Tensions with the Soviet Union

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How did the fall of the Berlin Wall impact the world?

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The Berlin wall was both a fact of and a symbol of the Cold War. It was created as a result of the way in which Germany was divided up following World War II (the Potsdam agreement). Berlin was a divided city in a country that had been divided into spheres of influence by four different allies: the United Kingdom (Britain), France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. 

The part of Germany under Soviet influence, which was called the "German Democratic Republic," had a very different political system from that of the other allies and in the late 1950s decided to prevent defection from east to west through building the wall. The western part of Berlin was actually deep within the German Democratic Republic territory, so the east Germans built the wall all the way around West Berlin. 

The attached picture shows the wall. On the western side was all kinds of graffiti because western Berliners could approach the wall with impunity. The eastern side had no graffiti because as east Germans increased the guarding of the wall and added more barriers to the approach to the wall, people could not get anywhere near the it. Those who tried to defect by climbing over the wall were shot. 

There were places in the wall, called checkpoints, where people with the proper identification papers could get through, but these were heavily guarded. Despite the wall, defectors still managed to get into West Berlin by tunneling under the wall and even floating in balloons over the wall. Still, that was risky business. 

The Cold War was a terrifying time for people around the world, as the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States escalated. One never knew when a leader might decide to use nuclear weapons against the other side and there were some really close calls, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union began to fall apart and the fall of the Berlin wall marked this event with great clarity. With the fall of the wall, families who had been divided by the two Germanys could reunite, people finally had freedom, and the whole world breathed a sigh of relief that the Cold War had finally ended. 

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