From the Stars and Stripes archives

Now West Berlin can 'sound off'

Loudspeakers on the western side of the Berlin Wall in 1963 were bad news for anyone in the Soviet zone hoping for a little peace and quiet.


By JAMES GUNTER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 17, 1963

THE AIR ALONG the Communist wall through Berlin has been strangely quiet since the West acquired its new fleet of racket trucks — the ultimate noise war weapon, with clamorous horns loud enough to shatter window glass at 100 yards.

In the past, Red propagandists have been fond of trumpeting Russian martial music or Communist party songs over the wall into West Berlin, particularly at times when it would interfere with public gatherings.

Their biggest success came on May Day 1961, when they drowned out a speech by West German President Heinrich Luebke before a West Berlin throng at the Platz der Republik. The East Berlin regime maintained that Luebke should have stayed away from West Berlin because it is not part of the federal republic.

After that, the West Berlin government looked about for a way to reply to the East in thunder-sized tones. The result is the Studio am Stacheldraht (Studio at the Barbed Wire), a mobile unit of four heavy trucks and six Volkswagen buses, each bearing clusters of the latest loudspeakers. The noisemakers can be hoisted high in the air in a few seconds by hydraulic cranes and rotated so that they concentrate a decibel-packed message on one unhappy spot.

West officials say they prefer peace and quiet to a continuing noise battle, but they recently rolled their new speakers to a spot on the border between this democratic outpost and East Germany, just to try them out. They picked a spot near Glienicke Bridge where the East German army was preparing a parade.

"The parade was completely broken up," said Dieter Graetz, technical chief of the Studio am Stacheldraht. "They just gave it up, and nobody came."

Silence followed. The East, apparently unwilling to swap uproars with the new equipment for fear of being shouted down, hasn't even peeped again.

"The noise from a jet engine at seven yards is about 105 phons," said Graetz in describing the German system for measuring sound. "Just one of our trucks alone can throw out 130 phons."

Could all the trucks together turn up the volume all the way and put out a lethal din?

"Well, it probably wouldn't kill a man," said Graetz. "But it would disturb his hearing and make him vomit."

The loudspeakers were made in America and assembled in Berlin on their special cranes and controls. The speaker trucks cost $217,500.

Graetz said the beauty of the mobile horns is that each unit is a one-man operation. The driver of the truck can hoist and aim the speakers and control the sound. He can amplify his own voice through a microphone in the truck cab, pick up radio programs, blare tape recordings or he can broadcast any combination of recordings, radio and voice simultaneously.

All of the West Berlin speaker units, which make up a special department of the city's security section, can be hooked together and used at the same time as an ear-splitting terror, or each will operate independently.

"We have other missions, of course, than just disturbing the East," said Graetz. "As part of the defense of Berlin. the speakers can be used as a public warning system in event of catastrophe."

During President Kennedy's recent visit, they were used along his route. His voice was carried by one of the speaker units at the Free University and was easily heard by 20,000 persons who assembled there.

'As the "SaS" insignia on each of the blue and gray disturbance wagons indicates. however, their primary mission is along the barbed wire.

And should the East ever elect to trade tumult with the West at close range, who can say what might happen? Why, the wall itself might tumble down, just like at Jericho.

Volkswagen buses bearing clusters of loudspeakers were the West's main weapon in a sound war that erupted along the border with East Berlin in the early 1960s.