The story of the Berlin Spy Tunnel and it´s presentaion at the Allied Museum
Bernd Von Kostka
Presenting the Story of the Berlin Spy Tunnel and how this Intelligence Episode is preseneted in the Museum. Discussing Research, time witness-Interviews and new methods to make this story accessable and visable for the younger generation.
Due to the division of Berlin and the presence of the four nations, Soviet Union, United States of America, France and Great Britain, the city became the „Capital of Spies“ until it´s reunion 1990. Only in Berlin the main protagonists of the Cold War were living „door to door“. Even though this was also the case in Vienna (Austria) from 1945 to 1955 in Berlin this situation was normal for approx. 45 years. Due to this geo-political condition intelligence operations did happen in Berlin that are impossible elsewhere in the world. I want to focus on the Berlin Spy Tunnel and I would like to give a lecture on the idea to dig a tunnel from West-Berlin to East Berlin in the 1950ies, on the operation itself (which was in service for 11 month) and finally on the aftermath until today. That also includes the discovery of tunnel segments in 1997 and it´s presentation within the Allied Museums permanent exhibition in 1998 as well as a special exhibition on that subject in 2006 and a new discovery in 2010.
How did the Allied Museum research that intelligence operation? In 1997 a new housing area was built in the district of Neukölln (West-Berlin). By accident they discovered pieces of the Berlin Spy Tunnel during this work. The Allied Museum took the chance and dug out the remaining segments at this building site. Together with a CIA and a KGB Cold War Veteran we gave a press conference in front of the tunnel which was an incredible successful media event. We presented the tunnel segment in our new permanent exhibition that opened one year later in 1998. At the time our knowledge of this intelligent operation was limited so the presentation in the museum was basicly the artefact itself. That changed in 2005 when we dug out another segment that was still in the ground of the former East Berlin. As a result of this we planned a special exhibition on the Tunnel for 2006. We started some extensive research in Berlin (former West and East), in Washington, London and Moscow. How difficult and successful these research was is another topic in my lecture. We had 5-7 time witnesses that were personally engaged with this combined intelligence operation that was planned by the CIA and the British SIS. Besides the museums superb contact to the historical department of the CIA it were those time witnesses who gave us extraordinary good information on this operation. The special exhibition was a success and we thought that the story of the Berlin Spy Tunnel was told to a degree of approx. 80 - 90 %. But with the declassification of the official CIA report on the tunnel and even more important the discovery of more tunnel segments deep in the rural area of the former DDR (approx. 100 miles away from Berlin) in 2010 we had to add another important part to the tunnel history – it´s re-use by the NVA (East German Army). That also came as a surprise to the Allied Museum and even to the CIA historical department. Again I interviewed time witnesses, this time former NVA officers who were in charge of the things that happened to the tunnel after 1956 in the DDR. This will be another topic in my lecture.
The tunnel operation offers a lot of different players that were involved and it also gives an east and multiperspective view on the operation. On the one hand the Berlin Spy Tunnel is one of the Western Powers major intelligence operations in Germany in the 1950ies but on the other hand the Russian new about the tunnel right from the beginning due to KGB-Spy George Blake. This is another fact that made this story so incredible.
In the future the Allied Museum should combine the west and the east history of the tunnel and present it to a younger generation and audience. The Berlin Spy Tunnel is a perfect artefact for that purpose.
He was born in Germany 1962 and studied History, Political Science and Administrative Law (often referred to as Public Law) in Trier/Germany and Stafford/Great Britain. Since 1994 he is a member of the Academic Staff at the Allied Museums, Berlin. From 04.2016 – 03.2018 he also was the Acting Director of the Museum.
He has overseen and was responsible for a number of the museum's exhibitions including – but not limited to – "The Link with Home" (the Western Allies' radio broadcasting stations), "The Children's Airlift 1953-1957", "Mission Accomplished" (the Western Allies' Military Liaison Missions in Potsdam – accredited to the Soviet Union during the Cold War), "The Spy Tunnel", etc... He was also the curator of the special exhibition, "Who was a Nazi?" in 2015/2016.
He published numerous articles on several subjects often in relation with the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift. He was co-author of the book "City of Spies" (Hauptstadt der Spione, in Germanonly), now in its 4th edition. The book about the 1950s Children's Airlift "Vacation from the Cold War" was published (in German only) in 2013.
He is still a consultant for films, documentaries and magazines for all matters pertaining to the 1948-1949 Berlin Blockade (Airlift) as well as Berlin espionage subjects as the Berlin Spy Tunnel, The Teufelsberg Radar Station or the Military Liaison Missions.
He is married and has a daughter.