For your European history class term paper, consider writing about the Berlin Wall. Earlier this month marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the iconic symbol of the Cold War.
For your research paper you could write about the history of the Berlin Wall, its fall and its legacy for world politics.
History of the Berlin Wall
Sixteen years after the end of World War II, the communist government of East Germany began building a wall on August 13, 1961, that would divide the city of Berlin into East Berlin and West Berlin. The purpose was to keep fascists from entering East Germany, but mostly to keep West German citizens, primarily people of valuable professions such as doctors, teachers and engineers, from defecting to the West. Defection had reached more than 10,000 people per month. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev allowed the East German government to erect a concrete and barbed wire wall through the city to restrict free movement between the two sides. Once erected, the wall became a powerful symbol of the Cold War that endured for decades.
By 1989, the Cold War was dimming in Europe, and on November 9, East German Communist Party member Günter Schabowski erroneously declared that East German citizens could freely cross the border into the West. The citizenry went a step further and began to destroy the wall entirely with hammers and chisels. About 2 million people crossed the border and held a party near—and on top of—the wall to celebrate “the greatest street party in the history of the world,” according to British historian Timothy Garton Ash. Today, slabs of the wall are displayed in cities throughout Europe and the United States.
Celebrations for the 25th anniversary
The world is celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but none as much as Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, declared: “We can change things for the better. This is the message for… Ukraine, Iraq and other places where human rights are threatened. The fall of the Wall showed us that dreams can come true. Nothing has to stay as it is,” reported in “Berlin Wall: Angela Merkel hails fall as ‘dream come true,’” posted on BBC.com, November 9, 2014. Merkel and other officials laid roses at the site of the wall, and 7,000 white balloons were released into the air to symbolize the evaporation of the wall.
Another Cold War coming?
On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world is embroiled in other shows of force, from Vladimir Putin seizing Ukraine to the Islamic State terrorizing Syria and Iraq. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev warned that the world was on the brink of a new cold war and blamed the way the West handled the collapse of the iron curtain. “Instead of building new mechanisms and institutions of European security and pursuing a major demilitarisation of European politics … the west, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War,” said Gorbachev, as reported by Philip Oltermann in “As Germany marks fall of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev warns of new cold war,” posted November 9, 2014, in London Guardian.
The folly of the West
In an opinion piece for the London Daily Mail, Dominic Sandbrook agreed, writing in “The World’s Not Been This Dangerous for 30 Years and the West’s Arrogance Is to Blame,” posted August 16, 2014, that today’s troubles in Ukraine and the Middle East can be traced back to politicians after the Cold War who believed that capitalism had been vindicated over failed Marxism and communism. Sandbrook said that the West “palpably failed to lay lasting foundations for the future.” For example, “instead of working to establish a stable democracy in post-Communist Russia, the U.S. and Britain allowed Russia to slide into anarchy under Boris Yeltsin and then towards autocratic tyranny under Vladimir Putin.”
A similar attitude by the West occurred for the Middle East. Sandbrook described as folly the West’s desire to prop up tyrants like Hosni Mubarak and Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s father. He also criticized the reckless decisions by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to topple the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein without carefully laying the foundations for a post-Saddam regime.
For more information on the Berlin Wall and the Cold War, check out Questia’s European History library.
How do you think the fall of the Berlin Wall has affected world politics?