Berlin—A Mirror of Our World?
By Awake! correspondent in Germany
NOVEMBER 9, 1989, saw joyful crowds climbing the Berlin Wall and countless East Berliners crossing the checkpoints—unbelievable for most Germans and TV watchers around the world.
Since 1945 Berlin has, in some respects, mirrored the rivalry between the two superpowers, represented as “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.” (Daniel 11:36-45) How did this rivalry develop in Berlin, and why did the borders now open? Will our divided world also change?
During World War II, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain united in combating Nazi Germany. The allies assumed this cooperation would continue postwar. Hence, they agreed to apportion defeated Germany into occupation zones and to share its capital, Berlin, which was to enjoy special status. So in 1945 Germany and Berlin were divided up to be controlled by Soviet, American, British, and French military administrations.
Soon it became apparent that the powers saw and did things differently. The Soviet Union wanted a Communist administration for all Berlin, but the Western powers promoted a pluralistic system in their sectors. In the election of October 1946, four out of every five Berliners voted against the Communists.
In 1948, when the Western powers decided in favor of an economic reconstruction and of having a single democratic state in their occupation zones in West Germany, the Soviets left the Allied Control Council. Thus ended the joint four-power administration. Hope of governing Germany unitedly from Berlin proved short-lived.
The Cold War Begins
Berlin, embraced by the Soviet zone, kept its four-power status. For the Soviets, controlling the city’s eastern sector, the Western enclave was a dangerous “alien element.” In June 1948 they launched a total land blockade of the Western sectors so as to cut West Berlin’s supply lines and force the West to abandon its rights in Berlin. How would the West react?
On June 26, 1948, the greatest airlift in history commenced. In about one year, the United States and Britain organized 279,114 flights, conveying some 2.3 million tons of food, coal, and other goods to the city. “The Berlin blockade was the overture to the Cold War,” comments Norman Gelb in his book The Berlin Wall. “At the same time, the response to the blockade dramatically confirmed American leadership of the West.”
He continues: “For Moscow, the Allied ability to resist Soviet efforts to drive them out of their rogue enclave in the middle of Communist territory confirmed the unshakable conviction that the West was determined to destroy the Soviet system. There was no longer any doubt in the Kremlin that, to survive, the Soviet Union would have to become a military superpower. The struggle for Berlin set the stage for the superpower rivalry between Russia and America which was to become the dominant feature in international affairs during the second half of the twentieth century.”
When the blockade stopped, the Western powers determined to stay in Berlin, protecting its status. The gap between East and West seemed unbridgeable when, in 1949, two German states were founded: the Federal Republic of Germany (West) and the German Democratic Republic (East). Berlin now had two civilian administrations and two currencies. During 1952 and 1953, the East German state severed telephone links and cut off street connections and bus routes between East and West Berlin.
Whereas citizens in the West experienced a Wirtschaftswunder, an economic boom offering consumers a vast selection of goods, many in the East were left unsatisfied. This became obvious in June 1953, when East Berliners went on strike, demonstrations spreading to all parts of East Germany. Escalation led to violent revolt against the Communist system. The East German government asked Soviet troops for help. Tanks suppressed the upheaval.
Western powers did little more than look on, giving guarantees for their respective Berlin sectors only. Hopes that the division of Germany would prove temporary crumbled. The border between former Soviet and Western zones became a dividing line between East and West.
A Wall of “Peace” and of “Shame”
“The king of the south” made West Berlin into an enticing “western shopwindow,” and people from the East, who could easily visit friends and relatives in West Berlin, saw how different life was there. In 1960 about 200,000 Germans fled from East to West, most coming through West Berlin. How would “the king of the north” check the “hemorrhage”? The morning of August 13, 1961, saw East German armed guards and workers erecting “what was quickly designated either the ‘Wall of Shame’ or the ‘Wall of Peace’—depending on where you stood ideologically,” as Norman Gelb puts it. An East German Communist explained: “We had no choice. We were losing so many of our best people.”
The Berlin Wall not only stopped the flow of refugees but also split relatives and friends asunder. Twenty-eight months after its construction, West Berliners were granted admission to see relatives in East Berlin on a single-day basis. Following a four-power agreement, the 1970’s saw further relaxation, allowing telephone calls and visits between East and West. Nevertheless, about 80 people lost their lives attempting to cross the Berlin Wall.
Before the Wall was breached, Chancellor Kohl stated: “General Secretary Gorbachev’s policy of restructuring brings with it, for the first time since the end of World War II, a justifiable hope of overcoming the East-West conflict.” How has this manifested itself in Berlin?
Reforms within the realm of “the king of the north” allowed thousands of East Germans to flee to West German embassies in several Eastern European countries in mid-1989. Embassies became overcrowded, the situation unbearable. September 1989 presented the spectacle of a stream of exhausted refugees being released from the East and garlanded upon arrival in the West. Enthusiasm knew no bounds, emotion no limits.
This exodus fueled debates in East Germany. What was the cause of the outflow? Radical reforms were refused, and in October and November 1989, over a million East Germans peacefully demonstrated in Leipzig, East Berlin, and other cities, shouting: “We are the people.” The East German government gave in and, after 28 years, opened the Berlin Wall and the doors to political and economic change. As the German newspaper Die Zeit commented: “In 1989 world history was shaken to its very foundations, moved more by people than by powers.”
Since the borders were opened, Berliners “no longer live on an island,” says the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The demolition of the Wall started in 1990.
True Peace and Security Near
For a long time, West and East Berlin seemed to mirror not only our divided world but also its problems. For example, though many East Germans enjoyed certain social advantages, the East suffered economic shortages and widespread pollution. West Berlin faced problems of its own, such as student revolt, terrorism, and political scandal. Thus, neither West nor East has an ideology that can solve mankind’s global problems.—Proverbs 14:12.
Whatever the nations may be able to accomplish, human efforts to unite our divided world cannot remove selfishness or make the earth a paradise. Only a superhuman force can bring true unity and remove even sickness and death. God’s Kingdom will accomplish this huge task.—Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:1-5.