One of the first things people think of when they think of Germany, and specifically of Berlin, is the Berlin Wall. Originally erected in 1961, the wall effectively split the city of Berlin into two separate worlds, separating families and creating an international outcry. The wall stood for almost thirty years as the most visible symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.
Following World War II, the major axis powers took over responsibility for Germany; the Potsdam Agreement split the western area of the country into four bases of power between the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union, with four correlating zones of power controlling the city of Berlin. Although all parties were in agreement, the following two years yielded political disagreements, with the Soviets objecting to the western plans to rebuild the country. As political enmity and envy increased and Soviets increased the socialist indoctrination of the zones they controlled, animosity grew.
A Soviet blockade of food to West Berlin was countered by an airlift of food in by the western powers; people in the east began to emigrate to the west to escape the rigors of the socialist regime. By 1961, the “brain drain” of East Germans leaving the Soviet-controlled territory and heading west through West Berlin inspired the German Democratic Republic to erect what they called an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” – a wall that effectively separated Berlin into two separate entities, with one side run by the socialist government, the other under western sway.
The East German government insisted that the wall was erected to protect its population from leftover Nazi aggression, while West Berlin mayor Willy Brandt called it the ‘Wall of Shame’ and western leaders begged the socialists to reconsider. The wall did what it was designed to do; the mass emigration stopped, and for 28 years it effectively separated the two worlds. West Berlin became a cosmopolitan world city, while East Berlin was an industrial Soviet-bloc country, characterized by strict laws and a longing for independence among its people.
As Soviet powers began faltering in the late 1980s, more pressure was brought to bear on the East German government to allow free traffic between the two sides of the city. In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a famous, impassioned speech at Berlin’s Brandenberg Gate that ended with the words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” By 1989, the East German government provided permission for families to visit from East Berlin into West Berlin. The celebrations that followed created enormous crowds, pressing and chipping away at the walls.
The wall was finally officially demolished by construction equipment brought in by the government. Pieces of the original Berlin Wall have been preserved and displayed across the world, symbolizing the fall of the Iron Curtain and the victory of freedom.