Top positive review
11 of 11 people found this 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.