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Berlin Wall Essay, Research Paper
With the aim of preventing East Germans
from seeking asylum in the West, the East German government in 1961 began
constructing a system of concrete and barbed-wire barriers between East
and West Berlin. This Berlin Wall endured for nearly thirty years,
a symbol not only of the division of Germany but of the larger conflict
between the Communist and non-Communist worlds. The Wall ceased to
be a barrier when East Germany ended restrictions on emigration in November
1989. The Wall was largely dismantled in the year preceding the reunification
The victorious Allies agreed to give most
of Eastern Germany to Poland and the USSR, and then divide the rest into
four zones of occupation. However, they could not agree of whether
or how to reunite the four zones. “As Cold War tensions grew, stimulated
in part by the German situation itself, the temporary dividing line between
the Soviet zone in the East and the British, French, and U.S. zones in
the West hardened into a permanent boundary. In 1949, shortly after
the Western powers permitted their zones to unite and restore parliamentary
democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russians installed a
puppet regime of German Communists in the East, creating the German Democratic
Re-public.”(Niewyk, 1995) According to Galante (1965, p.vii) “a city
is the people who live in it. Berlin is 3,350,000 people in twenty
boroughs. A rich city of factories, an airy city of farms and parks
and woods and lakes?On Sunday, August 13, 1961 Herr Walter Ulbricht stopped
that. He built the Wall.”
One reason for the building of the Wall
was due to the more than fifty-two thousand East Berliners who crossed
the border everyday to work in West Berlin. These people were referred
to as the “grenzgaenger or border crossers.” “East Berliners said
the grenzgaenger were parasite who should stay and work on the East side
of the boundary, for the benefit of Communism and the prosperity of the
German Democratic Republic.”(Galante, p.3) Gelb (1986, p.3) states,
“Berlin was where the Cold War began with a Soviet blockade, where Soviet
and American tanks faced each other virtually snout-to-snout for the first
time, and where the grisly game of nuclear brinkmanship was introduced.”
The Wall was constructed of concrete and
steel and barbed wire. It was 28 miles long, if straightened it would
measure 103 miles long, dividing on of the greatest cities in the world.
On side was painted white and one side was covered with graffiti.
“But there is more to the Wall than just this wall. Behind it, one
hundred yards deeper into Communist territory, is another concrete barrier
almost as formidable. The leveled area between the two is a desolate,
dangerous no-man’s-land, patrolled by kalashnikov-toting guards, dotted
with free-fire machine-gun emplacements, and sown in places with landmines.
It is punctuated with 285 elevated watchtowers, more suited to prison camps
than city centers, and by a series of dog runs where ferocious, long leashed
Alsatians effectively run free. It is not a safe place to be.”(Gelb,
p.4) Approximately 5000 people managed to escape to the West, 80
died trying. There is no known record of anyone trying to escape
in the other direction. “The poor quality and construction is a result
both of the speed with which the first sections were erected and the fact
that no foundation was prepared.”(Galante, p.8) On August 13, 1961,
East German troops began stretching coils of barbed wire across the border
checkpoints between East and West Berlin, inhibiting free transit between
the two sectors as guaranteed under the Four-Power Pact that governed the
city. Within days the wire was replaced by 28 miles of compressed
rubble, “and now the historic Berlin Wall became a hideous symbol of the
economic and political schism in Germany.”(Cate, preface)
For 28 years the Berlin Wall kept people
in, and kept people out. It separated friend and family. It
divided a nation, a continent, a world. The story of seventeen-year-old
Ursula Heinemann who “still had not recovered from the shock of being separated
from her mother. Although she was certain that she had done the right
thing in escaping to the West, she was nagged by a sense of guilt.”(Cate,(1978),
p.3) Many people saw the Wall as “grim and forbidding, the Wall snakes
the city of Berlin like the backdrop to a nightmare.”(Gelb, p.3)
After the Wall came down, East German teachers had to plan new curricula
more in line with the schools in the West. “For now, the opportunities
were less notable than the problems. Thousands of East German emigrants
were already sleeping in West German army barracks, nursing homes, high-school
gymnasiums, and even converted cargo containers.”(Anderson,(1989), p.33)
The first cracks came in May, when the
Hungarian government opened its border with Austria. East German
officials were furious because this meant that East German refugees now
had a new route to freedom. Up to 2 million of East Germany’s 16.5
million were ready to flee if the chance was offered. As reform spread
across Eastern Europe, the Stalinist regime of Erich Honecker refused to
budge. In January, Honecker said the Wall would stand for a hundred
years. When Soviet leader Gorbachev visited East Berlin he tried
to convince Honecker to accept liberalization, Honecker still stood strong
to his beliefs. Demonstrations erupted throughout Germany, with thousands
taking to the streets demanding a share of Gorbachev’s restructuring, and
the right to travel. Violent police attacks on demonstrators only
fueled the people’s anger and brought hundreds of thousands more into the
streets. Czechoslovakia opened its border for East Germans traveling
to the West, and 30,000 refugees emigrated in 48 hours. On November
7, the entire East German cabinet resigned, on the 8th, the Communist Party
Politburo and Central Committee resigned. And on the 9th the Wall
came down at the stoke of midnight. When the news of the Wall reached
the West German parliament, “the legislators spontaneously burst into patriotic
song.”(Bornstein,(1990),p.23) “Exhausted by weeks of political stress
in which decades-old policies were reversed daily, overwhelmed by the mobs
demanding immediate exit, and noticing Western television crews waiting
on the other side, the commanding officers gave way to the masses and opened
all the gates.”(Borneman,(1991), p.2)
“Economic union has powerful implications
both inside and outside Germany. Rebuilding the East German derelict
economy will tie up perhaps $650 billion West German capitol, raising interest
rates and very possibly fueling inflation throughout European Community.”(Garrard,(1990),
p.23) On Sunday, 18 March 1990, East Germans held the first free
election on their territory since 1933-”the first fully free election in
Eastern Europe since the Second World War.”(Borneman, p.229)
The wall opened because its reason
for existence had disappeared. The East German regime erected it
in 1961 to stem the flow of refugees to the West. In a paradox of
history, the same government was forced to open the Wall in a desperate,
last-ditch effort to stop an even more massive wave of deflections in 1989.
Borneman, John (1991). After
the Wall. U.S.: Basic Books, Inc.
Cate, Curtis (1978). The
Ides of August. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc.
Galante, Pierre (1965). The
Berlin Wall. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Gelb, Norman (1986). The
Berlin Wall. New York: Times Books.
Bornstein, Jerry (1990).
The Wall Came Tumbling Down.
New York: Outlet Book
Heaps, W.A. (1964). The Wall
of Shame. New York: Meredith Press.
Niewyk, D.L. (1995). Groliers
Garrard, Margaret (1989).
Facing Up to the German Question Newsweek, pp. 51-52
Anderson, Harry (1989). A
Mixed Blessing for Bonn Newsweek, pp. 33-34
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