On June 15, 1961, Walter Ulbricht, the communist ruler of East Germany (known officially as the German Democratic Republic) held a press conference in East Berlin to promote a cause he had long advocated: the signing of a treaty between the Soviet Union and Ulbricht’s German Democratic Republic (GDR) so that the East German government would control all land and air routes to Berlin, which would then be, in Ulbricht’s terms, a “Free City.” As Frederick Taylor noted in The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989, Ulbricht’s aides “went out of their way to invite the Western press corps.”
A reporter for a West German newspaper asked: “Does the formation of a Free City in your opinion mean that the state boundary will be erected at Brandenburg Gate?” Ulbricht’s answer was strangely revealing:
I understand by your question that there are men in West Germany who wish that we would mobilize the construction workers of the GDR in order to build a wall. I don’t know of any such intention. The construction workers of our country are principally occupied with home building and their strength is completely consumed by this task. No one has the intention of building a wall.
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