The Invisible Berlin Wall
by Michael Arian

by James M. Tita

The Berlin Wall Crisis
by Michael Rhodes





by James M. Tita




When the Wall in Germany fell in October 1989 and the reunification began, I was very excited, that I was able to experience these historical developments first hand. Since the age of eleven. I have been going to West Germany for three months out of the year living a mile away from the border. I had always learned in school the great evils of communism, but living on the border gave me other impressions of how communism worked.

The first time I saw East Germans on the other side of the border it seemed to me that they were more like prisoners then free people. I remember the fence looking like the wall that forms the bound areas of the prison . I also remember the watch towers and guards, but what struck me most was a farmer plowing land with a soldier sitting next to him and pointing his rifle at him. It was not that the guard would be forcing him to work but rather the farmer was just doing his daily job while the guard made sure that he does not escape over the fence. After talking to my parents and German cousins I realized that these people were not truly prisoners but were citizens without freedom. The fact is that the East German government seldom let any people out of the country other than  senior citizens. These people would come to West Germany visiting their brothers, sisters or other relatives and were treated like the poorest of the poor. One time when I was staying with my grandmother her friends came to visit her from East Germany. My grandmother collected clothing, food and even money to give to her friends. These people did not look unhappy or starved but I was explained that they did not have clothing or food stores with plentiful selection as we had in the West. Western Germans felt a sense of responsibility to their Eastern counterparts. They all spoke the same language, were brought up with the same traditions and shared many of the same experiences, but they were divided by a Wall.


When the wall fell I realized the true extent of how deprived of consumer goods were the people in East Germany. Initially the Easteners would come to the West in cars and buses buying up everything they could find. They never had the opportunity to purchase the plethora of goods which stocked West German stores. At the same time I saw a great deal of wealth. These people were by no means poor, they saved great deal of money since they had no use for it under communism. These people seemed like children in a candy store with a wallet full of money. People would get on line hours before stores open to purchase goods. Initially stores were open only half of the day because they would literally sell out everything. After this initial euphoria there was a reversal of good will from the West Germans. They began to resent their new fellow citizens. They began to feel the heavy burden put on them. Especially on the border West Germany was no longer a quiet place to live. The crowds of 'Ossies' would converge on towns and cities and the West Germans felt harassed both in their daily lives and their wallets. They felt that they were paying for the reunification process while the East Germans were getting a free ride.

With this anti East German sentiment developing West Germans began to change their attitudes. East Germans were no longer their helpless younger brothers and sisters, instead they had to learn the West German way of hard work and effort to become fruitful countrymen. This resentment is a continuing problem today. East Germans expecting the glories of capitalism are lost because they were never taught how capitalism worked. Under communism East Germans had a relatively secure life, they did not have to worry about getting a job, having food on the table or how to pay the rent. Under capitalism you cannot take anything for granted. Once I had a dinner with an East German who was of my age. He had a grand illusion that under capitalism everyone gets what he wants. He did not realize that under capitalism there are poor people, and that to be successful one must work hard. Karin Lutz summed up it best " They think that because they haven't had anything for 40 years they can demand it all now. They want to have everything in one day if possible. You just want to say to them, you can't be lazy and stand around here, you have to build up your country and not rely on the West so much."



The Fall of the Invisible Berlin Wall

by Michael Arian


The Prelude

On October Third Nineteen Ninety the people of Eastern Germany once again reunited with their long lost brothers and sisters and rejoined the republic in the west (1). During the break up the two countries have traveled down two totally different paths. After World War II, Germany was split between the four major allies in hope of halting Germany's quest for world dominance. Britain, France, the US, and the Soviet Union split the country in half. The West part was controlled by the capitalist French, British and Americans. The East was controlled by the communist Russians. The West quickly regained economic and political stability and once again became a world power. East Germany on the other hand has had its share of troubles. While the West soared, the East lagged behind and made little progress towards economic success. The East was struggling along with most of the other countries of Eastern Europe who had decided to take up the Soviet style economy. The East finally decided to unify with the West and take up capitalism rather than socialism. In October of Nineteen Eighty Nine the physical wall which once separated these two groups finally came down but the invisible wall which separated the two economies took much longer to remove. Six years later in Nineteen Ninety Five this wall has almost been removed, but not entirely. The fall of communism not only took away the concrete wall that separated the two countries, it also took away the invisible wall which separated the two economies.


West and East Germany Before the Unification

After the split of the former German Republic, many changes took place. The once united country became two separated and totally different entities. Both sides were devastated by the war and were physically and economically in shambles. The West Became democratic and capitalistic. They relied on the market to make the bulk of their economic decisions. This scheme worked well for them. They soon reached high levels of economic success. Politically, the democratic government was well accepted and turned out to be much more beneficial than the previous Nazi dictatorship. The East on the other hand was much different. They became socialistic and communistic. Their political and economic design was modeled after the Russians. All prices, output types and amounts were set by the government rather than the market. This turned out to be rather inefficient. The government had a hard time estimating wants and needs and in turn created many shortages of wanted goods and necessities, and overage of others. One of the faults was in the lack of incentives. Since the government controlled every aspect of the economy there was no personal incentive to create better products or methods of production. Their products were rarely improved on and technical advance was slow. This hurt exports because their products often did not compare favorably with those of other countries. Economic progress was slow. They did not share the same success as the West. The East had some advantages though. Since prices were controlled by government, inflation was slow. Unemployment in the East was also very low and the population had greater job security. Overall the West proved to be more efficient and pretty much economically dominated the East. By the late Nineteen Eighties, West Germany had become economically stable while its eastern counterpart was still struggling to reach economic stability.


The Unification

A reunification had been suggested many times by both sides in the past(2). Even though their ideas were similar, their reasons were very different. On a political and economic level both sides felt that the unification would benefit their economies. On a social level, the people had different reasons. The population in the West felt a sense of nationalism and almost obligation to help their struggling German friends. The people of the East were jealous. They wanted to be able to have a similar standard of living as those in the West(3). They wanted to be able to buy goods which were seldom available in the East. On October Third Nineteen Ninety their wish was granted. East and West were once again one united republic. Soon, however, many problems became apparent. The West was put under an enormous economic strain having to pump DM750 billion into the East's economy(4). They also suffered high levels of inflation and a lot of jobs shifted to the East where the wages were lower(5). The addition of sixteen million people took a toll on the West's welfare system and caused an increase in the West's taxes(6). Even though the economic toll was mostly on the West, the East paid socially. Sixteen million East Germans had to adjust themselves to capitalism and instantaneously were expected to live under democratic rule. This sudden transformation put quite a shock on the East. Success at the beginning was minimal. This was to be expected though. One day the East Germans were totally controlled by the government and the next they had to operate in the harsh environment of the capitalistic markets. The unification was far from easy and was equally difficult and tolling on both sides. Was it all worth it?


The New United German Republic

Germany was once again united after almost fifty years. Both sides paid heavily and were hurt in some manner during the unification. How did the people feel about the unification. There were two different reactions depending on the different paths that had been taken. The East was still resentful. They expected to reach an equal level with the West almost immediately(7). It was hard for them to live in poverty while most in the West lived in comparative luxury. They were also resentful that they had lost their job security. It was hard for them to get used to inequality and economic freedom in the new scheme. The East was also upset that many of their markets had been taken over by firms in the West. Under communism the people had little freedom but they were almost always secure and sure of the future. Under capitalism the opposite is true. The West on the other hand was upset because they felt that the East was freeloading. They felt they were paying for the unification and that the East expected to reap the spoils of capitalism for free. They felt that they had done the East a good service and that this deed was not being appreciated. So was it a success or was it not worth all the pain and suffering. If you believe in the old saying " The end justifies the means" then you would call the unification an overwhelming success. The resentful East did not deny universal improvements in living standards and 63% still welcomed the unification(8). The result was that Germany was as strong as it has ever been and has become one of the most powerful countries in the world. The German currency was now stronger than ever and the budget deficit actually decreased. East was now consuming two thirds as much per capita as the West. Even though the unification was quite a blow for both sides, the transformation lead to levels of economic success that would have been hard, if not impossible to reach without the unification.


The Result: An Advantage Over the Rest of the Converting Countries of Eastern Europe

In the late Eighties the fall of communism and the Soviet Block began. Most of the once communistic countries of Eastern Europe turned to democracy and capitalism in hopes that it would become their savior. East Germany was one of these countries. This is where the similarities end though. Even though they may have been slightly aided by the democratic countries, most of the others had to undergo the transformation on their own. East Germany on the other hand was adopted and incorporated into an already flourishing economy. They received guidance, knowledge, aid, and most importantly money and investment to help them on their new adventure. This was a luxury none of the other countries were able to enjoy. The unification was difficult and almost ended in catastrophe. The result: Germany is now one of the five most powerful countries in the world where the rest of Eastern Europe is still struggling to get above past socialistic levels of success. The consumption level reached by the East Germans far exceeds that of any of the other Eastern European countries(9). The transformation has been much harder on them. Some are doing even worse than they were under socialism and are pondering the idea of going back to it(10). The Parade section of the Boston Globe just recently published an article entitled " THEY USED TO CALL THEM COMMUNISTS". In the article Tad Szulc lists seven Eastern European countries who have former Communist politicians fighting to regain power(11). Germany is not part of that list because everyone is relatively happy with the result of capitalism and most are living better than they were under communism. The others have not shared such a success. Germany on the other hand has reached an all time high. Germany's success can be called incredible, but in comparison to the rest of Eastern Europe it may even be called miraculous.



The reunification of East and West Germany hasn't been exactly smooth. It went through many economic and social disturbances along the way and still faces many today, but looked at as a whole, it turned out to be a miracle in disguise for the both of them. Extreme amounts of resentment still exist between the two, but if they just sat back and looked at where the unification has brought them then they would realize that they should pat each other on the back. All of Eastern Europe began the transformation at about the same time. The Germans are so far ahead now that it may take centuries before the rest attains a similar level. If East Germany didn't have the benefit of the unification and had to go through the transition on their own they would most likely be in the same position as most of their neighbors. The East has much to thank the West for, but the reverse is also true. The combination of these two countries enabled them to reach a level that would have taken them many more years if it was to even happen at all. The fall of communism is what gave them the opportunity to experience this long awaited glory. The new united Germany is still relatively young. Full potential, especially in the east, hasn't even yet been obtained. Who knows how successful they may one day become if they continue to work together and reach economic maturity. The fall of the Berlin wall not only took away the physical wall separating the two countries, it also took away the invisible one which separated the two countries economies' and offered them the opportunity to reach economic greatness.



  • 1) The Economist, pg. 21

  • 2) "Berlin and the Wall:"

  • 3) "Grand Illusions of Unification"

  • 4) The Econoist, pg. 21

  • 5) The Economist, pg. 22

  • 6) The Economist, pg. 21

  • 7) The Economist, pg. 22

  • 8) The Economist, pg. 24

  • 9) The Economist, pg. 21

  • 10) Parade, pg. 4

  • 11) Parade, pg. 4-5



  • 1) The Economist, "The Eagle's Embrace", Sept 30th 1995

  • 2) Szulc, Tad. "They Used to Call them Communists". Parade section, Boston Globe, Sun. Sept 24, 1995

  • 3) Bayne, E. A.. "Berlin and the Wall: In the Shadow of the Wall, West Berlin Struggles with New Problems of function and symbolism."

  • 4) McAdams, James A."East Germany and Detente: Building Authority After the Wall."

  • 5) Tita, James. " Grand Illusions of German Unification". Paper by a student of prof. Kyn 1994-95.



The Berlin Wall Crisis

by Michael Rhodes


At the end of World War II, the city of Berlin was completely surrounded by Soviet controlled territory. The city itself was partitioned into East Berlin and West Berlin. West Berlin was occupied by British, French, and American forces. The eastern portion of the city was controlled by the Soviet Union. Between 1949 when East Germany was established and the middle of 1961, over 2.7 million people fled East Germany, more than half of them doing so through West Berlin. Many of these East Germans left hoping to find better economic opportunities in the West. In 1961, the East German government decided to stop this flight to the West, which was depleting the country’s labor force, among other things. During the night of August 13, 1961, East German soldiers and members of its militia surrounded West Berlin with temporary fortifications that were rapidly replaced by a concrete wall, 12 feet high and 103 miles long, of which 28 miles lay between two sides of the city. The only openings in the wall were two closely guarded crossing points. Although the East German government announced that the wall was needed to prevent military aggression and political interference from the West, they built tank traps and ditches along the eastern side of the wall, suggesting that it was designed to keep East Germans in.


The most important event leading up to the emplacement of the Berlin Wall was the Soviet-American summit in Vienna at the beginning of June 1961. In Vienna, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered an ultimatum to the United States. Khrushchev remarked that unless the West agreed to a German peace treaty, the Soviet Union would sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany, before the year came to an end. This would leave no reason for Allied forces to remain in Berlin, also meaning that the Western powers would no longer be able to cross East German territory without the permission of the East Germans. The Soviets would view any violation of East German sovereignty as an act of aggression, and the aggressor would suffer consequences. President John F. Kennedy was caught off guard by the Soviet demands, refusing them as well as the ultimatum. Khrushchev responded to this by saying that any interference with the Soviet plan would result in war.

The Germans, led by Konrad Adenauer, were against the United States making any concessions that would have implied recognition of East Germany. In their opinion, this would have signaled a rejection of their goal to unify the country. For the United States, Great Britain, or France to have suggested that East Germany was anything more than a temporary entity could have destroyed the alliance. While the West German government adopted a hard line on Western rights in Berlin, it shunned at the thought of the United States using force to defend those rights. The West Germans did not want to see their homeland become the battleground, once again, for a superpower confrontation.


On August 1, Congress voted 403 to 2 to grant President Kennedy’s request for funds in order to boost America’s conventional military strength. The two dissenting votes were by congressmen who believed the United States should continue to rely on "massive retaliation" to deter the Soviets. On August 3, the biggest maneuvers by American forces since World War II were launched at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Forty-thousand troops and five thousand paratroopers were involved. Publicity was emphasized in order to signal to Moscow the readiness of the American forces.

The Soviets announced that the border was being closed to prevent the undermining of the East German economy and government by the West. West Berlin was to be quarantined, but the Allies would still have access to their routes into the city. When word of the blockade reached Washington, there was a sense of concern and relief. There was relief that the access routes and Berlin were not being tampered with, but there was concern that an East German uprising could spill over into the West. Also, the allies were not sure of how far the Soviets intended to take this new strategy. Even though no military reprisal was contemplated, the United States issued a public condemnation over the division of Berlin. To the dismay of Berliners, there was little more that the United States could do. No one proposed that the barrier be torn down for being in violation of the Four Powers Treaty. The Americans realized that this was something that the Communists had always had the power to do and that they were bound to do it sooner or later.


The building of the Berlin Wall was only one of a series of confrontations between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev believed in pushing the Americans to see what kind of concessions he could get. During the Berlin crisis, Khrushchev threatened the Western world with nuclear annihilation if they did not accede to his demands. Khrushchev described Berlin as "the testicles of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin." (Windsor, 93) Given the security situation in Europe at the time, it is understandable why the Soviets and Americans did not want to push each other too far. The Americans, even with their allies, knew that they would be unable to defend West Berlin from a massive Soviet offensive. Berlin would serve only as a trip-wire for the Americans to respond with their superior nuclear forces. The Soviets simply wanted to see how much they could get away with short of war. The Americans did the appropriate thing by demonstrating to the Soviets their intention to go to war over West Berlin. This show of force demonstrated to Moscow that any actions they took would have to be limited to their own zone of occupation. Kennedy’s new policy of flexible response proved successful as it allowed the crisis to move along in a controlled manner. Had Eisenhower’s policy of massive retaliation still been the modus operandi, Kennedy may well have been the last President of United States. The Wall proved to the world that the Communist system was inferior, and that when given the opportunity people would flee from this system. The closing of the border proved a victory for both sides as Khrushchev solved his refugee problem, while the Americans gained favorable publicity from it. The American demonstrated to the Soviets that they were a serious player, and would not be easily intimidated. Kennedy acted rationally by not allowing himself to be drawn into the camp of either the hawks or the doves. Had the United States reacted in a more belligerent manner, Khrushchev might have felt himself backed into a corner and have had to resort to military means. Similarly, if the United States had not taken a strong stance, the Soviets might have rolled their tanks into West Berlin and destroyed the credibility of the West. The crisis did not escalate into a military confrontation because both sides did what was in their best interest, they avoided war.



  • Gelb, Norman. The Berlin Wall.

  • New York: Times Book, 1986.

  • Windsor, Philip. City On Leave.

  • London: Chatto & Windus, 1963

  • Also other sources from the web.







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