In the wake of World War II, the European continent was devastated, and the conflict left the Soviet Union and the United States as uncontested superpowers. This ushered in over 45 years of the Cold War, and a political alignment of Western democracies against the Communist Soviet bloc that produced conflicts pitting allies on each sides fighting, even as the American and Soviet militaries never engaged each other.
Though it never got “hot”, the Cold War was a tense era until the dissolution of the USSR, and nothing symbolized the split more than the Berlin Wall, which literally divided the city. Berlin had been a flashpoint even before World War II ended, and the city was occupied by the different Allies even as the close of the war turned them into adversaries. After the Soviets’ blockade of West Berlin was prevented by the Berlin Airlift, the Eastern Bloc and the Western powers continued to control different sections of the city, and by the 1960s, East Germany was pushing for a solution to the problem of an enclave of freedom within its borders. West Berlin was a haven for highly-educated East Germans who wanted freedom and a better life in the West, and this “brain drain” was threatening the survival of the East German economy.
In order to stop this, access to the West through West Berlin had to be cut off, so in August 1961, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev authorized East German leader Walter Ulbricht to begin construction of what would become known as the Berlin Wall. The wall, begun on Sunday August 13, would eventually surround the city, in spite of global condemnation, and the Berlin Wall itself would become the symbol for Communist repression in the Eastern Bloc. It also ended Khrushchev’s attempts to conclude a peace treaty among the Four Powers (the Soviets, the Americans, the United Kingdom, and France) and the two German states.
Of course, the Berlin Wall also literally divided West Germany from East Germany, and West Germany became one of the most stable and prosperous states in Europe during the Cold War. It had a remarkable history, albeit one that was interrupted by numerous crises and problems. The West Germans honestly confronted its brutal past and competently absorbed the far poorer Soviet satellite East Germany upon the reunification of Germany in 1990. This, of course, was not at all certain or obvious when the Allies beat back the Nazis at the end of the war in 1945, but far from making the same mistakes the Allied Powers made after World War I, the Allies opted to mold West Germany as a liberal, democratic state that would achieve prosperity and renounce war.
West Germany: The History and Legacy of the Federal Republic of Germany During the Cold War examines the country and its place at the center of geopolitics after World War II. You will learn about West Germany like never before.