The Berlin Wall at Fifty: Crossing Borders at the Wall since 1989

By Jeffrey Gaab.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Fifty years after the construction of the Berlin Wall (13 August 1961), and twenty-one years after its removal in 1989, historians are still examining the Wall’s deadly history and its complicated legacy. The Berlin Wall stopped time: it put off a reexamination of Berlin’s Nazi and post-war history for decades. This essay examines some of the challenges Berliners have faced while overcoming the division of Berlin since the fall of the Wall in November 1989. Berlin’s reunification could not be properly accomplished until the sites and structures associated with the Nazi and Communist regimes that had been headquartered at Berlin had been properly exorcised. Even if the eventual reunification of the two Germanys had not occurred, and the German government not voted to move the new government to Berlin in 2000, Berlin’s World War Two legacy would have been reawakened anyway by the simple removal of the barrier: by crossing the border. Therefore, this essay explores another chapter in Berlin’s “vergangenheitsbewältigung”, its “mastery of its past”.
This essay argues that, rather than waking up from history, Berliners woke up to history in 1989. Once the Wall disappeared and attempts began to physically reunite the city, Berlin’s past immediately sprang up in the sites being renovated. They had to be addressed to properly reunite the two halves of Berlin since most of these sites occupied the very center of the city. This reckoning with the past would have had to occur whether or not the government moved back to Berlin. The Berlin Wall simply put off the day of reckoning experienced by most other German cities since 1945.

Keywords: Berlin Wall, Postwar Germany, Cold War

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.297-306. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 920.214KB).

Dr. Jeffrey Gaab

Professor, History, Economics, and Politics Department, Farmingdale State College-SUNY, Farmingdale, New York, USA

Jeffrey Gaab is a professor of history at the State University of New York College at Farmingdale. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Hofstra University, and the MA and Ph.D. degrees in European history from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Dr. Gaab teaches and publishes on a wide variety of topics on modern European and German history. Dr. Gaab has held appointment to the Farmingdale State College faculty since 1991.

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