The Berlin Wall was a tangible symbol of the suppression of human rights by the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, but Frederick Taylor asks whether it was more convenient to the Western democracies than their rhetoric suggested. Amazing facts for kids.
BERLIN WALL AND HISTORY
The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 divided families and neighbourhoods in what had been the capital of Germany. The Wall represents a uniquely squalid, violent, and ultimately futile, episode in the post-war world. And we know that the subsequent international crisis, which was especially intense during the summer and autumn of 1961, threatened the world with the risk of a military conflict, one that seemed as if it could escalate at any time into nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union.
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In 1945, the victors of the Second World War, the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and by special dispensation the French, had divided Germany into four zones of occupation and its capital, Berlin, into four sectors. To the wartime Allies, Germany had been a problem ever since its unification in 1871, a big, restless country in the heart of Europe. The over- mighty Germany of the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s time must never be allowed to re-emerge.
Then came the Cold War. From the late 1940s, Germany itself – what was left of it after the Poles and the Russians had carved chunks off its eastern territories – became a creature of the Communist-capitalist conflict. It divided into West Germany (the ‘Federal Republic of Germany’) and the smaller East Germany (the ‘German Democratic Republic’), the former a prosperous democracy of some 50 million anchored into what was to become the Western NATO alliance, the latter a struggling social experiment, a third as large, allied to the Communist Warsaw Pact. The Iron Curtain ran through Germany, with a fortified border between the two Cold War German states.
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Until 1961, however, Berlin remained under joint occupation and kept a special status, still more or less one city in which fairly free movement was possible. So, in the end the fall of the Wall brought not just the end of the Cold War but the final absorption of Germany into Europe – a solution of sorts for the ‘German problem’ that had haunted the world for more than a century and brought about two catastrophic world wars.