What was the importance of the status of Berlin during the Cold War?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Berlin was a focal point of the Cold War, and one could even argue that the Cold War started and ended in Berlin. Berlin had been the capital of Nazi Germany before it was captured by the Soviets in 1945. Because the four occupying powers could not agree on a...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Berlin was a focal point of the Cold War, and one could even argue that the Cold War started and ended in Berlin. Berlin had been the capital of Nazi Germany before it was captured by the Soviets in 1945. Because the four occupying powers could not agree on a government for defeated Germany, that country—and Berlin itself—was divided. East Berlin was the capital of East Germany, and West Berlin was under the control of West Germany. Berlin, like Germany, remained divided until 1989.

As cooperation between the the East and the West broke down, the Soviet Union attempted to take over West Berlin. Because the city was isolated, the Communists hoped to cut it off from the West and incorporate it into East Germany. The Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 was the West's effective response, and goods were shipped to the beleaguered city by plane.

Although West Berlin remained democratic, the city was still a center of Cold War tensions. Thousands of East Germans escaped to West Berlin, so the Communist built a barrier—the Berlin Wall, which stood from 1961 to 1989. President John F. Kennedy gave his "I am a Berliner" speech in West Berlin in 1963. Sadly, almost two hundred people died trying to get over the Berlin Wall during its existence.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall ceased to exist. Joyous Germans from both sides of the formerly divided city celebrated at, and on, the infamous wall. Berlin and Germany were reunited in 1990, and the Cold War was effectively over. Today, the city is the capital of a united, prosperous, and peaceful Germany.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

During the Cold War, on numerous occasions, the divided city of Berlin became symbolic of the larger diplomatic and cultural struggle of the United States and Western Europe versus the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. When the Berlin Wall was constructed, it also stood as a symbol of the Iron Curtain that separated the free people of the West and the Soviet-dominated people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

At the close of World War II at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the opponents of Germany worked out that the city of Berlin would be divided into four occupied zones administered by Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. However, the situation between the Soviet Union and the other occupying powers quickly deteriorated. The Allied governments sought to help Germany rebuild, but the Soviets were intent on inflicting punishment in the form of heavy reparation payments as well as the acquisition of German industrial technology.

When the Soviets learned of Allied plans to create a single unified West German state and a unified West Berlin, they created a blockade of all land routes to Berlin, including railways, canals, and roads. This unified the western powers in resolve and brought about the Berlin Airlift, a massive effort to supply the 2.5 million people living in West Berlin with essentials such as coal, food, and other supplies. In history's greatest air relief operation, British and American pilots flew 277,500 missions and delivered 2.3 tons of supplies to the besieged city. The Soviet leader, Stalin, was finally forced to stop the blockage of West Berlin, and land convoys resumed. Shortly after, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Western military alliance, was created.

Over time, living standards in West Berlin and the rest of West Germany improved, while East Berlin and East Germany remained in poverty. As a result, many East Germans defected to the west. To counter this mass emigration, in August 1961, the Berlin Wall was abruptly erected. It was a stark reminder of the Cold War that completely circled West Berlin. Only those with permission were allowed to cross through checkpoints. Many who attempted unauthorized crossings were shot and killed.

Ultimately, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall became symbolic of the end of the Cold War. On the evening of November 9, 1989, an announcement was made that people could cross freely between east and west. Some brought hammers and chisels and began chipping away at the wall. Many celebrated by posing on top of the wall for photos. It was an effective reminder that the Cold War was over.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Belin was important during the Cold War because it was used to show Western powers' commitment of money, time, and resources to rebuilding Europe and stopping the spread of Soviet communism. This was evidenced by the creation of the Marshall Plan.

Later, American leaders began to fear that if Berlin fell, the cities and countries around it might fall. This fear is known as the dominoe effect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are at least two ways to look at the importance of Berlin.

First, Berlin was important because it was a constant point of contention between the communists and the West in the first two decades or so of the Cold War.  This was true because of the fact that Berlin held an anomalous position.  Berlin was deep within the Soviet sector of Occupied Germany and, later, of communist East Germany.  At the same time, half of the city was the territory of the Western allies and, later, of democratic West Germany.  Thus, West Berlin was a Western enclave within the communist bloc.  This made it a source of constant tension, leading to such things as the Berlin Airlift and the Berlin crisis of 1961.

Second, Berlin was important because it was a symbol of the commitment of the West.  This is seen most clearly in President Kennedy’s “ich bin ein Berliner” speech.  To the West, Berlin was a symbol of how the forces of freedom and democracy were committed to standing up against the forces of communism.  This is why Kennedy argued that all Westerners identified themselves with the people of West Berlin.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team