“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
– Quote by Ronald Reagan, Speech at the Berlin Wall (June 12, 1987)
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones: the Soviet, the American, the English and the French. Berlin was included in the territorial zone controlled by the Soviets and also divided into four sectors. Poor relationships between the Western Allied powers (The United States, Britain and France), and the U.S.S.R. increased and Germany became the main scenario of the Cold War. The issue of the Berlin Wall has been a controversial and much disputed subject within many fields. Saskia Sassen, professor of Sociology, Columbia University presented “Global 1989?” in 2009 within a conference at the University of Cincinnati. She was one of the experts who offered her viewpoint about the most significant unexpected change of 20 years of history since the fall of the Berlin Wall. “The events of 1989 created upheaval not only politically but in the structures of capitalist economies that continue to evolve today, particularly because of factors related to the transition to a unipolar world” Sassen said.
Stalin, in 1948 responded to the creation of the new German context with a total blockade of terrestrial communications between the German and Berlin western sectors. This action harmed the economy of the East Germany. The Americans counteracted with the effort of a continued airlift to supply necessary goods to the Berliners in allied sectors. The following year, the three Western sectors were merged into what became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the Eastern (or Soviet) became the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Thus, two different Germanys were consolidated, with confronted political, social and economic models and ideals: capitalism and communism.
Berlin was also fragmented into two sectors, the Western and Eastern, which established 81 checkpoints for the passage between the two areas of the city. The emergence of West Berlin and the economic difficulties of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) throughout the intervening years until 1961, resulted in one out of six East Germans (nearly three million people) to fled to West Germany (FRG) (Patrick Major, 2006). Berlin was an easy way out for many of them.
Therefore, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) decided the night of the 12th August in 1961 to build up a wall in Berlin, and close 69 checkpoints, leaving open only 12. A fence 155 km in length separated the two parts of the city from that day on. Eventually the wall became an iron wall of reinforced concrete panels, with an intermediate height between 3.40 and 3.60 meters, with important supplementary surveillance and control. Between 1961 and 1989 there were more than 5,000 attempts to escape through the wall. 3,000 of them ended up resulting in arrest. It is believed that 192 people were shot trying to cross and another 200 were seriously injured (Carlos Ocaña, 2003).
Over time multiples reasons resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The international situation had changed. The Perestroika or the economic reform that started Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union eased many of the previous tensions between fronts. The opening of borders between Austria and Hungary was a significant flow of East Germans to seek asylum in the embassies of the German Federal Republic in the countries of the Warsaw Pact and the Prague Spring. Important protests and demonstrations seeking for freedom for East Germans led the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to proclaim, the 9th of November of 1989, movements to The West to be allowed. Enthusiastic Berliners on both sides began with the destruction and demolition of the wall themselves. The flood of people crossing the border posts began in the next morning November 10th.
The Berlin Wall represented for twenty-eight years the division between two models of society. Its demolition andd disappearance meant the end of the Cold War and it became a symbol of the process of the reunification of Germany and Europe. However, despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East-West divide remained. “What we are seeing today is that [old] barriers are still there, and even new walls of misunderstanding… new cultural and psychological barriers are rising,” (Sergei Lukashevsky, RIA Novosti News , 2009) said Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum/Public Center in Moskow.
• Cities of Migration, Maytree (2011, May)Unscrambling Immigration: Saskia Sassen Retrieved December 6, 2013 from http://citiesofmigration.ca/ezine_stories/unscrambling-the-immigration-argument-saskia-sassen/
• UC News (2009)Twenty Years After: Experts to Offer Views on Berlin Wall Anniversary at UC Conference on Nov. 8-9. Retrieved December 6, 2013 from http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=10920
• Patrick Major (2006) The Berlin Wall crisis: the view from below. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/cold/articles/major.html
• Juan Carlos Ocaña (2003) El Muro de Berlin, 1961. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://www.historiasiglo20.org/GLOS/muroberlin.htm
• Berlin Wall. (2013, November 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 20, 2013,from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Berlin_Wall&oldid=582290546
• Dmitry Babich, RIA Novosti commentator (2009, November 6) 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall: lessons and warnings. Retrieved November 29, 2013 from http://en.ria.ru/analysis/20091106/156736032.html
• RIA Novosti News (2009) Gorbachev wasted possible gains from Berlin Wall’s fall. Retrieved November 29, from http://en.ria.ru/russia/20091106/156738435.html