliners watching supplies arrive during the airlift in 1948
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Berlin emerged after the end of World War II as a geographically and politically ideal base of operations for secret service activities. As the point of intersection between East and West, Berlin exerted an almost magical attraction on intelligence agencies. The city was occupied by the four victorious powers Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain and France. They administrated the city together  with the Germans from summer 1945 onwards and the cooperation went pretty well for the first two years.

But close cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union was nearing its end by 1947 as a result of the Truman Doctrine, the development of the Marshall Plan, and, finally, the failure of the London Conference to resolve the German question. The first confrontation of the Cold War came with the Soviet blockade of West- Berlin in June 1948. This was probably an immediate reaction to the currency reform in the western zones of Germany in June 1948. This reform was extended to West Berlin. In opposite to the aggressive military operation in the Ukraine since February 2022 the Berlin Blockade was completely passive. All roads, railway lines and waterways were cut off for any traffic to and from Berlin.

The basic idea behind the blockade was quite simple. The Soviet Union had control of the access routes to Berlin and, thus, the lifelines of the city. Cutting off these lifelines would demonstrate the weakness and incapability of the Western powers to the people of West Berlin. America, Great Britain, and France would ultimately have to withdraw from the city.

But the Western Powers reacted with an airlift to supply the western part of the city exclusively via aviation. It cost a great deal of money and at least 78 lives – but at the end the first confrontation of the Cold War was solved without firing a single shot.

After the blockade in 1948/1949 Berlin became a symbol for the free world and of the Cold War. And that is the reason why a lot of intelligence agencies were present in the western and the eastern part of the city.

In the first half of Capital of Spies several operations of the Western Intelligence are described – the second half of the book is deals with East Berlin and Stasi activities.

The Wall. Credit: Creative Commons

There are operations such as the Berlin spy tunnel of 1955/1956, that planned to listen to Soviet and East German communication, blown by the British mole George Blake. The US/UK listening station at the Teufelsberg in the mid 1960s was built for the same reason and was in operation until 1992. The Teufelsberg was always a prime target for the East and indeed there were Soviet/GDR spies working at the two major listening stations in West Berlin. The legal espionage via the Allied Military Liaison Missions in the GDR from 1946 -1990 is a highly interesting subject with many episodes. Special training, special cars and patience were important requirements.

The building of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets and GDR prevented their own people from going into the west and the foreign agents from entering the east. Moving on to the Stasi, and its kidnapping of political enemies from West to East Berlin, the Stasi itself had agents all over the West Berlin administration. Some were important, for example in a West Berlin refugee camp and in the West Berlin police.

There are many stories that give an overview of intelligence operations in Berlin that became the Capital of Spies.

Bernd von Kostka is the author of Capital of Spies, published by Casemate UK.