How should Germans feel about the Berlin Wall? During the Cold War, East German leaders insisted that it was a defensive and stabilizing barrier, whereas their counterparts in West Germany denounced it as a humanitarian outrage that revealed the bankruptcy of communist ideology. This carefully researched and superbly readable book explores the wall’s place in Germany’s collective memory. After 30 years, the events of 1989, seemingly so clear at the time, have become the subject of heated debate. Who in the East was responsible for the wall’s fall: Protesters on the streets of East Germany? Tens of thousands of their fellow citizens who snuck through the Hungarian border? The guards who opened the gates on their own? The top Communist politicians who refused to order a violent clampdown? Or the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who declined to back the government in Berlin? Today, the wall has become a contested political symbol. Critics of continuing economic disparities between eastern and western Germany see commemorations of the fall of the wall as opportunities to criticize the current order. Some in the former East Germany view Berlin’s current policy of blocking Mediterranean migrants, instituted after the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, as evidence that stern international barriers are normal and legitimate.
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