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HINT! History of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin wall was a concrete barrier cutting across Germany, where it divided it into West and East Berlin. It denied East Berlins and their adjacent neighbors’ access to the West German states, a consequence of the cold war that existed between the two states from 1961 to 1989. The wall had numerous guard towers, anti-vehicle trenches and other forms of tight security. At the end of World War II, Nazi Germany was sub conjugated among four allied powers as based on the provisions of the Potsdam Agreement (an agreement to aid in the rebuilding of the post-Nazi Germany). Berlin was the capital of the council and was divided into four sections, one for each of the allied powers that included the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, France, and the United States. The Soviets declined to honor the agreement and political wrangles arose among the allied powers. A large eastern part of Germany was under the control of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a brainchild of the Soviets. On the other hand, the Western side was governed by the Federal Government of Germany (FRG). According to Cole, the western side was enjoying a better economy than their counterpart, as they received financial support from the U.S. The Eastern side suffered under the oppression of the Soviet leadership. Joseph Stalin the then leader of the Soviet Union built the Eastern bloc which, according to him, was meant to protect his Eastern side from interferences from the Western side. In 1948, due to heightened disagreements among the allied powers, “Stalin affected the Berlin Blockage which prevented food and other materials from being supplied to West Germany. This had a major negative impact on the West Berlin population. Stalin had done this in the hope that gains full control of West Berlin.
However, due to the well-organized assistance in West Berlin, a majority of the population in Eastern Berlin desired the life in Western Berlin, a factor that led to massive migration of young skilled labor to the west. The migration was much attributed to political instability, poor economy, and devastating living conditions in East Berlin. In August 1961, an agitated but alarmed administration of East Berlin ordered the construction of a wall along its border with West Berlin. The Soviets justified the construction as a means of preventing Western spies from infiltrating into the East side, claiming that the FRG was planning a military assault. At first, it was a barbed porous fence, and Eastern Berlins still managed to sneak into the West, but it was later reinforced with concrete walls. At the wall, there were roadblocks, a patrol route, searchlights, and guard towers. Towards the inside of East Berlin, there were landmines, tank traps, alarm systems, before you got to the concrete wall. The wall reduced the number of people planning to migrate and those who made attempts were heavily punished, mostly by being shot at the patrol at the border. After three decades of futile attempts to tear down the wall, it finally came down in 1989 and there was free movement between the two sides.
Impact on Germans
The wall was much more than a physical barrier, it had far-reaching effects on the hearts and social lives of the Germans. Though the GDR had agreed to work together with the FRG towards the reunification of German after WWII, the erection of the wall proved a major setback. In their attempt to stop the migration of Eastern Berlin, the GDR leadership had destroyed railways and roads, greatly impairing land transport between East and West Berlin. The destruction of infrastructure had a major negative impact on the Eastern side's economy. Notably, communication with West Berlin was completely cut off by tearing down telephone lines. The Red Army (the Russian army) tore down infrastructure and took away industrial plants in East Germany to Russia as a way of paying itself the war reparations that had arisen from the war. The Soviet Union leadership sought to establish an Eastern identity by improving on cultural virtues like respect, hard work, and discipline with a sense of duty and responsibility for a collective community. Though West Berlin looked more prosperous, some people chose to remain in the East as the West reminded them of much of the Nazi era. Some also felt that the communist government could truly make their lives better by pooling together the workforce and distributing national wealth equally. In West Berlin, hopes for a better future were restored by a speech from J.F. Kennedy in 1963, where he had praised their democratic leadership.
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East and West Berlin had two entirely different systems of governance. In the Eastern side, they embraced communism, where freedom of speech, expression, and many other human rights were less respected. The GDR formed the STASI, a secret police unit, to spy on the East Berlin. The STASI enlisted ordinary citizens into the force, mostly through blackmail to spy and report on their neighbors and friends. According to Manghani, almost 33% of the Eastern Berlins were members of the STASI police. As such, the East Berlin lived in fear, as no one was sure whether a friend or a relative was a STASI informant. The GDR had control over the outcome of elections, and although people were allowed to vote, the outcome was always manipulated to suit the interests of GDR. On the contrary, West Berlin had a capitalist system of governance, where human rights were upheld and elections were free and fair. There was freedom of speech and expression, and residents lived without the fear of being spied on.
Living conditions on the two sides were very different. People in the West could find well-paying jobs unlike those in the East. They enjoyed their freedoms and the economy was very good due to the injection of monetary capital into the United States. The prior influx of Eastern Berlins into the West ensured that there was enough workforce in the West to drive the economy. In the East, private land ownership and trade was illegal. This resulted in a severe food crisis. Political and economic conditions were devastating and most people seeking to move to West Berlin.
Majority of the people in the East lost their homes. In his work, Williams describes how in 1961 the GDR pulled down all houses in close proximity to the wall, as people dug tunnels in their houses, and through the wall finding a way into West Berlin. He describes how people used to escape through the house windows that faced the Western side before they were sealed off. Other attempts were made by people who jumped from storied buildings onto mattresses on the other side of the wall or on firemen nets provided by the West Berlin fire department. In retaliation, the border patrol cleared a 300-foot area named the “no man’s land” where patrol posts were set up to curb escapes to the West.
Other effects included the separation of families and friends and the loss of jobs. People with families on either side of the wall never got accustomed to the wall, it was always a painful reminder of broken up family ties and lost jobs. After the erection of the wall, Eastern Berlins who earned a living working in West Berlin lost their jobs as they were no longer allowed to cross the border. The border guards never allowed those working in or visiting West Berlin during the construction of the wall reunite with their families in the East. Likewise, residents of West Berlin who got trapped in the East were not allowed through. The GDR used rumors to break up families and even marriages; there was no trust in East German. Life was very plain and simple in East Berlin. There was uniformity of toys and the Soviet leadership believed that uniformity was the best approach to a unified nation. Though enclosed by a wall, East Berlin did not experience crime, unemployment, and homelessness. The government provided well for them, while in the West, it was a cut-throat competition for employment.
The Soviet government encouraged women to join the workforce owing to the massive migration of skilled workforce to the west. In her book, “behind the Berlin wall” states that “the state even gave incentive to young people to start families early”, they were given loans which they did not have to completely pay up if they got children. She continues to say that young families were given priorities in housing and ample day care services were made available for working mothers. In the 1970s, when birth rates reduced, full-time day care services for children less than 10 years were implemented, a fully paid one-year maternity leave was also instituted. The government incentives had a negative impact on marriages since women were financially independent, divorce cases were on the rise and many children were born out of wedlock due to repression of religious values by the GDR administration. In Genes’ work, he says that “availability of fresh farm produce even offseason was rare as compared to West Berlin”. The Soviet state provided free medical services to the East Berlins but West Berlin residents had to pay for health care.
During the period of the Berlin wall, German allegiance was split by the ideological differences of the Soviets and the Westerns, they no longer shared similar values. During the three decades, the residents of the two zones learned to avoid streets and roads that would enable them to view the barrier. Though it was horrifying, citizens felt intimidated and had to view the wall as part of their lives, they felt there was nothing they could do and eventually they became habituated.
Around 1985 the economy of the Soviet Unions’ colonies begun to collapse; production was very low and industrial plants were using outdated machinery. When Gorbachev was elected leader of the Soviet Union he decided to reduce the impact of the communist government, he reintroduced the freedom of speech and allowed the people to freely and fairly choose a government. At the same time, Hungary, another Soviet region opened its boundaries to other Eastern states, it became impossible to control migration from the East. The shooting of escapees triggered demonstrations from the Westerners who blamed the Americans for failing to intervene. Americans were afraid that a slight interference would disrupt the delicate balance that existed between the two regions. The protests mounted pressure on the communist government to reduce their force
In 1987 Gorbachev was requested by Ronald Regan to demolish the wall as a sign of increased freedom on the Eastern Bloc. Protests broke in Eastern Berlin as people sought to cross to the west. On 9th November 1989, travel restrictions to the West were removed and within hours of the announcement by Schabowski (a government spokesman in the socialist administration), border guards were overwhelmed by the number of people requesting to cross over and were forced to open the border. That marked the conquering of the wall. Residents of East and West Berlin used all manner of tools to tear down the wall making Berlin one city again.
The after effects
The formal separation of Berlin was officially over and once again Western and Eastern Germans were able to mingle without restrictions. This was seen as the first step towards the reunification of German. Families that had been separated for almost three decades were reunited again. Germans interpreted the fall to be the end of the communist regime and the division of Berlin City. Transport between the two zones was restored once again. Physically, the two sides were different, the Westside still had traces of what was the Nazi rule; a painful reminder of World War II while in the East just a few scars were visible.
Though personal unifications were on the rise, East Germans found it difficult to adjust to capitalism. They were used to having jobs provided by the state and remained miserable for quite some time as it was not easy for them to find jobs. In the first twenty years, unemployment among the East Berlins was much higher compared to that of Western Berlin. The reunification of the two sections proved to be a slow and psychologically painful process, the reunification excitement soon turned into worry and indifference. Ideologies that had been deeply rooted among the two states were hard to let go. Identity crisis on the parts of the Eastern Berlins was escalated by the renaming of national properties like streets and parks in an attempt to expunge the memory of a socialist system. They felt alien in their own land as the capitalist names on their streets disoriented them further.
According to an article on Washington Times (Nov 9, 2009), Fredrich Merz was quoted as having said that, government leaders underestimated the reunification process, as it takes quite some time to unify a nation. In the same article Geert Mackenroth a former minister of justice added that by 2009, about 65% of the West German population had never set foot in East German because they had not yet considered it part of their country. Most Germans including economists and political analysts’ pointed out to the speedy decline of the communist regime, the history of state-owned property and improperly laid out strategies for reunification as the factors that hindered development in the East German states causing migration of the Ossis (colloquial for Eastern Germans) to the west. A fact that the Wessis (colloquial for western Germans) resented because according to them it robbed them their jobs.
Impact on women
During the communist era, about 90% of Eastern German women were employed but after the reunification, it became hard for them to get any form of employment. Due to the scarcity of eligible workforce in Eastern German abortion was less restricted, it at least ensured the women were working, but the restriction was a little bit tighter in West German, these differences had most Oasis suffering from eastern nostalgia. The constraints would not make sense for East Berlin Women, taking into account that there were reduced social benefits with cheap rent, availability of childcare and employment. Though they gained their freedom by assimilation into a parliamentarian form of government with a promise of prosperity from capitalism, they still felt that their rights had been trimmed through the re-establishment of the confines of conservative gender responsibility.
Though they felt they were better off than during the communist regime era, most Easterners suffered from an inferiority complex in the years that followed the fall. According to Katona, “women were optimistic that extra concern would be paid to their predicaments, but were dissatisfied with the progress”. They viewed it not as unification but a conquest of the east by the west. Eastern German citizens felt their country was slowly disappearing as they got integrated into the west; they were losing their culture and identity.
West German residents felt the reunification was an intrusion; many easterners migrated into the west after the fall. The West Germans felt bitter about the subsidies they gave for the reconstruction of Eastern Germany. The introduction of a 1:1 currency exchange rate for the two states was a mistake, the western “Deutsche Mark”(DM) was more superior to the Eastern “East German mark”( DDM). As a consequence easterner’s wages rose but their quality of work did not march the wages; these caused many companies to relocate to the west increasing unemployment in the East further hurting their already ailing economy. It was also discovered that privatization of state-owned property in East Germany was corruptly conducted and those who had links with the Soviet regime got the priorities and were majority owners
The need to establish single city services as opposed to duplicate ones’ also saw many people lose their jobs. Unification rendered some postal services, police force, and fire station services obsolete the same was seen in the cultural arena and with the falling of the wall, Berlin now had double cultural amenities like theatres, museums, and national libraries. East Berlin was greatly transformed with the only selective institution of culture being spared, which were, two symphonic orchestras, two operas, and theatres. The rest were demolished or reconstructed into something different.
Effect on some countries
Former allies of Germany and international leaders varied in their reactions. The Soviet Union initially denounced the reunification of German, Poland, Israel, Britain, and France were doubtful, Italy and the Netherlands had their own reservations but the United States Government supported the idea. The four former allies played a pivotal role in the integration of German by renouncing their rights and through a consensus, agreed to grant German state its independence.
During the demolition, process anxieties ran deep within the European nations and the US over the forecast of a united German. Margaret Thatcher the then prime minister of Britain is said to have pleaded with Soviet president Gorbachev not to let the wall go down. She is quoted as having spoken her fears that, a united Germany will alter post-war borders and such a development would destabilize and threaten international security. The then French president Mitterrand is also said to have advised Thatcher against a unified Germany, his fears were that German could become more powerful than during the times of Adolf Hitler and Europe would suffer the cost.
West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl held numerous talks with European leaders. He engaged Soviet president Gorbachev and U.S president Bush in talks on the reunification of German. German and France's relations were severely damaged due to the unresponsiveness of Paris to support German. The US was the main supporter of negotiations between West German leaders and the Soviet leaders. Cole explains that France was banking on the Soviet leader to block attempts of unifying Germany because as allied powers France and Russia had similar interests in Germany. A clear indication of Mitterrand anxiety was the convection of a special meeting for the European Commission presidency in Paris. The agenda was the intentions of Kohl and clarification of what would become of the European borders. Mitterrand wanted to ensure that Eastern Europe would not dominate the upcoming Strasbourg European Council.
During the conference, Thatcher stated that events that would follow the fall of the Berlin wall were going to be historic but the excitement should not blind the leaders from reality. She further added that it would take years for German to acquire true unification in terms of economic, social and political stability. In the following months, Thatcher and Mitterrand held several private meetings to discuss German reunification. Ten months after the collapse a unified German was established.
For close to three decades Germany culture, political views, and social life were separated by a concrete wall. The Berlin crisis as it was termed, was such a fragile matter that world leaders feared a false step would trigger another world war. A cold war marked by military posturing, superpowers meetings, and diplomatic negotiations, all in an attempt to unify East and West Germany ensued during these times. During these years the cultures of West German were greatly influenced by the western European and American cultures as they had a world platform. The easterners remained more conservative under the socialist rule. Most East German youth admired the cosmopolitan life of the West Germans influenced by West German TV programmes which they somehow had access to.
For most citizens, the period that followed the reunification was a testing one. The westerns did not feel any impact basically because they were assimilating the Eastern Germans into their system. As for the former East Germany residents, it has been a trying time in all aspects of a language barrier to political values. The hurdles involved have led to the formation of such movements like the Ostalgia which attempts to celebrate and preserve parts of the GDR culture. European countries gave Germany both monetary and emotional support to rebuild itself. A fully unified German was achieved in 1990 and it emerged as one of the superpowers of Europe. With the introduction of a single currency (the euro) European integrity was strengthened significantly.