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A Tale of two cities
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.