GCSE Edexcel History: The Question of Berlin and the Berlin Wall


Steps taken to improve East-West relations in the

·        In the 1950s, there were some steps to improve East-West relations.  President Eisenhower had succeeded President Truman in January 1953, and Khrushchev came to power in September.

Ø  In Geneva in 1955, the USA and the USSR met and agreed to communicate more openly.

Ø  In 1955, the USSR officially recognised the Federal Republic of Germany as a state

Ø  Khrushchev also freed some prisoners and reduced censorship in the USSR

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East and West Berlin

·        Following the Berlin Crisis in 1948, West Berlin was a unified zone and continued to develop economically, benefiting from a new currency and Marshall Plan

·        East Berlin contrasted this: the USSR had drained it of its resources and its economy was slow to develop, so many people wanted to leave and move to West Berlin, as it was more prosperous. 

·        The situation was embarrassing for Khrushchev, because it suggested that people preferred life under capitalism to communism

·        It also threatened East Germany’s economy, as many of those who left were skilled workers in search of a better life

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Berlin Ultimatum and Different Attitudes

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Summit and Optimistic Dialogue

·        Khrushchev and Eisenhower attended a summit in 1959, and Khrushchev became the first communist leader to visit the USA.  This symbolised a new spirit of co-operation and communication between the East and the West

·        They discussed Berlin and agreed to discuss the matter more deeply, although Eisenhower still didn’t agree to withdraw from West Berlin

·        Optimistic dialogue had started, and the leaders decided to meet in Paris the following year

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Paris Summit and Spy Plane

·        Eisenhower and Khrushchev had agreed to discuss Berlin at the Paris Summit in 1960.  Days before the summit, the USSR shot down a U2 American spy plane over Soviet territory

·        Eisenhower denied that it was a spy plane, but the USSR proved that it was, and Khrushchev walked out of the Paris Summit when the USA refused to apologise

·        Further negotiations about Berlin were hindered, and they met again at Vienna in June 1961, when Kennedy had replaced Eisenhower.  Kennedy vowed to take a tougher approach towards communism and refused to compromise over Berlin, meaning no resolution was reached

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Construction of the Berlin Wall

·        In order to stem the flow of refugees crossing from East to West Berlin every day, Khrushchev built a 27-mile barrier on 13th August 1961, across the city of Berlin overnight and this separated the East from West

·        At first it was fortified with barbed wire and machine gun posts, but it was later strengthened and made into a more permanent barrier and military checkpoints policed any movements into or out of East Berlin

·        People had been able to cross freely before, but now they could no longer go to work in West Berlin and were instantly separated from family and friends.  Anyone who tried to escape East Berlin was shot. 

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Consequences of the Berlin Wall

·        Cold War tensions over Berlin stabilised as a consequence. 

·        Whilst the West condemned Khrushchev, they were actually relieved and took no further military action, as Kennedy had been preparing for a confrontation of some sort.  Immediately after the wall appeared, Soviet and Western troops were positioned on either side of the wall, but then both powers agreed to back down. 

·        The Wall succeeded in stopping mass emigration to West Berlin

·        It gave East Germany the opportunity to rebuild its economy and strengthen itself as a communist state

·        The Berlin Wall became a symbol of oppression and communist failure in the West, but it was seen as a sign of strength in the USSR

·        Kennedy visited West Berlin in 1963, and gave his famous speech stating his solidarity with West Berlin and its people.

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