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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Berlin Wall: 13 August 1961 - 9 November 1989
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2010
Written in a similar vein to his earlier 'Dresden', Frederick Taylor's most recent work, 'The Berlin Wall' is a lively, well-researched and readable chronicle of the Cold War's most recognisable and chilling symbol. Beginning with a contextual preamble which briefly, but informatively describes events such as the development of the marshy settlement of Berlin, through to the formation of the Weimar Republic, and beyond that, the political and social climate of post WWI Germany, Taylor's book gives the reader a good background of knowledge on the foundations of Germany which have led the way to the disastrous WWII, and the realities of East and West Germany.

Equally, the bulk of the book, which deals in depth with both the Wall itself, as well as the wider contexts of life in East and West Germany is superb. Taylor's wealth of information regarding the strengthening of borders with everything from armed troops and extra, climbing proof wire in Berlin, to road devices in the more secluded areas of the GDR, is extremely impressive; as are his tales of individual successes and failures to cross the border, which show both the power of the Wall to prevent desertion, and the will of many East Germans to escape to the West. Taylor's critically sound and impartial assessments on more general issues such as the American government's struggles to decide on a correct policy for West Germany, and the hands-off approach from the British and French Governments regarding Berlin, add an extra depth to the work.

There are, however, some flaws in the text. Though one would be hard-pressed to find anyone but the staunchest Communists who felt East Germany was overall superior to its Western counterpart, Taylor's work is too one sided in its criticism of the GDR, and his petty jibes about the 'salami-slicing' Ulbricht, and constant references to the 'cynical' and 'brutal' regime are far more common than his grudging admittances of positives about the GDR - he covers such major benefits as good State Pensions, Unemployment Benefits and a cradle-to-grave protection of the regime's loyal citizens all too quickly. Equally, Taylor's evaluation of the attitudes of both the populace in the East and West Germanies, as well as the Politicians involved in the 1970s and early-mid 1980s is too quickly rushed over, and deserves a larger section of the text than it receives.

All in all, Taylor's 'The Berlin Wall' is an academic and informative, but readable account of the Cold War's most striking symbol, and the way it affected those trapped behind it on both sides, as well as giving the world a glimpse of the struggles of the Soviet system and the mixed Allied attitudes to the situation. This is a truly necessary, and highly impressive book for all interested in the Wall, but one that admittedly comes with a few frustrating flaws.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2011
I have enjoyed Mr Taylor's book a great deal - it evokes the post-war period powerfully, and drives home the point that the Second World War only truly ended with the reunification of first Berlin and then Germany. It does a good job of explaining the quite complex nature of occupied Berlin, its place within the Soviet occupation zone, and the relationships both among the occupying powers and between them and the nascent East German government. Who was permitted to travel between West Germany, West Berlin, East Berlin, East Germany and beyond, and with what conditions, was also a complex (and frequently changing) matter which the author tracks in commendable detail.

Passages such as those covering the historical background of Berlin, the Wandlitz compound, the 1961 tank stand-off, the often difficult political relationship between West Berlin and Bonn, Kennedy's relations with Brandt and Ulbricht's with Khrushchev, are particularly fascinating. Other sections - e.g. Honecker's visit to the Saarland in 1987, and comments such as the fact that "The Wall" as it features in the western consciousness was virtually never seen by any East Berliners - are particularly insightful.

As others have pointed out, though, there are some flaws. The book properly focuses most heavily on the 1950s and 1960s. However, I feel that the discussion of the 1970s and 1980s - in many ways an equally interesting period - is a little short. There seems to be relatively little attention paid to Honecker the man and his succession of Ulbricht. I feel more coverage of the media available in the GDR - particularly broadcast - would have added considerably to the book. The effect of most East Germans having access to West German television and radio is mentioned several times but I think not expanded upon sufficiently. Perhaps a detailed study of western press coverage of the Wall, and extensive interviews with Berliners who lived through the period, falls outside the book's remit, but would nonetheless have served as a good complement to it.

Also, I feel the author misses something of an open goal by failing to connect the GDR's allegations of escape facilitators being "traffickers in human beings" with that regime's own shameless practice of deporting its dissidents to the BRD for financial gain. A more minor point is the rather high instance of typos and other mistakes, especially in the final third of the text. One wonders whether a final proof-reading was undertaken. I'd be happy to supply a list of corrections for a future edition.

These minor quibbles aside though, I recommend the book wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest in the subject - and indeed to those without, as it is an inherently fascinating one. For those who know relatively little about it, it provides an absolute wealth of knowledge and understanding, and I suspect that even those well versed in it will find much that is original here.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2011
This is very well researched and enthusiastically written, and the chapters flew by. It contains a huge barrage of political players, ordinary people, key dates, facts and incredible events all of which are presented in a flowing, intelligent and lively manner which kept me reading and reading and reading....

If you have even a passing interest in why the wall existed and why it had to come down, please start with this. It covers the decades leading up to its creation in 1961, casts a broad net across European, American and Soviet relationships, shows all the deceit and dishonesty of the house-of-cards communist regimes along with cash-strapped dilemmas and misjudgements of the west - all of which come to life with not only the gift of hindsight and interviews with all kinds of people, but also the opening of the Stasi files after 1989.

One thing which would have made this book even better would have been a few more photographs. There's a few b&w ones, but there's such a lot of people are mentioned, and it would be nice to put faces to those names. But that's just a tiny point to make and does not detract from what is a fine piece of work!

It's a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone - especially those who, like me, remember the wall coming down but have never known the story behind it. It's an amazing tale!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2013
This is a very comprehensive (some might say exhaustive) account of how the Berlin Wall came into being going right back to the early history of Berlin and there is no doubt much of it is fascinating and it is all well-researched. However, after such a great build-up, the fall of the Wall is dealt with far too quickly and the whole book suffers from not including a single map of Berlin, meaning there is no context for any reference to street names, districts etc. I also felt that the text was sometimes let down by 'throwaway' opinions or remarks that were out of keeping with the bulk of the text which was based in solid academic research.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2012
This book has given me an important historical insight into the city I have visted regularly for over thirty years. Having read it through once, I will consult it again and again as a valued reference guide.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 June 2010
This book covers all angles of the whole Berlin Wall saga.
It covers all the political machinations from start to finish, and shows at all times what both sides, East and West were thinking and doing at every step.
The best thing about the book ( for me anyway), is the human side of it.
The ordinary people who lived and worked in the GDR and who attempted to escape its clutches by escaping or attempting to escape over the wall, under the sewers, across its rivers and many other, sometimes ingenious freedom attempts, is what makes the book tick and keeps it fresh and interesting.
These true accounts, of escape, imprisonment, sometimes death are enthralling as no fiction can ever be.
Overall, a good read on fascinating subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a good, solid and at times moving account of the history of the wall that divided German from German. The first 150 or so pages are quite slow, as Mr Taylor builds up a picture of the division of Germany and the history of Berlin as a whole. However, once the wall is erected, the pace quickens and the stories of escapes, escapees and victims emerge. One can only imagine what it must have been like - separated from family via an artificial wall that kept mother from son and lover from lover. To be fair, Mr Taylor points out the reasoning behind the wall - the brain drain from the East - and one almost has a degree of sympathy for those who decided upon its creation. Almost. The deaths of the likes of Peter Fechter, slowly bleeding to death at the foot of the wall, soon eradicate any feeling of sympathy we may have. The one drawback from this readable account is the lack of a voice from the Stasi or from people working on the 'other side' - the East German border guards, weary conscripts or enthusiastic idealists alike.
As a footnote it was nice to read of the East German punks in the book, as the German punk scene is still alive and kicking. Funnily enough, punks from the West side of Germany now have nothing but admiration for their Eastern punk brothers, from the time when the wall was up, as they had to create music and clothes from the scraps available to them, living as they were under a totalitarian regime. I should add that I was refused admission to East Berlin when the wall was up, due to my studded leather jacket bearing the names of German punk bands (Slime, Razzia and Die Toten Hosen) - I was deemed subversive and had to go back to Kreuzberg, where all the other deadbeats were hanging out!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2014
I was totally fascinated by this very complete and wonderfully researched book. Of special interest
to this reviewer as I was in Berlin in 1961 as a student. The title of the chapter "High Noon in the
Friedrichstrasse" captures so thoroughly the excited feeling of forboding which we felt then. The
escapes are fascinating, as are the deliberations of the East German leaders, the crumbling of the
GDR and little subsidiary stories - for example on Private Hagen Koch who painted the border line at
Checkpoint Charlie & lived to auction parts of the wall in Monaco!

Unputtable down, even third time of reading.

David Russell-Roberts
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2014
A clear, thought-provoking analysis of the factors and political and human realities of the Berlin Wall. A well researched and balanced book that includes some very pertinent insights.
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on 20 March 2015
I bought this for myself because I am interested in the history of the cold war period, mainly due to serving in Germany with the forces. This book fills in some of the gaps left by other authors and will no doubt I will read again and will purchase this authors other books.
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