Berlin Wall

[BOOK REVIEW] The Berlin Wall: August 13, 1961 – November 9, 1989

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The Berlin Wall Book Cover The Berlin Wall
Frederick Taylor
A&C Black
August 2, 2012

The appearance of a hastily-constructed barbed wire entanglement through the heart of Berlin during the night of 12-13 August 1961 was both dramatic and unexpected. Within days, it had started to metamorphose into a structure that would come to symbolise the brutal insanity of the Cold War: the Berlin Wall. A city of almost four million was cut ruthlessly in two, unleashing a potentially catastrophic East-West crisis and plunging the entire world for the first time into the fear of imminent missile-borne apocalypse. This threat would vanish only when the very people the Wall had been built to imprison, breached it on the historic night of 9 November 1989. Frederick Taylor's eagerly awaited new book reveals the strange and chilling story of how the initial barrier system was conceived, then systematically extended, adapted and strengthened over almost thirty years. Patrolled by vicious dogs and by guards on shoot-to-kill orders, the Wall, with its more than 300 towers, became a wired and lethally booby-trapped monument to a world torn apart by fiercely antagonistic ideologies. The Wall had tragic consequences in personal and political terms, affecting the lives of Germans and non-Germans alike in a myriad of cruel, inhuman and occasionally absurd ways. The Berlin Wall is the definitive account of a divided city and its people.

The Berlin Wall: August 13, 1961 – November 9, 1989 by Frederick Taylor is a history of a violent and futile episode during the Cold War period.

The Berlin Wall was put up on August 13, 1961.  It came crashing down on November 9, 1989.  There has been a recorded number of 86 people who died as a direct result of violence in the Berlin Wall. The count may include more. The Berlin Wall stood as a powerful symbol of the division between East(Communism) and West (Capitalism).  The Berlin Wall also served as a repudiation of Soviet style communism. The Berlin Wall was a propaganda catastrophe for communism. For the 28 years that it stood, it represents how communism directly competed with capitalism and then lost.

The reason why East Germany’s leaders put up the Berlin Wall was because they wanted to prevent movement into encircled West Berlin.  West Berlin was a part of West Germany but was inside East Germany’s territory.  East Germans were defecting to the West in record numbers via West Berlin. It was Josef Stalin who authorized Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker to make sure  that the frontier between the two Germanys was made secure and prevent the movement of people.  The East German government initially closed traffic only to their citizens passing through the Soviet sector (East) to the Allied (West) sector.  Passage from West to East was permitted but in was in theory only.

berlin wall

The Berlin Wall was built on a Sunday (a rest day for workers) and it became permanent, heavily guarded and highly impassable. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the residents of East Berlin woke up and found themselves cut off from family, friends and jobs in West Berlin by barbed wire which cut Berlin (a city of four million) in two.  Within days the barbed wire metamorphosed into an imposing 103 mile wall guarded by three hundred watchtowers.  The Berlin Wall was a physical symbol of the struggle between Soviet Communism (totalitarianism) and American capitalism (freedom).  The Berlin Wall stood for nearly thirty years and could have triggered war between East and West.

Frederick Taylor combined official history, archived materials and personal accounts to tell the story of the Berlin Wall’s rise and fall.  It started with the postwar political tensions that created a divided Berlin to the internal and external pressures that led to the Wall’s demise.

What is lacking in this book was that no emphasis was made about Ronald Reagan‘s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate, President Reagan challenged Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!“.  “Tear down this wall!” is a line from a speech made by US President Ronald Reagan in West Berlin on June 12, 1987, calling for the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open up the barrier which had divided West and East Berlin since 1961.

A sturdy contribution to Cold War history.


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