The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), was a physical and symbolic division between East and West Berlin. As an absolute beginner on this topic, you might be wondering how the West responded to this infamous barrier. In this blog post, we will explore the various ways in which the West reacted to the Berlin Wall.
1. Political Response
Following the erection of the Berlin Wall, Western governments responded with condemnation and strong opposition. The United States, in particular, saw the Wall as a clear violation of human rights and freedom. President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in 1963 in which he expressed solidarity with the people of Berlin and proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) to show support for their struggle against the divide. This political response displayed unity and determination to challenge the existence of the Wall.
2. Economic Response
The Berlin Wall not only physically separated East and West Berlin but also had significant economic implications. The West responded by initiating economic measures to support West Berlin and its inhabitants. The West German government implemented policies to stimulate economic growth in order to reinforce the viability of West Berlin as a showcase of democracy and prosperity. Additionally, high-profile projects were undertaken to demonstrate the West’s commitment to the city. One such project was the construction of the iconic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which stands as a memorial to the destruction caused by World War II and a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity.
2.1. Currency Exchange
Another key economic response was the introduction of a special currency exchange program. West German Mark (Deutsche Mark) became the official currency in West Berlin, providing economic stability and easing everyday transactions for the residents. This not only helped to enhance the economic resilience of West Berlin but also particularly contrasted the difficult economic conditions in East Berlin.
3. Cultural Response
The West responded to the Berlin Wall with a range of cultural initiatives aimed at expressing solidarity with the people of East Berlin and maintaining a sense of connectedness despite the physical barrier.
3.1. Radio and Television
Radio and television played a crucial role in providing access to information and entertainment. Stations such as RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) and RBB (Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting) became vital sources of uncensored news, music, and cultural content. These broadcasts helped to bridge the gap between East and West Berlin, keeping the spirit of unity alive and ensuring that the people of East Berlin did not feel completely isolated.
3.2. Art and Music
Artists and musicians played their part in responding to the Berlin Wall. Iconic songs, like David Bowie’s “Heroes,” directly referenced the city and its division. Artists also created thought-provoking pieces inspired by the wall and its social and political consequences. The East Side Gallery, a famous stretch of the Berlin Wall covered in murals, reflects the cultural response to the division and represents an enduring symbol of artistic expression and protest.
4. Political Actions
The response to the Berlin Wall also involved political actions taken by Western countries, particularly the United States. For example, President Ronald Reagan delivered his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, calling on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” This speech became an iconic moment in history, symbolizing the West’s determination to see the wall demolished and reuniting Berlin.
4.1. Political Pressure
Internationally, Western governments consistently exerted political pressure on East Germany and the Soviet Union to dismantle the Berlin Wall. Diplomatic efforts were made to draw attention to the human rights violations and restrictions faced by East Germans due to the wall’s existence. This pressure not only highlighted the moral and ethical issues surrounding the division but also contributed to the eventual dismantling of the wall in 1989.
5. The Role of Diplomacy
Throughout the existence of the Berlin Wall, diplomacy played a vital role in discussing the future of Berlin and promoting unity. Diplomatic negotiations and agreements between East and West Germany, such as the Four Power Agreement on Berlin in 1971, aimed to regulate transit and communication between the two sides. These diplomatic efforts, though challenging and often tense, were essential in managing the situation and maintaining lines of dialogue.
The reaction of the West to the Berlin Wall can be summarized as a multidimensional response that included political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic actions. The West not only condemned the Wall but also employed various strategies to support West Berlin and show solidarity with the people of East Berlin. Through political pressure, economic measures, cultural expressions, and diplomatic negotiations, the West contributed to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany.
Remember, this blog post only scratches the surface of the West’s response to the Berlin Wall. Further exploration and research into this topic will provide even more comprehensive insights into the significant role played by the West in challenging the division and working towards reunification.