Crowd atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, 1989
For 28 years, the Berlin Wall marked the tense epicenter of the Cold War. The only time U.S. and Soviet tanks faced off directly was at Checkpoint Charlie, the famed crossing point for diplomats, Allied military personnel, and tourists, shortly after the Wall went up in 1961. It took a direct appeal from JFK to Nikita Khrushchev to avert the real threat of nuclear war.
Three decades later, the sudden, unexpected opening of the border symbolized the end of the Cold War. East Germans flooded through the divide into the arms of cheering West Berliners. But the scars left by that divide have not fully gone away.
Nor have the questions it raised: Why was Berlin divided and how did it affect life in the city? How many people died trying to escape across the Wall to West Berlin? What or who brought down the Berlin Wall? How have fellow citizens with roots in the East or West grappled with the dark history of Germans killing Germans while trying to escape? How is the legacy of division still visible in attitudes in east and west about Russia’s war on Ukraine?
Hope M. Harrison, a professor of history and international affairs at The George Washington University, examines these issues and others, including how those killed in escape efforts have been commemorated, how the perpetrators of their killings have been dealt with, and what remains of the Wall. She also explores how global memory of the Berlin Wall has influenced German memory and how it has joined the Holocaust as a fundamental part of German identity
Harrison is the author of After the Berlin Wall: Memory and the Making of the New Germany, 1989 to the Present and Driving the Soviets Up the Wall: Soviet–East German Relations, 1953–1961.