Initially after the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and its state-sponsored demolition over the following year, only a handful of sites remained with pieces of the Berlin Wall still standing. These were magnets for foreign tourists, but Germans themselves, including German officials, were far more interested in creating a united future than in preserving parts of the divided past. With the passage of time, however, the Germans have increasingly come to believe in the importance of explaining the history of the Wall, commemorating its victims, and preserving its few authentic remains in Berlin. This article examines several key moments and debates in the process of the Germans coming-to-terms with the history of the Wall. It charts the process whereby the public and political leaders have devoted greater attention to the Wall in recent years, particularly on the occasions of the fifteenth and twentieth anniversaries of the fall of the Wall in 2004 and 2009 and the fiftieth anniversary of the erection of the Wall in 2011. Finally, the article analyzes lessons German politicians are drawing from the history of the Berlin Wall.
Hope M. Harrison
The Berlin Wall was a key site of contestation between the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic in their Cold War struggle over political legitimacy. On both sides, the Wall became a tool in intense publicity battles aimed at building legitimacy and collective identity at home, and undermining them in the other Germany. The public perceptions and politicized uses of the barrier evolved through stages that reflected the relative fortunes of the two German states, moving gradually from extensive East-West parallels in the early 1960s toward a growing divergence by the 1970s and 1980s, which became increasingly indicative of East Germany's weakness.
Jochen Maurer and Gerhard Sälter
The border guards were what made the Berlin Wall both function and lethal. Without them, people could escape nearly without any hindrance. Thus, it is crucial to understand the role of the border guards, who they were, and how they were prepared for their duty. They had a double task: preventing citizens, in most cases respectable and unarmed, from fleeing; and serving as an initial front-line defense in case of war. The military aspect of their mission, however, remained hypothetical, whereas preventing escapes became their daily duty. The duplicity of their task, with the military aspect determining armament, training, and structure no doubt increased the number of fatalities at the border.
The Berlin Wall was built three times: in 1961, in the mid 1960s, and again from the mid 1970s onwards. This article attempts to interpret each manifestation as political architecture providing insights into the mindset and intentions of those who built it. Each phase of the Wall had a different rationale, beyond the straightforward purpose of stopping the citizens of East Germany from leaving their own country and forcing them to suffer under communist rule. The deliberately brutal-looking first Wall was a propaganda construct not originally intended to exist for more than a few months. The functional but dreary Wall of the mid 60s was calculated to have a longer lifespan, but within few years it, too, became an embarrassment for the East German rulers. Yearning for international recognition, they demanded a smoother-looking, better designed Wall—supporting their fiction that this was "a national border like any other."
The building of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 had repercussions not only on the international scene, but also for the power relationship between state and society in the German Democratic Republic. This article considers the short-, medium- and long-term reactions of the East German population to the border closure from a personal and political perspective, examining key groups such as educated elites, workers, and young people. The closed society elicited a new deference in the short term, but the author argues for considerable continuities of low-level disruptive behavior before and after 13 August. In the longer term, there was a generation born behind the Wall which by simple habituation rather than a conscious decision was forced to accept the new contours of the geopolitical landscape created by the Wall.
Hope M. Harrison
Fifty years ago on 13 August 1961, the East Germans sealed the east-west
border in Berlin, beginning to build what would become known as the
Berlin Wall. Located 110 miles/177 kilometers from the border with West
Germany and deep inside of East Germany, West Berlin had remained the
“last loophole” for East Germans to escape from the communist German
Democratic Republic (GDR) to the western Federal Republic of Germany
(FRG, West Germany). West Berlin was an island of capitalism and democracy
within the GDR, and it enticed increasing numbers of dissatisfied East
Germans to flee to the West. This was particularly the case after the border
between the GDR and FRG was closed in 1952, leaving Berlin as the only
place in Germany where people could move freely between east and west.
By the summer of 1961, over 1,000 East Germans were fleeing westwards
every day, threatening to bring down the GDR. To put a stop to this, East
Germany’s leaders, with backing from their Soviet ally, slammed shut this
Arielle Fridson Bikard
In what way does national history shape the interpretation of international events in that country's media? Germany has always had a particularly sensitive and complex relationship with Israel. The Holocaust left such a scar on German identity that the country cannot consider Israel without confronting its own history. In Israel, Germany sees a “reflection“ of its own historical and symbolic space. In this article, I draw together a close reading of major German newspapers with more interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives in order to illuminate the mechanism of what I call “mirror reading,“ and especially to reveal its workings during what I consider a key shift in the discourse on German identity. The German print media, which I treat as the activating agent in German narration of national identity, plays a central role in this reflection by projecting national symbols onto Israel. In particular, I identify the initial reception of the Israeli wall (2003-2004) as a turning point in the debate on German self-understanding after the Holocaust. I establish that there are two extremes in a continuum of how German national history can frame the Israeli wall, one making Germany an active agent and the other a passive one. Employing national symbols in the media distorts the domestic perception of foreign events. My study casts a first light on this little understood—but nonetheless crucial—phenomenon.
This article argues that state visits are highly symbolic political performances by analyzing state visits to Berlin in the 1950s and 1960s. The article concentrates on how state visits blended in the Cold War's culture of suspicion and political avowal. Special emphasis is placed on the role of mass media and on the guests' reactions and behavior. State visits to Berlin illuminate the heavy performative and emotional burden placed on all participants. Being aware of the possibilities for self-presentation offered by state visits, West German officials incorporated state visitors into their symbolic battle for reunification. A visit to Berlin with extensive media coverage was, therefore, of prime importance for the German hosts. Despite their sophisticated visualization strategies, total control of events was impossible. Some visitors did not want to play their allotted role and avoided certain sites in Berlin, refused to be accompanied by journalists or cancelled their trips altogether.
Jennifer Ruth Hosek
The years following the fall of the Berlin Wall saw a wave of interest in a far away nation now largely independent of Soviet influence: Cuba. The three documentary fims that this article treats are a part of this "Cuba wave." Yet, as I argue here, more than simply tales of the Caribbean, Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders and Havanna mi amor and Heirate mich! by Uli Gaulke and Jeannette Eggert are ciphers for competing and unpopular discourses surrounding German (re)unification. As sanctioned narratives of the Germanies increasingly ossify, these films articulate obscured and agonistic visions of national identity in the Berlin Republic.
On 9 November 1989, the government of the German Democratic
Republic decided to open the Berlin Wall, effectively signaling the
collapse of the socialist system in East Germany. The subsequent
transformation of the country’s political structures, and in particular
that of its political parties, took place in two phases. In the first
phase, directly after the fall of the wall, the GDR’s political system
underwent a radical democratic and pluralistic overhaul without
West German involvement—although the existence of a second German
state, the Federal Republic of Germany, naturally influenced
the goals, strategies, and scope of action of the actors concerned.