The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier that cut across and divided the city of Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and was constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War. After the Wall was fully dismantled in 1989, it not only led to the reunification of a divided Germany and its people, but also came to symbolise the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ that had divided the Eastern Bloc from Western Europe during the Cold War.
Why was the Berlin Wall built?
After Germany’s defeat in the war, the Allied powers — the US, the UK, France and the Soviet Union — took control of Germany’s territorial borders and divided it into four zones managed by each Allied power. The capital Berlin was also subjected to this division, despite the city falling mostly inside the zone controlled by the Soviet Union.
Two year after the Allied powers had gained control of Germany, political divisions arose between the Allied powers and the Soviet Union over several socio-political aspects that were meant to determine Germany’s future. The most contentious of all however, was the proposal for the extension of the Marshall Plan, a reconstruction plan signed by then US President Harry Truman in 1948, to provide economic assistance to Western Europe for reconstruction efforts after the Second World War.
The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin did not approve of this plan because the proposal did not align with Stalin’s vision of a united communist Germany within the Eastern Bloc. The Berlin Blockade in 1948 set the ground for the start of the construction of the Berlin Wall and in 1949, the Soviet Union declared the existence of the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany.
In 1961, the borders between East and West Germany were closed, and the division cost common people their homes, families, jobs and changed their lives irrevocably, creating two separate nations built on different socio-political and economic ideologies, separated by blocks of concrete that were collectively 140 km long. It would take almost three decades for the Berlin Wall to come down.
Why did the Berlin Wall fall?
Civil unrest across East and West Germany put pressure on the East Germany administration to loosen some travel restrictions. Günter Schabowski, a political leader in East Germany had been tasked with the job of announcing the easing of travel restrictions but had not been given full information regarding when the new travel regulations would be put into effect. At a press conference on November 9 when Schabowski was asked when the new regulations would be put into effect, he stated that it was with immediate effect. East Germans who were listening to the live news broadcast rushed to the checkpoints at the Berlin Wall in droves, seeking entry. Armed guards at the checkpoints had not been given instructions on how to handle the crowds and outnumbered checkpoint guards began allowing people to cross without any significant checks. Crowds began climbing on top of the Berlin Wall and the atmosphere changed entirely. It was the day the Berlin Wall was brought down.
What were the global consequences of the Fall of the Berlin Wall?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, decades of separation and unaligned socio-economic development, brought several differences between East and West Berlin to the fore. Eastern Europe was dramatically altered with political changes requiring a reexamination of alliances within Europe. These changes resulted in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that led to the formation of the European Union in 1993.
Following the end of the Second World War and the Korean War, East Asia and Southeast Asia were slowly beginning to emerge from the ravages of the wars, relying on what was left of colonial infrastructure and post-colonial economic assistance. Many relied on China for economic support to build their own economies over the next decade. Of the nations in the region, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea came to be known as the ‘Asian Tigers’, and became models for good governance and development and “miracle” economies. Their socio-economic models of development were so robust that these countries escaped relatively unscathed from the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, China witnessed an unprecedented rise in importance not only in the region, but also in the world political order. The Soviet Union’s collapse also impacted Cuba and its economy which was reliant on financial subsidies from Moscow. However, the US was unable to use this occurrence to bring about regime change in Cuba, majorly because Venezuela under Hugo Chavez stepped in to replace the Soviet Union.
The fall of the Berlin Wall also coincided with Russia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Despite the wishes of Soviet-backed Afghanistan President Mohammad Najibullah, Soviet troops began withdrawing from the country. The Mujahideen began their offensives against the Afghan army with more vigor knowing that the army did not have the support of Soviets anymore. Civil unrest and war continued in the country with the fall of the Najibullah government in 1992 and was ongoing till the Taliban came to power in 1996 and brought even more war and unrest in Afghanistan.