Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Albert E. Hemsing
If this was “press handling”, I was going to be OK; it was more like directing a film. And, in fact, the logistics, coordination and “people skill” required in motion picture work always stood me in good stead in Berlin. The Berlin drama, from the Ultimatum to the Wall, to President Kennedy's “Ich bin ein Berliner” visit, always played out on two very different levels—as a media event of parades, VIP visits, tank confrontations and grandstand speeches on the one hand, and as an intricate chess game of arcane political disputes and maneuvers, best analyzed in serious journals like the Neue Zuricher Zeitung or the Foreign Affairs Quarterly.
My on-the-job training progressed rapidly under Charles Blackman, the PAO and chief of USIS Berlin. Chuck, an ex-newspaper reporter, was an experienced USIS hand, and a willing, if testy, teacher. I came to appreciate him immensely. He and his wife Martha were splendid mentors for Esther and me both.
Our boss, in turn, the U.S. Minister, Was Bernard Gufler, an able, old-line career officer. His reputed heart of gold was kept pretty well hidden from junior officers like me. The Berlin Mission, as you probably know, was a “mixed economy”, reflecting our occupation status. Chief of Mission was the Ambassador in Bonn, his deputy was the U.S. Army Commandant in Berlin, a two-star general, and the day-to-day head of the Mission was the Minister.
Americans Greatly Appreciated As Ultimatum Wore Down To Expiration (May 1959) With No “Fireworks”
The Ultimatum period was one during which Berliners required a lot of reassurance. We Americans were highly prized and made to feel welcome in every way possible. Meanwhile, West German business enterprises put a hold on expanding their tax-supported operations in the city, and some quietly shifted the guts of their business to the Federal Republic. Governing Mayor Willy Brandt was at his best in those six months. He had a wonderful capacity for instilling confidence in his Berliners.
Eleanor Dulles made her contribution. As sister of our Secretary of State, she used her Economic Officer position on the Department's Berlin Desk to pay frequent visits and promote various schemes to bolster the viability of West Berlin. I thought the snickers she provoked among some officers on the Department side of the Mission were unwarranted. We stayed in friendly touch for many years.
Another source of reassurance to Berliners was the media play given to the many Congressmen and Senators who favored us with their visits. Between November 1958 and May 1959, when the Ultimatum expired, Chuck and I counted up something close to a quorum of both houses. All wanted their pictures taken by USIS for use back home—standing tall and courageous in the face of the Communist threat.