The Berlin Wall is a historical symbol of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall is a symbol of the end of the Cold War. At the same time, the Berlin Wall has played an extremely important role in the life of millions of people and defined the fate of German people, which has been separated by the Wall for decades. In fact, it was the most obvious frontier separating two worlds, the totalitarian world of the socialist world totally controlled by the USSR and the democratic world.
It is hardly possible to underestimate the historical value of the fall of the Berlin Wall because this event designated one of the main historical facts of the late 20th century, the ruin of the totalitarian socialist system and the reunification of German people. Briefly speaking the fall of the Berlin Wall has changed the world dramatically, especially the life of German people. On the other hand, it is also obvious that the existence of the Berlin Wall was not less significant for the world community at large and German people in particular.
This is why it is extremely important to discuss the fall of the Berlin Wall and its consequences. However, it is impossible to clearly realise all the affects of the fall of the Berlin Wall without discussion of its historical role and the causes, which actually led to its ruination.
History of the Berlin Wall and the causes of its fall
Obviously, the fall of the Berlin Wall is probably the greatest event in the contemporary history of German and the world at large. Nonetheless, it is also necessary to take into consideration that the creation of the Wall was not less important for the whole world than its fall.
First of all, it should be said that the building of the Berlin Wall is a result of a growing tension between two superpower, the US and the USSR. In this respect, it should be pointed out that the building of the Berlin Wall is a logical result of the occupation of Germany by western allies and the USSR. Such an occupation resulted into the division of the country into several zones of occupation controlled by different countries. Basically, it is possible to strictly define them into two main parts: Western Germany, FRG, controlled by the US and its allies and Eastern Germany, GDR, controlled by the USSR.
At first glance, it seems to be quite a strange why the decision to build the war in the heart of Europe which divided a large city was taken. In this respect, it is necessary to take into consideration the historical circumstances, which led to the creation of the Wall. It is very important to underline that the building of the Berlin Wall was a great historical step which symbolized the separation of Eastern, socialist Germany as well as the rest of socialist Europe from their Western, capitalist neighbours.
Naturally, the tension between the world’s superpowers grew and the division of the world into socialist and democratic parts were practically inevitable. In such a situation Berlin, being occupied and controlled by four countries, the US, the UK, France and the USSR, could not fail to remain the epicentre of the international tension. In fact, there were a lot of factors which contributed to the decision to build the war in Berlin, such as a currency reform in 1948 and the following ineffective Soviet blockade of the city, but the causes of the building the Wall are not so important in relation to its fall and historical consequences of this event as the numerous inconveniences provoked by the creation of the Berlin Wall, which often resulted in tragedies.
Nonetheless, it is worth to note that the Berlin Wall was built in order to prevent a flow of emigrants from East Berlin to West Berlin. In fact, it was the main function of the Wall, i.e. to stop illegal emigration of people living in socialist GDR to democratic FDR. In such a way, the creation of the Wall in Berlin may be assessed as the ‘golden age’ of the Cold War when the world was divided not only ideologically but physically as well. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the building of the Berlin War was probably the only possible way out for East Germany, which permitted to stop human drain from East to West. For instance, it should be said that before the Berlin Wall was erected nearly 3.5 million people had left the GDR for West Germany that was a very significant number which threatened to desert East Berlin if the trend were continued. In such a situation it is quite natural that the building of the Berlin Wall stopped dramatically the stream of refugees (Gordeeva 1998-2006).
Moreover, it is necessary to underline that such a decision was undertaken uniquely by the Soviet administration without any consultations with Western allies. In such a situation the US, which were actually the only superpower that could really oppose to the USSR preferred to sustain status quo and did not take any efficient steps in response to the Soviet demarche in order to prevent the construction of the Wall. Obviously, it could be perceived as a sort of betray of people inhabiting East Berlin and socialist Germany at large.
Unfortunately, ordinary people suffered the most from such a decision of socialist government of GDR, which was naturally influenced by the USSR. In this respect, it is noteworthy that inhabitants of Berlin were the most affected by the building of the Wall. The construction of the Berlin Wall contributed to the significant decrease of the emigration from East Berlin to West Berlin.
However, the considerable decrease of emigration from East Berlin to West Berlin was not the only consequence of the building of the Wall. The consequences of building of the Wall affected practically the same spheres as its fall though with a different results. To put it more precisely, the Wall not only stopped the flow of refugees but also it cut the economic links between East and West Berlin, and it deprived thousands of East Germans of their livelihoods. Moreover, many East Berliners were cut off from their jobs, many families were split and chances for financial betterment (Buckley 2006, p.63). Obviously, such a situation naturally led to a profound economic crisis that affected many families in East German. In such a situation, it is probably only due to a strong state support and aid from the USSR that prevent East Berlin and the GDR from unpredictable economic, political and social consequences of the construction of the Wall. It is obvious that the totalitarian regime deprived all attempts to protest against the building of the Berlin Wall.
Nonetheless, authoritarian methods that were amply used by the totalitarian government of the GDR could not prevent people from attempts to escape from the ‘socialist paradise’ to the ‘capitalist hell’. There were a lot of examples when people attempted to escape to West Berlin even when it was dangerous for their lives because the government of the GDR and the USSR occupant forces put all their efforts on preventing any attempts of illegal emigration from East Berlin while any legal emigration was practically impossible. It is worthy to note that there was a clear Defence Ministry order 101, according to which “border violators should be destroyed and all attempts to breach the defences should be prevented” (Berlin Wall, 2006). Basically, under the communist regime the Wall served its intended purpose to thwart emigration (Berlin Wall, 2006).
In fact, it is possible to say that the Berlin Wall made the life of thousands, if not to say millions of people, practically unbearable. It separated German people, many families and friends were separated and could not communicate with each other. Practically, Eastern German turned to be in a complete isolation from Western Germany. The situation could not be improved even by a certain economic improvement in Eastern Germany in mid-1960s when the GDR “was enjoying a period of relative prosperity” (Wikipedia 2006).
Moreover, even a slight economic improvement did not stop the 600-700 of people who tried to escape each year (Childs p.64). These attempts seem to be practically heroic in the situation when several hundreds of people had been killed during such attempts, while others were captured after being wounded with automatic guns or mines along the border, and sentenced to long prison terms. Obviously, the Berlin Wall caused a lot of deaths and tragedies in lives of many people.
However, it would erroneous to think that only Eastern Berliners and Eastern Germans suffered from the Berlin Wall. There were not less tragic cases in Western Germany. For instance, once a West German painter committed a suicide intentionally ramming his head against the concrete wall is the one and only case of someone dying on the western side of the Great Divide (Online Highways 2002-2005) but moral sufferings on the West side of the wall were not less tragic because many of them lost friends, families, and opportunities to visit their native land.
In such a situation, it is obvious that the fall of the Berlin Wall was inevitable because people could not live in isolations and it was practically impossible to stop hundreds and thousands of attempts to escape, regardless the threat of death. At the same time, it is necessary to clearly realise that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the result of the victory of democratic forces in the Cold War. It is evident that the totalitarian regime controlling the GDR and Eastern Europe was about to ruin and the changes started in many socialist countries, including the USSR and naturally the GDR could not fail to lead to democratisation of the country. At the same time, any democratic changes in Eastern Germany were impossible until the symbol of totalitarian regime existed, i.e. the Berlin Wall. Consequently, the people’s desire to live in a democratic country provoked the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At the same time, it is necessary to underline that there was another strong desire to unite Germany and German people. Actually, since 1989, before the Wall was physically ruined, German people had got an opportunity to move freely without any restrictions regardless the Wall but people could hardly forget thousands of Germans died and imprisoned, while attempting to trespass the border.
Thus, the fall of the Berlin Wall was as symbolic as its construction since the latter symbolised separation of Germany and German people, while the former was basically caused by the desire of German people live in a united country. However, the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following unification of Germany turned to be not so optimistic as millions of people probably hoped.
Consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Obviously the unification of a country is a very complicated process that affects all spheres of life. The case of Germany is particularly problematic because two absolutely different countries were untied. Moreover, it is even possible to estimate that the countries from two opposing worlds were united in one, solid Germany. In fact, it is hardly possible to unite Eastern Germany, where the local totalitarian regime controlled all spheres of life and where plan economy was the only form of economic development of the country, with highly developed capitalist economy of Western Germany, based on the principles of free market economy and high entrepreneurial activity.
In this respect, it is very important to point out that the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked a number of problems. In fact it changed patterns in the city and the fall created chaos. There were a host of problems and crimes connected with the new, uncontrolled borders were almost immediately. Among them were increases in highway accidents, weapons and currency smuggling and robberies. Early in 1990, a rash of bomb threats hit East Germany (Ansteigen, Die Polizei 1990, p.287). However, socio-economic and political consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall are probably the most significant.
A. Economic consequences
Speaking about economic consequences of reunification of Germany, it is necessary to underline that it is a very complicated process since the united Germany has to re-establish economic links broken by the Cold War and division of Germany. In fact the difference between Western and Eastern parts of Germany was so significant that it was possible to speak about economic retardation of Eastern Germany from economically advanced Western Germany. As a result, the fall of the Berlin Wall led to the situation when “East Berlin being so poor from socialism blended with the richer republic West” (Thomas 2003, p.291). Moreover, such a situation was typical for the whole country. In such a situation economic inequality between East and West created a significant socio-economic tension since Western Germans believed that they have to support Eastern Germans, while Eastern Germans blamed Western Germans in the deterioration of socio-economic situation in the country, and especially in the deterioration of their own position and welfare.
In fact the situation in East Germany has changed dramatically. For instance, it should be pointed out that despite 1.5 trillion USD that has flown from west to east since reunification, unemployment in the east is almost twice as high as the 11 percent in the west. Moreover, in some eastern regions it is three times as high (Haider 2004). It means that the fall of Berlin Wall led to the profound economic crisis, which basically affected Eastern Germany and directly involved Western Germany, which, actually, had to support its Eastern regions after the reunification of the country.
The deterioration of economic situation in Germany in the result of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is actually synonymous to reunification of Germany, may be explained quite simply. First of all, it should be said that the reunification of the country implied primarily economic integration of Western and Eastern regions that was not an easy task to do taking into consideration the difference in economic development of the former GDR and Western Germany.
Furthermore, it was necessary to provide efficient integration of both parts of Germany economically that implies monetary unification, development of common standards of work, such as working hours, payments, conditions of work, etc., and life, such as level of income, access to education, households, quality of life at large. It is obvious that the wages of Eastern Germans were lower, as well as the level of income, the quality of life, their households were poorer compared to Western Germans, even the level of education, being rather high, was quite arguable point in comparison between West and East Germany. As a result, Eastern regions became the main receivers of economic aid and donations of Western regions, which were amply stimulated by the government to invest in the economy of Eastern Germany.
Nonetheless, despite all efforts of the government of the reunified Germany, the Eastern Germany economy continues to be a costly-long term process, which needs modernization and integration. Annually, there is about $70 billion transferred from West to East. In September 2004, a poll by Forsa Institute found that 25 percent of West Germans and 12 percent of East Germans wished that the Berlin Wall again cut off East Germans from West Germany (Reuters 2004). Obviously, to a significant extent, such a desire is a result of numerous economic problems between West and East Germany because West Germans do not want to ‘sponsor’ East Germans, while East Germans regret about the epoch of economic stability when the state provided citizens with work, money, and financial support.
Moreover, the deterioration of socio-economic development of Germany resulted in the situation when the East or the West does not think that they benefit financially from the reunification. In comparison, East Berliners are least likely to get a professional job than West Berliners, and some West Berliners would rather marry a foreigner than an East Berliner (Reuters 2004).
Anyway, it is obvious that even after sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification, the economic differences between East and West Germany remain still very significant.
B. Political consequences
Despite important socio-economic consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this event also affected dramatically political life of the unified Germany, as well as other countries. To put it more precisely, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall Germany had become a ‘Promised Land’ for refugees from neighbouring socialist countries, where local totalitarian regimes were still rather strong or where economic situation was even worse than in Eastern Germany.
On the other hand, neighbouring more democratised countries became a desirable shelter form East Germans who wanted to escape from the GDR just before the Berlin Wall fell. For instance, the Hungarian government border opened for East German refugees on September 10, 1989, more than 13,000 East Germans escaped. This was a big step for East Germans freedom (Bayne 2005). Naturally, the fall of the Berlin Wall made such escapes not so vitally important for many East Germans because it gave them political and civil freedom. In fact, Eastern Germans had eventually got basic civil rights and opportunities to live in a democratic society.
In other words, the fall of the Berlin Wall made East Germans free. They had got free access of information, the right to open political discussions, the freedom of thoughts and creativity, the right to maintain a plural ideology, a right to descend, the right to travel freely, the right to exert influence over government authority, the right to re-examine their beliefs, the right to voice an opinion in the affairs of state (Bayne 2005).
As a result, after the fall of the Berlin Wall Eastern Germany inevitably joined the cohort of democratic countries and totally rejected its totalitarian past. Thus, people of the country could be really free and independent from the dominant political ideology in the country. Moreover, politically the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolised the fall of the socialist regime and dictatorship of the USSR in the policy of Eastern European countries. Actually, it symbolised the end of the Cold War and the victory of democracy, at least in Europe.
Ethical issues related to the fall of the Berlin Wall
In fact, the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked many problems and opened a lot of opportunities. Naturally, it is quite difficult to properly assess this event from ethical point of view. On the one hand, it is a really great event that has changed the world for better and affected the life of millions of people in Germany uniting the nation. On the other hand, there is still a strong feeling of dissatisfaction that many Germans suffer from. Consequently, the only possible solution of such a dilemma is to attempt to find out whether the fall of the German Wall was positive or negative event in the history of German people, at least.
First of all, it should be said that the Berlin Wall was not simply a symbol of a totalitarian regime in Eastern Germany but it was also a cause of deaths of thousands of people because it separated Eastern Germans from better world, as they believed. Naturally, they desired to trespass and died or were arrested. Consequently, the Berlin Wall was a cause of deaths and sufferings of many people. This is why from ethical point of view it was necessary to ruin this terrible construction.
Furthermore, the Wall separated friends and families that provoked moral sufferings of a great number of people. This is another argument in favour of the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the same time, the fall of the Wall symbolised not only the unification of families or friends but also the unification of whole people that may be viewed as a historical necessity. Actually, it seems to be quite strange when people, which have the common culture, traditions, and moral values, are separated and cannot communicate and share their ideas, beliefs, and cultural achievements freely.
On the other hand, there are some negative consequences of the reunification, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall. Notably, it is obvious that the deterioration of socio-economic conditions of life of German people following the fall of the Wall and provoked by the necessity to modernize and integrate Eastern German economy in the economy of the unified Germany led to increase of social tension and negative emotions of Germans in relation to each other. To put it more precisely, the desirable unification turned to be not so good as Germans believed before and they were simply disappointed and dissatisfied with such reunification.
As a result, such a situation creates a number of moral and ethical problems that have to be solved. For instance, it provokes the discrimination, or at least negative attitude of Western Germans to Eastern Germans, the former have much more opportunities to be successfully employed, while the latter suffer from high rates of unemployment. Thus, negative attitude becomes typical for relations between people living in the unified country that is absolutely unacceptable. Moreover, it is even possible to say that, nowadays, economic oppression has substituted political oppression of the former totalitarian regime.
Nonetheless, it is necessary to clearly realise that the current problems are temporary and in larger terms the fall of the Berlin Wall is rather positive than negative because the existing socio-economic differences and problems would be minimized in the future and in perspective there would be little or no significant difference between East and West Germany. Briefly speaking, the current problematic situation in Germany is the price German people have to pay for freedom and unification.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the fall of the Berlin Wall is a great historical event that has changed the life of German people and symbolized the end of the Cold War. Its existence caused deaths and sufferings of thousands and millions of ordinary people who simply strived for better life for themselves and their families. This is why the fall of the Berlin Wall should be undoubtedly assessed as a positive event since people have got a desirable freedom and real opportunities to lead a normal life, being independent from the will of a totalitarian state.
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