By 1958 nearly 3 million East
Germans, many of them young and educated, had fled to the West through the porous
border between East and West Berlin that allowed
people to cross in and out of the zones for work. This left about 17
million in East Germany with a further 200,000+
leaving every year. East Germany was facing an
implosion if the exodus was not stopped - hence the
construction of the Berlin Wall.
According to Frederick Taylor, although the Wall was instigated and constructed by the East Germans, the "leaders of the free world" at the time (Kennedy, Macmillan and de Gaulle) were not agin the construction of a physical barrier to constrict the outflow of people from East Germany that threatened to destabilize the country, which in turn could undermine European peace. The perceived wisdom was that the Wall could be a stabilizing influence, albeit a brutal and oppressive one, between hot-headed nations with fundamentally opposed ideologies.
Taylor has penned a compelling, thrilling, narrative history of the rise and fall of The Berlin Wall - from its beginnings as a hastily constructed barbed-wire fence, to the 30 miles of concrete and 300 watchtowers that followed shortly after, to its eventual fall. He looks not just at the barrier that partitioned a city, and the human stories of those effected by the Wall, but also at the global politics behind its construction in 1961, 16 years after the war had ended and 13 years after Stalin's failed attempt to seal off the city had been foiled by the Berlin airlift. He also looks at what the Wall symbolized in the power-play of Cold War politics, and at the extraordinary events that led to its destruction in a few short days in 1989. The Wall's quick fall was all the more shocking to Berliners as it had become a barely acknowledged fact of life for many living on both sides of it; as Taylor observes, East Berliners could not see it and many in West Berlin never bothered to visit it.
Did you know?
After the Berlin Wall came down, the government of the soon-to-be-former German Democratic Republic auctioned it off piece by piece. If you feel so inclined you can buy a piece with a certificate of authenticity anytime you want at eBay and elsewhere. Having pulled The Wall down, a few short sections were restored by popular demand and now form an often visited tourist attraction.
About the Author
Frederick Taylor was educated at Aylesbury Grammar School; Oxford University, where he read History and Modern Languages; and Sussex University, where he did postgraduate work specializing in the rise of the extreme Right in Germany during the early twentieth century. He is the author of a number of novels set in Germany and of Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 (2004), a reappraisal of one of the most infamous air raids of the Second World War (more).
This review 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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