Creation of East Germany
Although East Germany (officially known as the German Democratic Republic) was established in 1949, the split of Germany began in the last days of European Theater of World War II. On May 2, 1945 British, French and American forces waited at the gates of the heart of the Nazi war machine as Soviet forces proceeded onward to sack the capital, Berlin.
At the Yalta Conference held a month before, the four Allied powers had already determined how they were to divide up Germany, once defeated. There were to be four occupation zones, one controlled by each member of the Allied forces. Berlin would also be divided into four pieces. However, Berlin was in the heart of the Soviet controlled zone.
Political power struggles between the capitalists and the communists began to develop. As contempt grew between Stalin and the leaders of the West, so did the divide between the east and west zones of Germany. Soon, Stalin would order the blockade of West Berlin.
It was intended for Germany to be reunified after three years once the Nazi's grip was relinquished and the people could adequately govern themselves. On New Years Day of 1947, the Americans and British took the first step by merging their zones into a state called Bizonia and a week later made plans to merge with the French zone. Stalin saw this as a violation to the Yalta Conference as well as a major threat to his plans to install a communist government in a unified Germany. By June of 1948, in an attempt to force the western nations out of Berlin, the Soviet zone stopped allowing any eastbound traffic via rail or road and they began to amass an army along the border.
West Berlin was cut off from land based supply lines. For nearly a year an air supply line called the Berlin Airlift was needed to keep Berliners from starving. At its height 400 British and American aircraft flew this lifeline of supplies every day and around the clock, averaging a plane every three and a half minutes landing, unloading and taking off from West Berlin.
In 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed and the earlier plans to unite British and American zones with the French zone were implemented forming the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Later that year, as part of the Warsaw Pact, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded as a socialist state, supposedly independent from the Soviet Union. With these establishments Berlin ceased to be the capital of Germany, and became the capital of East Germany. The capital of West Germany was instituted in Bonn. Officially dividing Germany created one of the most prevailing icons of the Cold War.
Life in East Germany
East Germany covered 108,600 square miles (281,200 km2). Its northern border was the Baltic Sea coastline. Its eastern border was shared with Poland. Its southeastern border was shared with Czechoslovakia and southwestern and western border with West Germany. This border between the two Germanys would become one of the most fortified boundaries in the world, as wire fences, mine fields, and sniper towers spanned its length.
Although there was a definite separation of Germany, for the next decade neither the west nor the east gave up on the idea of reunification. However, West Germany was doing remarkably better than its counterpart, partially because of the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild West Germany, and the introduction of a United States backed currency. Also, their economic differences were due to the fact that, instead of rebuilding East Germany with Russian resources, the Soviets were rebuilding Russia with German resources. The conditions were such that millions of people moved from all over East Germany to West Germany. As this exodus continued, conditions only got worse, as skilled workers and intellectuals left for a better life.
In 1952 the border was officially closed and reinforced with troops, as well as the borders inside Berlin. However there we still several ways people were able to slip into West Berlin without anyone noticing. This became the way to escape from the communist state.
In 1955 when West Germany entered into NATO, something the Soviets were adamantly against, any rational hope of reunification seemed to dissolve. In the continuing effort to stop people from migrating a more drastic solution was needed and in 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected. The only legal way in or out of East Berlin was though a crossing on Friedrich Road (Friedrichstraße), which was nicknamed Checkpoint Charlie. Those who tried to climb the wall were shot. In the time the wall stood, 171 people were killed or died attempting to escape. East Germany was metaphorically behind the iron curtain.
Life for those who remained was not easy. People were poor and demoralized. The state owned most of the industry, which took away from the German's pride in accomplishment. The people were constantly inundated with state sponsored propaganda from posters and radio to logos on state produced goods. Laws against political dissidents were strict and enforced by secret police. Civil rights simply did not exist.
The Fall of East Germany
In 1984 Mikhail Gorbachev announced his reform plans for Soviet Union. As a part of this he wanted the Soviet Bloc countries to undergo a reform as well, although retaining their socialistic system. However, the beginning of the fall of international communism is marked in 1989 with the formation of the first free labor union in the communist Poland. In late August of the same year Hungary opened its border with Austria causing a mass exodus out from under the Soviet's control. In fact, in September of 1989, over 13,000 East Germans crossed into Austria in one three day span. Thousands more were to follow. Over the next month mass rioting and protests ensued in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other Soviet Bloc nations. Because of Gorbachev's attitude of non-interference, these demonstrations were not repressed by the military or secret polices as they had been in the past.
In October, the current East German head of state was forced to resign, and feeling the wind of change the new government lifted the travel restrictions of the East Germans. On November 9, 1989 at 10:30 pm the checkpoint at Bornholmer Road (Bornholmerstraße) was open, and for the first time in a generation, Berliners were able to move freely throughout their once segregated city.
After the wall was taken down, there were several factors that lead to the quick reunification. Mostly Germans felt it was well over due. Also, the West German Deutchmark quickly began circulating throughout East Germany. There was much question on how this would affect the two legally separate nations, as West Germany's economy was much stronger than its counter part. Some believe East Germany would only pull West Germany into a depression. Most everyone, including Gorbachev and the East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, looked at this debacle and concluded the only solution was the reunification. On October 3, 1990 it was official and there was no East Germany or West Germany, only Germany and its capital again was Berlin.
Thanks to The Content Rescue Team for bringing this to my attention!