When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it provided the world with visual proof that the conflict between East and West Germany had come to a close. The tension between the countries began after World War II ended. The conflict arose, because the two countries espoused vastly different political ideologies. The conflict ended when a wave of optimism and freedoms swept through the European continent based on new policies set forth by former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev, causing a chain reaction that eventually changed German politics forever.
Prelude to a Conflict
When the Second World War ended in 1945, the Allies, France, England, the United States of America and the Soviet Union divided up Germany into four sections. They did this to assist with rebuilding the country after the war. Eventually, America, France and England set up the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany. However, the Soviet Union, being communist, formed the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The GDR became East Germany. Because Eastern and Western Germany existed on different sides of the political spectrum, the conflict between them arose almost immediately.
The Berlin Blockade
The Berlin Blockade marked the Soviet Union's first serious assertion of its intention to have a separate East German State apart from West Germany. In 1948, as France, America and England moved toward making their three zones of Germany into one, including creating a common currency, the U.S.S.R. fought to expel the Allies from Berlin.
On June 27, 1948, the Soviets blocked all ground transportation into the German capital, hoping to force the Allies to give over control of the city by starving its people. But in one of the most dramatic moves in European history, the remaining Allies staged an airlift. They flew food and supplies into Berlin from June of 1948 to May of 1949. In all, the Allies made 270,000 flights until the Soviets finally lifted the blockade.
The Iron Curtain
The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 proved to be one of the most memorable events in recent history. A wall of sorts stretched between Eastern and Western Germany by the time the Berlin Wall was built. However, Berlin itself remained one city, although it was no longer the capital of West Germany. It also provided East Germans with a way to escape their conditions in the East and move to the more prosperous Western half. Two-and-a-half million people left the East through Berlin. The East German government built the Berlin Wall to prevent the mass exodus of its people.
The End of the Conflict
Reunification of Eastern and Western Germany resulted from a chain of reforms that swept through Europe during the 1980s. With the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika, the borders of formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe broke open. The one in particular that helped the East Germans was the border between Hungary and Austria. While East Germans couldn't move directly into West Germany, they could visit Hungary, which was technically still a communist state in the 80s. East Germans fled to Hungary, moved on through Austria and into freedom in the West. Thousands of people left the country, causing a collapse of the infrastructure from which East Germany could not recover. Eventually, the Berlin Wall fell and with it, the conflict between the two Germanys ended.
- Berlin.de: The Construction of the Berlin Wall
- Truman Library: The Berlin Airlift
- History.com: Allies End Occupation of West Germany
- U.S. Department of State - Office of the Historian: East Germany
- Der Spiegel Online: East Germany
- History.com: East Germany Begins Construction of Berlin Wall
- History.com: East and West Germany Reunite After 45 Years
- PBS: Berlin Blockade
- Lonely Planet: Introducing Bonn
- Biography.com: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images