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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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on 22 October 2006
A year ago I went to Berlin for the first time, on a short holiday. Now that I've read this book I want to go back. Of course I noticed that the west and the east were really different still, despite the wall having come down, but until I read Taylor's fascinating, revealing book I didn't really understand what the people in the east went through and why and what our role was in it. I've lived in lots of different countries and I find I'm really interested in the way politics are playing such a big role in everyday life. Highly recommended!
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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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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.
44 comments18 of 19 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
An excellent book written in a fast moving, and at times, exciting style. The creation of the two German states is explained and made more interesting by the background detail on the key players. The paranoid conditions in which Ulbricht and his cronies lived and the parallel state apparatus for suppression make fascinating reading. The reasons for the building of the 'Wall' and its creation are dealt with and again pace and excitement are achieved by rapid movement between the power bases in Washington, Moscow and Berlin. The subsequent acceptance of the 'Wall' by both West and East and the individual tragedies, and sometimes successes, of would-be escapees are described very well. Again the drama and pace increases as conditions change, Reagan and Gorbachev appear on the scene, and finally the 'Wall' and the GDR collapse. An excellent, well written, book by Taylor and probably better the 'Dresden'.
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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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on 24 November 2006
In similar fashion to his recent book DRESDEN, Frederick Taylor once again combines a wealth of detail and research into an extemely fast paced and exciting read. The background and the historical context are all vividly and wittily portrayed. He skilfully interweaves the factual context of the events portrayed with very engaging eye witness accounts that really make you feel as if you're present to these portentious events. Very enjoyable!
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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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on 10 November 2008
I am unsure what the people who didn't enjoy this were actaully looking for. It is true that the Wall is not built until half way through the book but what went before is perhaps as important as the wall itself. Whenever a history of an event or time period is written it is vital that the reader understands exactly why the event happened or where that period fits into the narrative of its history.
As for the end being rushed, I entirely disagree. It is fast, short and breathless. I think this is fitting, after all the state of East Germany had existed for 40 years and took a matter of weeks to collapse. I would have liked to know more about the feelings of the people standing on the wall on that November night in 1989 but this is my only criticism of an otherwise fantastic book.
As for the 70's and 80's being skipped over, what do you want to know? People continued to suffer at the hands of a regime that to the outside world was stable and showed no signs of what was to come. I believe that to have included too much detail about this period would have meant that the book lost its pace and that, to me at least, is one of the outstanding features.
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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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