Tensions with the Soviet Union

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How did the Berlin wall affect East and West Berlin differently?      

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When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, it effectively created two Berlins. For the residents of West Berlin, the construction of this wall served to make them feel more isolated from the outside world than before. They were unable to freely travel by land to nearby parts of their...

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When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, it effectively created two Berlins. For the residents of West Berlin, the construction of this wall served to make them feel more isolated from the outside world than before. They were unable to freely travel by land to nearby parts of their own city and neighboring parts of their country. They could only travel to West Germany by a limited selection of routes. This reality resulted in imparting on West Berliners a sense of isolation. They also lived with the anxiety that should direct conflict between the Societ Bloc and the West occur, they would be trapped on the front lines. However, as an island of democracy surrounded by a sea of communism, West Berliners saw themselves as a symbol of freedom. Many highly public demonstrations of freedom took place with the wall as a backdrop.

For East Berliners, the Berlin Wall became more than a symbol. Before the wall's construction, people in East Berlin had the possibility of escape across to the west part of their city. This wall eliminated that hope and possibility. About 5,000 East Berliners were still able to defect to the west after the erection of the wall. However, most dared not risk the barbed wire and armed guards along this barrier. As many as 140 were killed in their attempts to cross. To East Berliners, the wall was a poignant symbol and reality of their lack of freedom of movement.

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Berlin was divided into four zones during the Cold War (1949–1990). The Soviets controlled the eastern section, and the Western powers were in the western part of the city. The Berlin Wall (1961–1989) had a profound impact on both sides of the city.

Even before the construction of the Berlin Wall, West Berliners felt extremely isolated. Their sense of isolation stemmed from the fact that West Berlin was located in the heart of East Germany—an island of capitalism surrounded by a sea of communism. Also, the Soviets had attempted to starve West Berlin into submission during the blockade of Berlin (1948–49). The erection of the Berlin Wall heightened West Berliners' sense of isolation.

For East Germans, the Berlin Wall had even more serious repercussions. Some 2.5 million East Germans had fled to West Germany in the decade before 1961. They went to the West through East Berlin because the long frontier with West Germany was heavily fortified. Immigration to West Germany became almost impossible after 1961, and about 200 people died trying to escape into the West through the Berlin Wall. East Germans had far fewer economic opportunities and much less freedom than West Germans.

While it stood, the Berlin Wall was both a tangible and a symbolic reminder of the division of both Berlin and Germany.

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In 1961, the East German government built the Berlin wall, dividing Berlin into two halves. They did this to stop the flow of Germans from East Germany to West Germany, because at this time Germany was divided into two separate countries. Germany had been divided after World War II to keep it weak and prevent another war. East Germans were leaving in great numbers because the west provided more freedom and a better standard of living. (Berlin was surrounded at the time by East Germany, a Soviet-controlled state, with West Berlin being the one small area of the city that was part of West Germany).

The wall was bad publicity for East Germany, as it suggested that the only way to keep people inside its territory was to seal them in with a machine-gun guarded wall. While the wall did help stabilize the East Berlin economy, it also cut some East Germans off from their jobs in West Berlin as well from consumer goods available in the west. It had the effect in East Berlin of pulling those Germans more firmly into the Soviet orbit. East Berlin was a poorer city than West Berlin, and did not, for instance, modernize its infrastructure as West Berlin did. If you go to Berlin today, you can tell where East Berlin once ended: that side of the city still uses old-fashioned tram cars that were long ago replaced in the western side of the city. West Berliners were actually made less nervous that the Soviets would try to take over the entire city after the wall went up. West Berliners, of course, did not suffer from the loss of consumer goods the way East Berliners did, but on both sides, family members were cut off from each other.

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For the East, the Berlin Wall was a barrier to prosperity. It kept in the strong totalitarian ideas and kept out the democratic ones. For the West, the wall was a symbol as well as a physical separation from the totalitarian ideas of the East.
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The Berlin Wall had a much greater impact on the East than it did on the West, but it still affected West Berlin.

The most important impact of the Wall on East Berlin was that it caged the people, curtailing their freedom.  The presence of the Wall made it so that people of the East could not escape from their repressive society and reach freedom in the West.

For West Berlin, the impact of the Wall was more positive.  On the bad side, it did prevent many from seeing relatives in the East.  However, the presence of the Wall made Berlin much more relevant that it otherwise would have been.  It made West Berlin a symbol of freedom for the whole Western world.  That is, for example, why Pres. Kennedy came to Berlin and gave his speech saying that he was a Berliner.

So, the building of the Berlin Wall was much more negative for people in East Berlin than it was for those in West Berlin.

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