The Bridge of Spies and the biggest Agent Swap in History

Glienicke Bridge
Image: Tabea Tietz

On June 11, 1985, the biggest agent swap known in history occurred at the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam.

The Glienicke Bridge became very famous during the Cold War, not only for its beauty, but for its function as an agent swapping location for the eastern and western governments. The bridge itself was built in the 17th century in order to guarantee the nobility a connection to Potsdam’s castles and famous hunting places. The first check point on the bridge was established in the 18th century. The bridge needed to be enlarged, wherefore everyone except the nobility had to pay a certain amount of money in order to pass. Around 1900, Karl friedrich Schinkel re-designed the bridge, which was then built of stone. Only a few years later, the city of Potsdam noticed the increasing traffic on the bridge and it had to be completely rebuilt, this time using steel and soon became one of Germany’s most visited bridges. After World War II, the Glienicke Bridge was completely destroyed and re-opened in 1949, but this time with a large white painted line in the middle, illustrating the border between the German Democratic Republic and West-Berlin.

A new era began. Three years after its re-opening, the bridge was closed for regular car traffic and military checkpoints were established. Because of the favorable position, the western and eastern governments used the historical bridge for several agent swaps. On both military sides during the Cold War, important statesmen and agents were captured. Glienicke Bridge was a good position to swap agents, because it was reached well by both sides and the surrounding area could be well secured. Between 1962 and 1986, three swapping terms took place with a total of 40 people.

The first exchange occurred in 1962 and was intended to be kept secret, but the media noticed the event and it was mentioned in all headlines shortly after. The second swap was the biggest in the history of the Cold War. It took place 20 years later and it was negotiated that 25 persons from German Democratic Republic’s prisons were exchanged against four spies caught by the CIA in the United States. The last one happened in February 1986 and was well documented by the western media.

At yovisto you may enjoy a short documentation on the Bridge of Spies and its fuctions during the Cold War.


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