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The post Second World War was characterized by many political challenges in Europe. In Germany, the government struggled to consolidate its political power through various mechanisms.
In August 1961, “a fence was erected by the German Democratic Republic that is popularly referred to as East Germany” (Rose & Bailey 2004, p.34). The wall demarcated the West Berlin territory from East Germany. Watch towers were also erected strategically at various intervals along the wall with an aim of checking on illegal intrusion or exit from East Germany.
The Eastern Bloc contended that the barrier would save its masses from the fascist influence that was likely to jeopardize the development of socialism in the nation. Ideally, the wall was meant to suppress mass departure of citizens from East Germany after the Second World War. It was also meant to prevent the citizens from supporting fascist ideologies. This historic wall was formally known as the Anti-Fascist Defense Fortification.
Reasons for Berlin Wall Construction
Prior to the creation of the Berlin Wall, it is estimated that over three million citizens breached the stringent immigration codes and moved into Western Berlin territory (Tilman 1990, p. 78). From this place, they relocated to other Western European countries. These massive emigrations were proscribed in 1961 upon the creation of the Wall. The ban lasted until 1989 when the wall was flattened and it paved way for the reunification of Germany (Buckley 2004, p. 56).
After World War Two, the war torn Germany was split into four sub territories that were under the control of the Allied forces. The capital of Berlin that acted as the main operation zone of the Allied powers was also partitioned into four territories despite being situated within the Soviet territory.
After one and half years, political rivalries ensued between the occupying forces and the Soviets. One of the key disputes was the failure of the Soviets to accept the reconstruction strategies for revamping the economy and political stability of Germany. “Britain, France, the United States and the Benelux countries later combined the non-Soviet zones of the country into one zone for reconstruction and approved the extension of the Marshall Plan” (Waters 1990, p. 89).
In post 1945, Joseph Stalin governed an amalgamation of countries in the Western Border. He also desired to take control of the weakened Germany that was at that time under the management of the Soviet. Stalin, therefore, informed the leaders of Germany that he was planning to gradually destabilize the British occupation of German territories. According to Stalin, this was the most viable way to get rid of foreign powers and reunite Germany (Tusa 2008, p. 237).
The most important mission of the Leninist Party in the Soviet region was to direct Soviet instructions to both the government machinery and the other alliance parties. Leninist ideologies would eventually be exercised as internal procedures (Pearcy 2009, p.123). The teaching of Marxism ideologies was made mandatory in learning institutions (Morton & Adler 2010, p. 324).
From 1948, Stalin started reacting to the disagreements on how to rebuild the fallen Germany. In this case, he introduced the Berlin Cordon that debarred West Berlin from accessing necessary material supplies including food (Reeves 2011, p. 301). On the other hand, the Allied powers responded to Stalin’s actions by airlifting food and logistics to West Berlin.
The Soviets carried out public crusade in opposition to western strategy change. In late 1948, the members of the Communist Party tried to interfere with the food aids, but over three hundred Berliners picketed in demand for the continuation of the airlifts. Finally, Stalin withdrew the barricade in mid 1949; thus, allowing the hauling of supplies to Berlin (Miller 2008, p. 81).
West Germany embraced a capitalist economy and created a democratic legislative body. These political and economic reforms spurred quick economic growth in Western Germany. The robust economic growth that was witnessed in the western part of Germany attracted the people of Eastern Germany who were eying the better opportunities (Cherny 2009, p. 456).
In the 1950s, the Eastern Bloc also embraced the strategies that the Soviet applied to check on emigration. The restriction posed a great challenge to some countries that had gained economic prosperity in the Eastern Bloc. Before 1952, there was no limitation to frustrate movement of people from the Eastern Bloc to Western Germany.
This freedom of movement was curtailed in April 1952, when Eastern Germany officials held a meeting with Stalin (Soviet leader). “During the discussions, it was proposed that the East Germans should introduce a system of passes so as to stop the free movement of Western agents in the German Democratic Republic” (Childs 2001, p.156).
Stalin supported the idea and encouraged the Eastern Bloc to demarcate their territories by erecting a high rise wall. Therefore, the internal German boundary between East and West was totally cordoned with a fence. However, “the boundary between the Western and Eastern sectors of Berlin remained open, but traffic between the Soviet and Western sectors was somewhat restricted” (Harrison 2003, p.145).
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Consequently, Berlin attracted immigrants that were fleeing the Eastern Bloc due to the unbearable living conditions. At first, East Germany would intermittently allow its citizens to visit the Western Bloc, but that freedom was short lived. In 1956, there was a total ban on emigration to West Germany after several citizens deserted East Germany.
The introduction of stringent immigration codes in 1952 led to the blockading of the interior Germany boundary. Therefore, East Germans used the Berlin border as the only gateway point to Western Germany. The German Democratic Republic acted very quickly to contain the exodus of its citizens by introducing more pass laws in late 1957. Individuals that were found crossing over to Berlin without authentic documentation were severely punished.
However, these emigration codes remained ineffective since people could still move to West Berlin by train. Besides, there were no physical barriers that could curb illegal movement of citizens out of East Germany. The Western Border was left open for some time to avoid disrupting connections to East Germany. The construction of an alternative railway that connected Western Berlin began in 1951 and ended in 1961. This led to the complete railing of the West Berlin boundary.
East German lost its industrious residents through massive emigrations; hence, it experienced a severe problem of brain drain. Most of the emigrants were in their formative years and were well trained in various disciplines. This meant that East Germany was left with no technocrats to spur industrial growth in the country.
On the other hand, West Germany gained considerably from the high supply of trained professionals which enabled it to improve its economy. “The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that the re-securing of the German Communist frontier was imperative” (Dale 2005, p. 256).
Berlin Wall Construction
“The East Germany officials authorized the construction of the wall on 12, August 1961 and the German military began securing it immediately” (Gaddis 2005, p. 312). The boundary was slightly erected within the land of East Berlin to avoid trespassing on the West Berlin soil.
During its construction, it was under strict surveillance of the German combat troops who were authorized to shoot any emigrant that made desperate efforts to escape. Additionally, “chain fences, walls, minefields and other obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany’s western borders with the West Germany proper” (Dowty 2009, p. 345).
An extensive no man’s territory was also created to facilitate shooting of fleeing individuals. However, some citizens still used dubious mechanisms to move to other territories. For example, “East Germans successfully defected by a variety of methods: digging long passageways under the wall, waiting for favorable winds and sliding along aerial wires” (Thackeray 2004, p. 52).
Effects of Berlin Wall
The creation of the Berlin Wall had serious implications on the lives of the Germans both in the Eastern and Western Blocs. After the construction of the fence, several individuals that had crossed over to the Western Bloc were completely detached from their families. Berliners that lived in the East, but worked in the West were all rendered jobless because they could not cross the border.
With the erection of the wall, West Berlin was separated; thus, West Berliners staged massive strikes in demand for the flattening of the wall. The Allied forces that had vested interests in post war Germany also encouraged the creation of the wall because they felt that it would thwart the ambitions of Eastern Germany to gain control of the entire Berlin. The wall, therefore, quelled the simmering tension in Germany Blocs which was likely to end in a serious military confrontation.
“The East German government claimed that the Berlin Wall was an anti-fascist protective rampart intended to dissuade aggression from the West” (Wettig 2008, p.189). Eastern German officials also complained that subsidized goods were being smuggled out of the country by West Berliners. The Wall caused extreme anxiety and repression in East Berlin because people were quarantined in their territories; thus, making it impossible for them to transact business.
West Berliners faced the most difficult challenge of gaining access to East German. Between 1961 and 1963, West Berliners were totally banned from entering the East German territory. However, negotiations between the two governments in 1963 led to slight revision of the immigration codes in East Germany.
Thus, West Berliners could visit the country intermittently. An Individual that wanted to travel to East Germany had to seek a visa. “Citizens of other East European countries were generally subjected to the same prohibition of visiting Western countries as East Germans, though the applicable exception varied from country to country” (Pearson 2008, p.318). During the ban, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 individuals desperately tried to jump over the fence and some of them lost their lives.
Flattening of the Wall
In late 1989, East Germans increasingly got disillusioned by emigration restrictions. Hence, they staged protests in various parts of East Germany in demand for the flattening of the wall. Most of the individuals that participated in the Peaceful Revolution were willing to defect to the Western Bloc.
The strike worsened in November when the majority of East Germans protested against the Wall. These demonstrations compelled the leaders of East Germany to amend the border laws. One of the amendments that were passed in the late 1989 favored the pulling down of the wall. The tearing down of the wall begun in late 1989, but its official flattening started on 13th June 1990. However, “the West Germans and West Berliners were allowed visa-free travel starting from 23 December 1989” (Turner 2010, p. 456).
The destruction of the wall sparked-off mixed reactions from foreign powers. Some European countries became very jittery when they learnt that the Germans were planning to come together. In September 1989, “British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pleaded with the Soviet president not to let the Berlin Wall fall” (Cate 2007, p. 178). Indeed, Britain was comfortable with the division and chaos in Germany because its reunion could cause the altering of the post war territorial demarcations.
They also felt that a unified Germany would destabilize international economy and possibly frustrate the post 1945 initiatives that were meant to restore international peace (Gaddis 2005, p. 249). The Germans saw the flattening of the wall as a great development that would guarantee them both economic and political prosperity which they had been yearning for over two decades.
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