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Posts tagged ‘Cold War’

Tearing Down the Walls that Divide – 25 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall – Lessons in Light of the Recent US Election Results

Whether or not the politics can assert a line, which can use the large economic, scientific, technical and spiritual potential of the USA in a peaceful cooperation with the international community to  bring about a solution for the global problems of mankind — above all maintaining peace — will therefore be decisive in determining the perspectives of the US society. – Last sentence of Walter Stock’s Länder der Erde: USA (Countries of the Earth: USA), DDR 1987

For the first time in the brief but colorful history of Letts Hall dormitory, a phone rang in the distance and no one raced to respond. Not even the climax of our young lives – David Letterman’s reading of the “Top 10 Reasons Why” list – could rival this. Nothing ever had. History may be a recounting of past events but we knew this time we were living it – now – November 9, 1989, – the fall of the Berlin wall.

When operation “Wall of China” commenced on August 13, 1961, the East German government justified the 3.6-meter high, 155 km long mass of barbed wire fence and concrete as an “antifascist wall of protection.” For millions of German citizens, however, the wall represented an impenetrable obstruction dividing loved ones, for the rest of the world, the ultimate symbol of the Cold War dividing East from West. In contrast, the 7.5 meter high, 5000 km long Great Wall of China was a fortification protecting the Chinese from invading Mongol and Turkic tribes. For some, walls keep people out; for others walls keep people in.

DDR Books about USA

Books about USA purchased in DDR in East Berlin

1987 DDR book

Back cover of 1987 DDR book entitled “Countries of the Earth: USA”

My first real recognition of the walls came at age 16 when visiting East Berlin for a day. Surrendering my passport to the East German border guard, the voice of my seventh grade history teacher, resounded in my mind. “Just eight minutes from total destruction and annihilation!” he thundered fist clenching, voice rising as he paced the aisles between our desks. Silent a significant second or two he then would sneak up behind Kristin F, one of the quietest girls in our class, and explode, “Boom!” nearly jolting her and the rest of us to tears. Mr. M. dramatically confirmed what we were all knew to be a fact of lives.

We were the Cold War generation.

Our trivia repertoire included the random knowledge that if through some twist of fate we managed to be the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust, we’d be sharing the world with cockroaches while subsisting off of Hostess Twinkie cakes.  Our lives progressed teetering on the brink nuclear annihilation and overshadowed by the imminent threat of communism.

“Don’t look so scared. I don’t bite,” the young DDR soldier grinned stamping my passport. “But we’re enemies,” I thought. Throughout the day I was confronted with more of my enemies – carefree school children teasing one another, young mothers buzzing in chatter, frail

DDr Book

Pages of 1987 DDR book “Countries of the Earth: USA” about US mass media and culture

Omas warming benches. The buildings were grey and depressing but the people were friendly and often times tried to exchange their DDR Marks for our Western blue jeans.

But we needed our pants and already had too many DDR marks to begin with. Everyone entering the DDR was required to exchange 25 DDR marks a day, which, given the very low cost of food and general lack of any consumer products, proved a difficult undertaking. And one that wasn’t optional either because transporting those DDR marks back out of the country was illegal.

With our bellies full and no interest in the DDR version of blue jeans, we wondered if it would be strictly verboten to just give the money away and somehow suspected it might. Thankfully, that’s when we spotted the bookstore -always the perfect place to spend money. While my peers went to the reference book section to stock up on German-English dictionaries, I went straight to the shelves about foreign countries.

Not all my history teachers had been like Mr. M. There was also Mr. Edelman –though I could never warm up to the beauty of his long hair and plastic comb stuck in his back pocket, I could deeply appreciate a great albeit unconventional teacher. Mr. Edelman had made it his personal mission to teach us to challenge ourselves by questioning everything we thought we knew and had ever learned. Perhaps “History is written by the victors” but the defeated also have their side of the story to tell. He had given us excerpts of textbooks from around the world containing supposed historical facts of the same periods and conflicts but with surprisingly (to my young mind at the time which still wanted to believe history was indeed facts) different information. Dates more than not matched up, yes. But the motivations, perpetrators, heroes, focuses, lessons, outcomes, not by a long shot.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” – “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu wrote that we should know our enemies and know ourselves. I tend to believe it is helpful to see how your enemy sees you and sees him- herself. So while perusing the bookshelves that day, two books in particular immediately caught my eye: “Deadly Profit Greed” (which could have been subtitled: “How the US weapons industry will do everything in its power to demonize the Soviet Union to make money with weapons”) and “Countries of the Earth: USA” which, in addition to photos of the Grand Canyon and Capitol Building, showed hurricanes, Klu Klux Clan rallies,  homeless on street benches in DC and a map of the USA detailing missile silos aimed at the Soviet Union.

While we might be exposed to a teacher like Mr. M and movies like “Red Dawn” or songs like “The Russians”, the DDR children had books detailing the US bomb silos targeting them.

Sometimes objects like walls are too close to recognize. Sometimes we can first see them for what they are from a distance – often through travel. Like the walls we erect, in time, within ourselves. As children, we automatically adopt not only our parents’ and nations’ language and culture but also the political and religious belief systems.

At some point, usually as we become teenagers, we gradually grow to question everything we once believed existed in a realm of fact beyond questioning – including the walls that divide – whether they be walls of gender, race, religion or politics The collapse of these walls trigger questions about all other walls we could be inadvertently harboring and maintaining.

What beliefs do we possess and why? Was their form and shape a conscience decision on our part, derived from a thought process we had independently undertaken or simply adopted from our family, our social class, our nation? What makes others our enemies and us theirs? Politics can divide people and instill passionate feelings of us vs. them but in the end, people are people and generally harbor similar fears and hopes for their families and loved ones. And just because you take a look at something from the “opposite side” doesn’t have to make us enemies.

Maybe your political views lead you to believe global warming is a hoax and mine that Houston could be doomed for a watery future. But maybe we both have similar views about education or writing or brownies and beer. And maybe that’s where we find our common ground and connect to overcome the us vs. them. In fact, when enough people extend their arms, and reach through the walls that divide us, the walls slowly begin to chip away and then crumble and something amazing happens — they fall and we find ourselves standing together, arm and arm, finding ways to reach similar objectives peacefully.

Back cover of DDR book about US Weapons Insdustry

Back Cover Book Description of DDR book “Tödliche Profitgier” (Deadly Profit Greed) about USA weapons industry published in 1986

One of the difficulties with walls is recognizing their existence. The 120 cm thick sheet of concrete curtain cutting through more than 190 streets of Berlin was undeniable. Even from a distance orbiting the earth, the 4.5 – 9 meter thick walls of the Great Wall are visible.

And yet, perhaps the greatest walls are those not so visible.

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and I and my peers sat stunned, knowing we were witnessing a historic event marking the dawn of a new era.

A few years later I was studying International Relations at the University of Vienna with a very small, very international group of students. There was John who had just retired from the US State Department and Maria who had received a special study scholarship from Latvia. Part of our studies included an invitation from the Russian Parliament to visit Moscow for two weeks in June.

Perestroika was on everyone lips and the fact that I, as an American, would be permitted to bypass the sturdy babushka clad lady seated on the women’s hall of the University of Moscow dorms to get to my room — quarters outside of a government approved residence — would have been unthinkable a few years before. That trip I not only got reprimanded by a Kalashnikov wielding guard on the Red Square for smiling and whispering as we circled around the very embalmed Lenin, I also stood in line to get my pass at the salad bar at the Moscow Pizza Hut (Vienna at the time had no Pizza Hut but Moscow did). And I swear to you it’s true when I tell you that when the sun came out that cold June and I walked through Gorki Park,  speakers attached to the trees playing rock music began blasting none other than the Scorpions “Winds of Change” over and over again.

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me – Scorpions, “Wind of Change” Print This Post

Excerpt from DDR Book "Tödliche Profitgier"

Excerpt about US film industry and anti-Soviet rhetoric (“propaganda”) with examples of films like “Rocky IV”, “Rambo” and “Red Dawn” from DDR book on USA entitled “Deadly Profit Greed”

Original German quote of translation given above from last pages of book, “Countries of the Earth: USA” Ob sich in die Politik eine Linie durchsetzen kann, die das große ökonomische, wissenschaftlich-technische und geistige Potential der USA in die friedliche Zusammenarbeit im Rahmen der internationalen Gemeinschaft zur Lösung der globalen Menschheitsprobleme — allen voran die Friedenserhaltung — einbringt, wird deshalb wesentlich über die Perspektiven der USA-Gesellschaft entschieden. (Seite 160, Stock, Walter: Länder der Erde: USA)

Whose idea was the Berlin Wall? According to the German news magazine, der Spiegel, all Khrushchev’s. Read the English translation of Klaus Wiegrefe’s  Spiegel article here: “The Krushchev Connection: Who Ordered the Construction of the Berlin Wall?

However, an article entitled, “East Germans Pressured Soviets to Build Berlin Wall” by Jodi Koehn on the Wilsons Center website purports that the East Germans pressured Soviets to build the wall


Trust No One – Vienna, The Spy Capital

“To write fiction, as I do, is to lie in the idiom of truth. To lie in a language not truly my own is to put an extra fork in my tongue. To be a spy is also a fork matter. It means trying to be the virtuoso of a daily duality.”
 – Austrian born, American writer, Frederic Morton

A couple weeks ago at a writer’s conference, I ended up having lunch together with a British author. Halfway through the Quattro Stagioni, I mentioned that I live in Vienna. His eyes lit up and it wasn’t from the vino da tavola rosso (well maybe that too). Ahh, spy capital of the world.

He then confessed that his current book project concerns the real life tale of a former spy. From there we talked non-stop. Intriguing tales of the world of espionage got us so carried away that he almost ran late for an afternoon panel discussion featuring him as one of the special guests.

key logging

Key Logging – no doubt an effective spying tool

If the Vienna Tourist Board had an ad to attract spies to the city, I am sure it would read something like this:

If you’re a spy, Vienna is the place to go.

A Russian spy? Serve yourself up some Austrian Schnapps and reminisce with your comrades about the good old days after WWII. With your ten additional years in the city, I am sure you grew well acquainted with all we have to offer and who wouldn’t want to be posted at the station rumored to be the strongest intelligence headquarters outside the Soviet Bloc?

And the rest of you? Vienna welcomes all spies, all languages, all nationalities — that’s just how we are. Multi-kulti. That’s us. And we’re sure you’ll enjoy your clandestine existence in a place consistently voted world’s number one most livable city. We’ve got international stores and restaurants (amazing steaks and even a doughnut shop), top quality English-language international schools, acres of parks, annual balls hosted at the imperial palace and cultural events to keep you busy every hour of every day of the week.

Location, location, location

There’s that too. A great infrastructure with international flight and train connections, located in the heart of central Europe with easy access north, south, east or west. Bratislava? Just a 1.5 hour hydrofoil ride away. Budapest? In less than three hours and no transfers, you’re there by train. And trains leave every two hours. Prague? As of December, in just 4 hours and 10 minutes you’re there. Again, trains leaving every two hours. Munich? about 4 hours by train. Venice? Less than 6 hours by car. Zagreb? Less than 4 hours by car. Belgrade? 6.5 hours by car. Flights? Moscow: 2 hours, 40 minutes;  London: 2 hours, 21 minutes, Ankara: 2 hours, 32 minutes; Bagdad: 4 hours. You get the picture.

And let’s not forget highly trained and qualified medical personnel, interpreters and translators, all at your finger tips. But if we’re honest, you’ll be moving heaven and earth to prolong your Vienna assignment because of the Grüner Veltliner, Ottakringers, Melanges and Milkas. What more could a 007 want? O.K. Maybe a martini shaken, not stirred. Vienna got that too.

Camera in Vienna subway

Nowadays everyone is spy-worthy – a camera in the Vienna subway

And the Austrians? As long as you agree not to spy on them personally because that would be a big no-no – then hey – alles in Ordnung. Foreign espionage activities are not illegal in Austria, unless they are directed against Austria. Alles klar, Herr Leamas?

But don’t let that deter you from relocating. There’s plenty of spy-worthy targets here to keep even the most ambitious spies satisfied.

As a United Nation headquarters, Vienna is home to many international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Of the 17,000 or so diplomats who reside here, it’s estimated that about half have connections to intelligence agencies which would make it the city with the highest density of foreign operatives in the world.

But every rose has its thorns. It’s like the house guest who starts to feel a little too much at home and starts to take advantage of the situation. Because spies oftentimes feel comfortable here, Vienna is also chosen as an ideal location for covert actions –like kidnappings, dead drops, high level international spy damage control negotiations and prison exchanges.

In July 2010, for example, Vienna International Airport was the chosen tarmac for Russians and Americans to do a little change your partner number and swap 14 agents. Eleven Russian agents – including the stunning femme fatale Russian spy, Anna Chapman , were rounded up by US authorities in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington and Cyprus a month before and then exchanged for three individuals accused of spying for the US and who Russian authorities had held in custody for over 6 years.

But in general, Austria’s spy guests tend to be well-behaved and the Viennese, for their part, have found their place in the spy world beneficial. After all, it was the Armenian spy Johannes Diodato who, in addition to using his connections with the Viennese Imperial Court to send information to his home country, used information from his home country to open Vienna’s first ever coffeehouse. And all Viennese love a good coffeehouse.

Sticker Indicating Presence of Camera

Sticker in Vienna subway indicating presence of camera

“Vienna has long been a center of accomplished deception. For centuries, the Hapsburg capital was above all a courtier town whose citizens were trained rigorously to hide purpose under manner… Even today, the conjuring of otherness, the crafting of illusion, is important, not just for practical advantage but as a dynamic of Viennese culture. This genius for artifice underlies Vienna’s affinity for art. It shapes Vienna’s flourishes: the stylishly indirect speech, the use of titles, the adroit courtesy, the instinctive use of charm as strategy..[and according to Karl Kraus, Vienna’s pre-eminent satirist, in Vienna] ‘Politics is what one does in order to hide what one is.’” Frederic Morton

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More about Johannes Diodato:

Vienna City Website: “History of Viennese coffee house culture

In Vienna’s 4th district, there is a Johannes-Diodato-Park which I think is dedicated in honor of his brewing beans rather than intrigue.

Spy books that take place in or pass through Vienna:

Another unconventional quasi-spy story is A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva

Prelude to Terror by Helen MacInnes is spy story set in Vienna

John Le Carre: A Perfect Spy: Background of story at Wikipedia

Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett: Blowback

National Public Radio, Inskeep, Steve and Pearl, Nancy, “Librarian’s Picks: The Best in Spy Fiction“, 2 February 2005

Morton, Frederic, “The Two Sides of Block, Vienna Spy Tale Fit for Austrian Capital” 9 Aug 1989,, accessed 11 October 2014

More Links with Vienna Spy Stories / News:

ABC News Report about Spy Swap in Vienna Vision Airlines Plane Sends 10 Russian Spies Home, July 9, 2010, Brian Ross and Megan Chuchmach

Vienna Review, “Spy vs. Spy: 20 years after the fall of the USSR, Vienna is still the espionage capital of Europe; A puzzling saga of Cold War proportion,” Rabel, Sarah, Rollwagen Joseph, Stadtlober, Hannah, 1 September 2010

The Telegraph, “Vienna named as Global Spying Hub in New Book,” McElroy, Damien, 31 July 2014

The New York Times,US Weighs Dismissing Bloch but has an Evidence Problem,” Engelberg, Stephen, 30 September 1989

The Telegraph, “Five Unlikely Objects that could use in Espionage” 6 August 2014

Mental Floss,  “World War I Centennial: Gay Spy Scandal Rocks Vienna,” Sass, Eric, 25 May 2013

RT, “NSA spies on OSCE HQ in Vienna – report,” 22 May 2014

Sun Sentinel, from NY Times, “Marine Gives Conflicting Accounts about Spy Case” 30 March 1987

The Local, Austria News in English, “Austria Investigates US Spy’s Local Links,” 13 July 2014

 Press TV, “NSA spy center in Vienna snooping on citizens: Report” 13 October 2014

RiaNovosti, “Vienna Named International Spy Capital,” 1 August 2014

Two Articles with Interviews with Siegfried Beer who is works with the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies – articles downloaded from the ACIPSS website where more information is available for download.  Beer_Profil_Artikel     Kaffeehaus_July2012_Siegfried-Beer(1)