Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Berlin Wall

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The Berlin Wall

A World Divided, 1961-1989

by Frederick Taylor

The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 512 pages
    May 2008, 528 pages

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A short guide to some notable historic barriers:

Hadrian's Wall was built in AD 122. It measures 80 Roman miles (73.5 miles/117 km). It was the second of three stone and turf fortifications the Romans built across Britain to prevent military raids by the Picts (who inhabited what is now Scotland) but is best known as it is the best preserved. The lesser known walls are Gask Ridge, built about 40 years before Hadrian's Wall, and the Antoine Wall, built farther north about 20 years later.

The Great Wall of China was started in the 3rd century and was rebuilt and rerouted a number of times (360 degree panorama of a small section of the wall). At its height it stretched 6352 km/3948 miles (map & more). In 1644 AD, the Manchus breached the wall by bribing a border general and seized Beijing, thus bringing an end to the Ming dynasty and establishing the Qing dynasty in its place. Under Qing rule, China's borders extended beyond the walls so repairs to the Great Wall were discontinued.

Offas Dyke is a massive earthwork roughly following the current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 65 feet (20 m) wide and 8 feet (2.5m) high. The 192 mile boundary was built in the 8th century AD by the King of Mercia as a border between his lands and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

The Maginot Line was a line of concrete fortifications built by the French along its border with Germany and Italy between the two World Wars. The French thinking was based on the defensive trench warfare of World War I. The fortifications did successfully dissuade a direct attack, but the Germans simply went around it.

The Atlantic Wall: The Germans poured millions of tons of reinforced concrete from Belgium to La Havre to build fortresses, batteries and defenses to protect the Atlantic flank of "Fortress Europa", but the Allies tricked the Germans into thinking the real invasion was to come at Calais, and by the time the Germans realized their mistake several hundred thousand troops had breached the "wall".

The Belfast Peace Lines (click on "Cupar Street" to see a 360° panorama of one wall) are a series of barriers ranging in length from a hundred yards to over three miles, separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods designed to minimize intercommunal sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics. Constructed in the early 1970s, during "The Troubles", they multiplied over the years, from around 20 in the early 1990's to 40 today, stretching over 13 miles in total. Due to the current peace in Northern Ireland, the walls have now become popular tourist destinations.

The United States–Mexico barrier is intended to deter illegal entry of Latin Americans into the USA from Mexico. The plan is for a 700 mile barrier across the more inviting stretches of the 2,100 mile border. In 2006, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion in the fiscal 2006 and 2007 budgets for fencing, vehicle barriers and border lighting, and the White House requested $1 billion more in fiscal 2008." This April, the Department of Homeland security announced plans to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier.

The Israeli West Bank barrier is a physical barrier being constructed by Israel located mainly within the West Bank. The length of the barrier will be 703 kilometers/436 miles (95% trenches, 5% walls). As of 2008, about 60% has been completed with final completion estimated for 2010.

This article was originally published in June 2007, and has been updated for the May 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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