One of my favourite memories of College – and to be fair, there arent many of them – has to be travelling round Central and Eastern Europe in 10 days. Out of all the places in Europe, I think perhaps the most fascinating city for me has to be Berlin. History wise, its got something of everything – some classic ancient history museums, the legacy of Frederick the Great, the stunning Bismarck era buildings, the sights of two world wars, and of course no other city captures the absurd conflict that was the cold war better than Berlin. Berlin really was the 20th Century under a microscope.
Frederick Taylor’s masterful book serves as an ideal chronological history on the Berlin Wall, but also covers such a complex subject by delving into broader themes along the way – the end of the war, soviet control, the lifestyles of the East German leaders and their people. Perhaps most fascinating is the story of Lyndon Johnsons visit to West Berlin around the time of the building of the Wall. We all know the names, the dates, the soundbites. But these just form a skeleton, and the depth that Taylor deploys adds flesh to the bones, in the shape of extensive research in East German archives and countless interviews, brings this story to life.
Too often history is written blandly, about people far away, in long forgotten times. How then, are we supposed to associate with it, to empathise? But here, you cannot help but feel that Conrad Schumann, the East German border Guard, or Peter Fechter, the East German boy who was left to die on barbed wire after being shot, could have been anyone. It was just their fate to be born in a city divided. How consuming, and overbearing, must it have been to live in the shadow of the wall.
I cant think of many places I would reccomend more for a city break than Berlin,and having a look at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. But in the meantime, this book does the job nicely.