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Rough Cut: Germany: Heart of Berlin
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Germany's political history since World War II, and link to German sites about Berlin, including a virtual scrapbook of stories about the city.

Country Background

The German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly called East Germany, came into existence in 1949. It was the Communist response to the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) sponsored by the Allied Forces after World War II. East Germany became aligned with the Soviet bloc.

The new nation struggled to build its economy under strained conditions -- the territory was lacking natural resources, had a much smaller population than its Western counterpart and was forced to pay war reparations to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Times were hard for those living in East Germany, and thousands fled to the West each year. In addition to economic hardship, art and music were strictly controlled -- any anti-Socialist messages were censored.

In 1952, the GDR sealed its borders with West Germany. Still, many managed to leave through Berlin, which was entirely enclosed in the Soviet part of Germany, but was split into a democratic West and a communist East.

In 1954, the USSR ended its demands on the GDR. The nation was declared fully sovereign and soon became a charter member of the Warsaw Pact. Repressive measures were loosened, and by 1958, food rationing had ended. But within a few years, conditions began to decline. The number of refugees who had fled since the war reached 3 million. In the middle of one August night in 1961, the GDR cut off access to the Western world, first with barbed wire, then with construction of the Berlin wall.

In the early 1970s, the West German government opened direct negotiations with East Germany; previously, the West did not recognize the existence of the GDR government. The result was a 1972 treaty by which both sides recognized each other's authority and independence.

In the ensuing years, East German infrastructure fell behind, with visible deterioration marking the cities.

In 1989, Hungary opened its borders, allowing East Germans to escape to the West through Hungary and Austria. With thousands fleeing East Germany through Hungary resulting in extended protests, the East German government decided to open the Wall on November 9, 1989, allowing Berliners to cross freely between the two sides of the city. In 1990 they began to officially demolish the wall, and most of it was torn down by the end of that year. In 1990, the two parts of Germany were reunited, and in 1999, the German parliament and government relocated from Bonn to Berlin.

Sources: Encarta, Encyclopedia Britannica, CIA Factbook.

Related Links

Demolition of the Palace of the Republic
The Web site of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum), hosts a webcam that shows the demolition of the Palace of the Republic in progress. The site is in German and English.

Berliner Schloss Association, Stadtschloss Berlin Initiative
The Berliner Schloss Association and the Stadtschloss Berlin Initiative are two of the groups presenting arguments for the reconstruction of a historic Prussian castle on the site of the Palace of the Republic. The sites are in German and English.

Bundnis fuer den Palast (Alliance for the Palace)
This Web site, organized by the group campaigning to save the Palace of the Republic, offers photos and links to architectural proposals for the building, and provides the latest information about the development. The Web site is in German.

An English-language magazine published monthly in Berlin, Exberliner offers cultural listings, reviews, journalistic articles, opinion columns and a large classified section.

The official guide to the city of Berlin includes travel information, a visitors' guide, information on government and business in Berlin, and more.

Berlin Wall Online
This is a chronicle of the Berlin Wall's history through a collection of archival photographs and texts. The site also hosts a timeline, a virtual scrapbook of personal stories about Berlin, and features on Berlin Wall art and Checkpoint Charlie.