From the Berlin Airlift to the fall of the Berlin Wall

The aftermath of the Second World War

When the Second World War ended, Germany was divided into four zones. The United Kingdom, France, the United States and the Soviet Union each controlled a zone. Germany's capital city, Berlin, was in the Soviet zone. Since it was the capital, the city itself was divided into four zones. The British, French and Americans were allowed to use roads, canals, railways and air space through the Russian zone to get to Berlin.

Tension among the wartime allies

Despite accords at the end of the war, relations between the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Stalin, and her wartime allies - the United Kingdom, the United States and France - quickly deteriorated. The three western countries wanted to help Germany recover from the war, so that it would not want to seek revenge against them in the future (as had happened after the First World War). The Soviet Union, by contrast, wanted to treat its part of Germany as conquered land under Soviet control.

The Berlin blockade and airlift

Air lift during the Berlin blockadeIn 1948, the Soviet Union closed the road, rail and canal links between the western zones of Germany and Berlin. It was trying to drive the western countries out of Berlin. They, in turn, organised an airlift of supplies to the western-controlled parts of Berlin. Over a period of ten months, hundreds of air flights kept the western zones of Berlin supplied with their basic needs. Eventually, in 1949, the Soviet Union called off the blockade.

Germany divided

From 1949 onwards, Germany became two separate countries:
  • The British, French and American zones became the German Federal Republic, more commonly known as West Germany. West Berlin was part of the Federal Republic, although it was separate from it.
  • The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic, often referred to as East Germany.
The two countries reflected the differences between the nations which had controlled them when the Second World War ended:
  • The Federal Republic was a democracy with a free market economy. With the help of foreign loans, it developed a strong economy and became prosperous.
  • The Democratic Republic was a one-party Communist state, where standards of living were much lower than in the Federal Republic. It had its own government but was very much under the control of the Soviet Union.

The Berlin wall

The late 1940s and the 1950s were the early years of the Cold War. Germany was a particular focus of tension, as it was one of the places where the two sides shared a border.
Because life in West Germany was more prosperous than in East Germany, many East Germans crossed from East to West Berlin. From there, they could travel to live in West Germany and other Western European countries. In 1961, the East German government tried to stop this by building a wall around West Berlin. It completely cut all land links between West Berlin and the rest of the city and the Democratic Republic. Between 1961 and 1989, the wall prevented almost all attempts by East Germans to escape to the West. An unknown number (possibly around 200) were killed in trying to do so.

The fall of the Berlin wall

The fall of the Berlin WallIn 1989, throughout the Eastern European countries controlled by the Soviet Union since the Second World War, there was growing unrest. People wanted greater political and economic freedom, such as people in Western European countries already enjoyed. The unrest spread to East Germany and the East German government announced that East German citizens were free to visit West Berlin and West Germany. People began to chip away parts of the wall and, in 1990, its formal demolition began.

Germany reunited

In 1990, East and West Germany came together to form the single nation of Germany, which adopted the characteristics of West Germany. Following heavy internal investment the unified country steadily prospered, to become the strongest nation in Europe, both politically and economically.
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