H. Jarausch & Volker Gransow,
Book essay by
Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About Kirill Tarasenko (back to top)
Kirill Tarasenko is a third year double major in Global Studies and Russian with a minor in Sports Management here at UCSB. When doing research, I generally try to maintain an open mind and try to see the perspective of both sides. I was once told that there were three sides to the truth: what he said., what she said, and what actually happened, and I have found that what actually happened can usually be found by reading between the lines. A difficulty that I found in writing this essay was the propaganda associated with the Cold War and with divided Berlin. Everyone believed strongly that their side was right, and both sides maintained a facade of strength. I was interested in writing about the Berlin Wall because I was born in Ukraine in the early 1980's and I remember the impact that the fall of the wall had on my parents. I knew it was an important event, but until taking History 133C this winter I never quite realized the historical significance and why the fall of the wall affected my parents so greatly.
Konrad H. Jarausch and Volker Gransow’s book Uniting Germany: Documents and Debates, 1944-1993 is a collection of documents and debates related to the events happening in and around Germany between the years of 1944 and 1993. Documents in the book include arguments by leaders, ministers, intellectuals, and even comedians. The authors pieced together the collection in such a way that differing points of view are often found side by side, thereby allowing the reader to read both sides of the argument and decide if they prefer the GDR or FRG interpretation. In this book, the authors did not have a thesis per say, rather they combined extensive documents and debates related to East and West Germany and allowed the reader to browse through all of the documents without a formal thesis. Although the format of the book was at first difficult to write an essay on, ultimately I found that the best way to utilize the book was to compare and contrast one article with another, and I came up with the thesis that: it is the opinion of this writer that the Berlin Wall was originally built by Ulbricht with the backing of the Soviets for a political purpose that the West misunderstood. Both sides were wrong in their analysis and actions following the building of the Wall, and the entire world is fortunate today that World War III did not break out during that trying time.
Book Essay (back to top)
As the title of the book suggests, Uniting Germany: Documents and Debates, 1944-1993, this book is a collection of documents and debates between the important formative years of post WWII German history, namely the years between 1944 and 1993, written by acknowledged scholars and historians of German history, Konrad H. Jarausch and Volker Gransow. Keeping in mind that this book is flush with documents from a nearly 50-year time period, I knew that it would be impossible to include all of the important documents and their analyses into the body of this relatively modest nine page thesis paper. However, through intensive study and research of the documents and materials in the body of this unique collection of documents and debates, I was able to piece together the most vital documents in the book, including an analysis of the correlation between conflicting documents by writers on either side of the divided city of greater Berlin.
It is the opinion of this writer that when examining a subject of the historical importance and magnitude of the consequences of the Berlin Wall on Germany itself, as well as the rest of the world, it is crucial to find a starting point from which an explanatory web of documents may flow to explain the main points of the book, as well as the thesis of this argument which you, the reader, are currently sitting down to read. This writer could find no better starting point than just before the collapse of the Wall; that is just before the fateful day in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was finally opened, over twenty-eight years after its construction. The undertaking of the building of the Berlin Wall was practically without any sort of historical precedent, considering that the purpose of the wall was in fact a social experiment, one designed by two competing "labs of scientists" (so to speak), both motivated by the desire to prove that their social system of organizing a country was better than the other. Never before had a single city composed of one homogenous population of one race of people, been divided down the city center into two opposing blocs, one living under the capitalist economic system of the West, and the other living under the socialist economic system of the East.
No one knew for a fact which system was better, socialism or capitalism, but once Germany was defeated in WWII by the Allied Powers, the conditions were ripe for this social experiment to occur. The USSR, still feeling the incredible destruction and death tolls from its Eastern Front battle against the Nazis of Germany, simply wanted a "buffer zone" which would allow it to peacefully repair and industrialize itself, without the fear of further major wars. The West, namely the United States, considered the USSR to be an ally, but feared the Soviet Socialist system and wanted capitalism to control the newly divided country which was formerly known as the Third Reich of Germany. Ultimately, Germany was divided into spheres of influence, the Eastern sphere adopting the title "GDR," was under the tutelage of the USSR and its socialist system, while the Western sphere calling itself the "FRG," was under the capitalist system of the United States. The capital city of Berlin was also divided, much in the same way as the rest of the country, with East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under the control of the United States. Thus the "Cold War" began, a war that never happened in terms of Russians and Americans killing one another, but a war nonetheless in the sense that it led to wars in countries in South America, Afghanistan, and most notably, Vietnam. Neither bloc wanted the other to influence countries around the world in its political system, both fearing the "Domino Theory" and potential nuclear war consequences.
The beginning chapters of the book discuss all of the material mentioned above, with the inclusion of additional documents which are truly the meat of the book. Each document has a short explanatory introduction by Jarausch and Gransow, followed by the document itself written by a wide range of political thinkers and actors, some famous and some relatively obscure. It is the speech by Mikhail Gorbachev on the 40th Anniversary of the GDR, on October 6, 1989 that I choose as the starting point of my thesis, as mentioned above. In his statement, supposedly celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the formation of the GDR, Soviet President Gorbachev makes the usual pronouncements expected from a leader of a socialist country during the Cold War period, as well as some statements that were completely unexpected. Using the contrasting method between documents that made this book so special, the authors put Honecker’s speech celebrating the GDR’s 40th Anniversary directly adjacent to Gorbachev’s speech on the same topic, allowing readers the realize the difference between two speeches that one would usually expect to be very similar. To paraphrase an excerpt of Gorbachev’s speech found on p. 54 of Uniting Germany:
We all know how tedious and complex the struggle was for the international recognition of the GDR. We all remember the dramatic events aimed at destabilizing the republic, which resulted in crisis situations, not only in Europe but internationally.. . I mean the attempts to blame the Soviet Union and its allies for the division of Europe into two opposing military blocs. We are constantly being called upon to take measures to eliminate this division. We have indeed heard such demands as the following: The USSR should take down the Berlin Wall, for only then will their peaceful intentions be taken seriously. And in the FRG, voices have recently been heard demanding the reestablishment of Germany within the boundaries of (Third Reich) 1937... In a word, the realities that exist on the continent, including the key elements of the borders of the sovereign states, do not block the way for progress in international relations...
Although it was not quite clear at the time, Gorbachev was in fact taking a softer stance towards the German Question, along with the idea of Perestroika within the Soviet Union itself, because it was becoming clearer that the socialist system in its present state was not working well. In the two Germanies, citizens were "voting by their feet," by attempting to legally and illegally emigrate from the East to the West, and almost never in the opposite direction. In contrast to Gorbachev’s speech, which called for progress in international relations, SED leader Honecker dismissed the mass exodus from East to West and the growing opposition as ‘capitalist slander,’ and announced his resolve to hold to his hard-line course:
Clearly, "hard-line Honecker" was more than just a fancy alliteration; he was a believer in promoting socialism and claimed that any negative opinions on his faction of Eastern Germany were simply products of propaganda designed by the conniving West. Not too long after Honecker and Gorbachev’s speeches of 1989 came Gorbachev’s startling broadcast on January 30, 1990 in which the Soviet leader hinted he had changed his mind on German unity. In the interview, Gorbachev explained that
Germans in the East and West agree to a certain extent with the representatives of the Four Powers that German unification should never be fundamentally called into question by anyone...Under no circumstances can we belittle the interests of the Germans, for I advocate a realistic process. If we say that history determines the course of events, and I have often said so, then it will do so, and I believe history has already begun to make changes.
Less than nine months after this surprising interview, in connection with the perestroika occurring in the USSR itself, the Berlin Wall officially fell, and East and West Germany were officially re-united.
Differing points of view on the value of socialism and capitalism and arguments concerning which side was more correct in its views of the Berlin Wall are the main questions that interest me regarding Uniting Germany, as well as the Cold War in general. I chose this book because it was cited in Christopher Hilton’s excellent book The Wall: The People’s Story, and because I thought that the way the documents are posed against each other without excessive commentary by the authors was an excellent way to examine both sides with as little bias as possible. I wanted to know, firstly, why the Berlin Wall was originally built, secondly what were the experiences of the citizens living on either side, and lastly, why was the Berlin Wall eventually taken down in 1989? Each question no doubt poses its own problems and dilemmas, but in studying these questions, it was my belief that in answering these three main questions, the rest would fall into place. Through the study of this book, and through everything else that I have learned from History 133C, and through the use of other books and films, it is my belief that the Berlin Wall was originally built by Ulbricht with backing by the Soviets, a move that was politically motivated and ultimately mistaken as eastern aggression by the West. Both sides were wrong in their analysis and actions following the building of the Wall, and the entire world is fortunate today that World War III did not break out during that trying time.
To justify my argument of the Wall as a case of mistaken aggression between the West and the East, Uniting Germany explains the philosophy of both sides and why the Wall was a crucial issue for the governing bodies and citizens both countries. The book explains that the Berlin Wall was actually the "central symbol of the Cold War," and for this reason its importance is undeniable, considering the magnitude of the Cold War on world history. The Soviet GDR decided to close off its frontiers in August of 1961 to put a stop to the rapid westward emigration of over 3 million of its citizens.
According to Uniting Germany, the East German Communist Party (SED) lamely justified the barrier as an "‘anti-fascist protection’ against West German revanchism." In this regard, the East clearly built the Wall for the purpose of sealing in its own citizens, not from fear of neo-Nazism. The reason for the Wall and the explanation behind its building were completely different because the East was afraid to admit that perhaps the capitalist system was in fact better, evidenced by the ‘voting by their feet’ technique employed by the East Germans who managed to escape to the West. For this reason, the East had to maintain a facade of strength and power, despite all of the difficulties inherent in running a police state, while their Western neighbors enjoyed relative prosperity. On the Western side, the Wall became a symbol of oppression, particularly because it held in an unwilling population and because unsuccessful illegal attempts to cross the wall led to almost 500 lost lives. For those of the Western opinion on the Wall, the Berlin Wall was not a device used to "protect from anti-fascist aggression," rather it was a "concrete and barbed wire visual proof of the inferiority of the barrier’s communist regime." (xix)
One of the major inconsistencies between the two regimes which caused substantial strain on their relationship was the insistence of the West German government in the 1950s to pursue the so-called "Hallstein Doctrine," which the FRG used to claim sole representation of both German states. Not only did the FRG attempt to claim full representation for both Germanies, it also attempted to persuade third nations all over the world to not recognize the GDR as an official state. In September of 1955 Konrad Adenauer explained that "All states having diplomatic relations with us (the FRG) can clearly see that the standpoint of the FRG toward the so-called ‘GDR’ and to boundary issues has not changed in the least..."(13) Adenauer’s reasoning behind his scathing words concerning the GDR were based on his perspective that the government of the GDR was not formed by free elections, and therefore the people of East Germany did not really back the government in the sense of democratic elections in which a popular leadership is elected by the majority. Based on this hard-line stance against socialism, Adenauer concluded that only the FRG had the right to speak for both German states, because its government was ‘free and legal’ and had an actual constitution that was followed. Perhaps most importantly, Adenauer made a considerable swipe in the icy cold war by declaring that the FRG would continue to interpret the acknowledgment of the GDR by third-party nations as unfriendly acts towards the FRG. This announcement had a severe negative impact for the GDR because other countries knew that Western currency was worth more than Eastern, therefore when given the ultimatum that trading with one meant they could not trade with the other, most chose to side with the West for trading and economic purposes. Building the Berlin Wall was partially a response to Adenauer, and additionally an attempt to wall in all of the intellectuals who were emigrating to the West, putting a stop to the so-called "brain drain."
At the Resolution of the GDR Council of Ministers, the GDR ministers resolved that because of intensified revanchism in Western Germany, and because of "accelerated rearmament and the acquisition of nuclear weaponry" by the West German Army, the Adenauer administration must be preparing for a civil war against the GDR. The ministers decided that Western maneuvers like "free elections" were actually a sort of propaganda used in order to expand military personnel to the banks of the Oder River with the intent of starting the "Great War." Portraying their efforts as peaceful and the acts of the West as criminal, the GDR pieced together a trail of Western aggression including accusing the FRG of holding ‘weapons of mass destruction," (some things never change) and decided that because the West broke treaty rules, they would set up a border guard between East and West Berlin similar to the border regulations between separate countries, and would enforce East to West traffic with a big wall. Spinning real and imagined events to their own advantage, the ministers of the GDR were able to denounce Western aggression, while simultaneously justifying the building of the wall as a barrier to "increased neo-fascism in the West", which is what they really wanted to do in the first place, in order to stop the hemorrhaging brain drain from continuing unabated. Ultimately, the GDR’s plan worked to their benefit, as they were able to establish the Berlin Wall without repercussions from the West. The FRG knew that they could not risk the outbreak of WWIII by retaliating militarily, so instead they showcased the wall as physical proof that capitalism was better than socialism, because if the wall had not been there to stop emigration, most citizens would have chosen to migrate west.
Between the time period of 1944-1993 that Uniting Germany covers, tensions between the FRG and the GDR intensified and waned periodically. Clearly, the building of the Wall in 1961 was a very tense moment for both, because suddenly the two strongest powers in the world were literally a few feet apart, with a fence separating them from potential WWIII. The early 1960's were an intense period for both powers because neither wanted to go to war so soon after the great war to ‘permanently’ put a stop to chauvinism and Nazi aggression, but with soldiers patrolling either side and with all of the ideological differences, it was clear that the dividing Berlin Wall was the potential epicenter for ground zero of World War III.
Eleven years later, in December of 1972, a Basic Treaty was signed between the FRG and the GDR, the work of Willy Brandt. Brandt managed to lower the tension by forcing both sides to become conscious of their respective responsibilities for the preservation of peace, and continued detente and security throughout Europe. The Basic Treaty documents contained a total of nine separate articles, but the most crucial was Article 3, in which the FRG and GDR agreed to "(in conformity with the United Nations Charter) settle any disputes between them exclusively by peaceful means and refrain from [the] threat or use of force." (22) Such an article may seem easy and clean cut to outside observers, particularly with the passage of time, but during the late 1960's and early 1970's the Cold War was at its height and neither side wanted to back down or show weakness. It took Brandt, a visionary for peace and a powerful government figure in Germany, to finally convince both sides of their unreasonableness and to talk them into a peace treaty.
Interestingly, the majority of citizens in both East and West Germany did not see each other as enemies. After all, just one generation prior they had been one people; it just so happened that after losing WWII they had been divided and told to hate one another because of the USA’s and USSR’s policies, respectively. Hardliners such as Honecker and the East German "stasi" police believed that "socialism and capitalism can combine as little as fire and water," (25) and continued to pursue hard line stances against the West. Despite their stance on the FRG, bilateral relations between East and West Germany continued to improve in the 1980's, partially because the East German economy was getting stronger and consumer goods were made more available than ever, the effect of a conscious choice by GDR leadership. In fact, in November of 1988 the GDR created what they called a "Travel Ordinance," which realized that East German citizens had the desire to travel and allowed citizens more opportunities for leaving East Germany. Of course, the government also made numerous provisions to deny traveling permission, and often did so if they suspected the traveler may try to flee while abroad. Naturally, a generation of lockdown behind the Berlin Wall made travel an obsession for East German citizens, as it is human nature to desire what one cannot have. Despite the Berlin Wall, in the first half of 1989 alone 36,484 East Germans emigrated legally and 4,849 illegally, while 2,070 were caught attempting to escape. (Statistics found on p.31) In 1989 communism was beginning to erode in nearby Europe states, and citizens wanted to get out as fast as they could before the mechanism behind the system broke down, making their lives harder than they already were.
The end may have been near towards the end of 1989, but GDR hardliners still maintained their position and refused to back down. Member of the SED party and secretary of state of German affairs Joachim Herrmann’s statements in the summer of 1989 were typically rigid, when he announced that capitalist countries were currently applying political, economic, and ideological pressure on socialist countries, and that if the people of the East do not stand firm, it will lead to "economic plundering," dog-eat-dog capitalism, and even drug trafficking. In October of 1989 Herrmann was relieved of party functions and was forced into retirement. One element of the socialist point of view that I found to be particularly interesting was the opinion of many intellectuals in Eastern countries. The Eastern intellectuals who appealed for an "Awakening of 1989," wrote about the disillusionment within their country, to the point of mass emigration. They explained in their open letter that historically refugee movements are the result of "poverty, hunger, and violence." They saw none of those things as taking importance in the GDR, meaning that the mass emigration must be attributed to other factors.
These intellectuals could see through all of the transparent difficulties and lies of their socialist state, yet they feared capitalism as an inherently evil system in its own right. In the "People’s Reform Effort of the Current State of the GDR," the theorists in the document called for "leeway for economic initiative but not degeneration into a dog-eat-dog society (of unbridled capitalism)." They called for "protection from violence without having to put up with a state full of henchmen and spies." Lastly, they wanted to participate in export and world trade without becoming either debtors and servants to the leading industrial states, or exploiters and creditors of economically weaker nations." Sentiments like these were common in socialist countries because despite their hatred for their own police states, many viewed capitalism as problematic itself. They viewed capitalism as exploitive, although everyone wanted freedom to travel and purchase consumer goods, they wanted a capitalism that was not exploitive of poor countries and a system that continued to provide for the social security of the people, just like the positives of socialism.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall was finally opened and the GDR and FRG were unified into a single German state. The official optimism about an economic "upswing of the East" turned into skepticism about unification as a social experiment because life did not suddenly improve in the East. The Western currency was worth more and their economy was better, therefore the unification was very touch economically for the disadvantaged GDR. IN contrast to the speedy integration of the political merger, the economic and social merger became more of a long term project than most planners expected. Additional assimilation problems included widespread pollution in the GDR that destroyed the environment and allowed factories to spew waste in to the atmosphere. Stasi infiltration became open to the public after Stasi files were opened, showing widespread collaboration of prominent GDR writers and intellectuals. Additionally, Erich Honecker was accused of authorizing killings at the wall, but was not prosecuted because of his on-going health issues. In conclusion, the Germanies were re-united as the vast majority of the population wanted them to be, but things were not immediately better. The economy took time to develop, and in the present day, seventeen years after unification, Germany and its economy are clearly on the upswing. It is my opinion that despite the Cold War and all of the other ideological differences that occurred during the German occupation, the entire world is fortunate that WWIII never broke out, and that somehow Soviet and American forces were able to keep the peace at the ground zero that was the Berlin Wall, and managed to survive through the tense occupation period.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: