With the capitulation of Germany on 7 May 1945 ending World War II, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation by the four Allied countries: U.S., Britain, France and Russia. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, Berliners streamed across the border from Soviet-controlled East Germany into Aliied-controlled West Germany more than three million
from 1949-61. To stem the tide, in 1961 the Soviets built a 16 foot-high wall, snaking its way a hundred miles around the Soviet sector, a moat to keep East Berliners inside, the West Berliners out. The stately old Brandenberg Gate sits in the eastern sector. The Wall stood for 28 years until 1989, when West Berliners, eager to reunite with their families, started chipping at it, and finally brought it down. Before the Wall, the Soviets had tried another tactic, closing all vehicular traffic to the Western powers in June1948. This resulted in a 250-day massive airlift of supplies and food to the 2.5 million Germans in the western sector. Finally, on 17 April 1949 the Soviets lifted the blockade. Cost of the airlift: $ 200 million and 55 deaths from air accidents.
The forests of present-day Germany were occupied by wandering hunters and gatherers as long as 40, 000 years ago. They were followed by Neanderthal people, Neolithic or New Stone Age, immigrants from southeast Asia, a wave of Indo-Europeans in the Bronze Age, the Celts, the Romans and the Huns by the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. Present-day Germany dates from 843 A.D. with the division of the Carolingian Empire (Charlemagne). For centuries after that, Germany was a collection of states in a loose federal association. From the 16th Century, the states involved themselves in European wars. Otto von Bismarck in 1871 unified the states into a nation.
The first person, a man, trying to scale the Wall was killed by East German guards on 17 August 1962. Crosses on the West German side mark deaths from unsuccessful attempts. In May 1989, before our July-August bus tour to Russia, I worked in Houston with a young Berlin journalist, who invited Margaret (my second wife) and me to visit him and his wife while we were in Berlin. Rolf Schulze toured us around Berlin, and then to his flat for an enjoyable evening with him and his wife. Rolf prophesied that the Wall would not come down his lifetime, because it would throw too many East Germans out of work, and thousand of East Germans would cross into West Germany, severely straining the successful economy of West Germany. Three months after our visit, the Wall came down. But Rolf was right about the results of the Wall’s removal. Thousands of East Germans flooded across the border into the West Germany, raising serious economic problems. German reunification was completed on 3 October 1990 as the Federal Republic of Germany.
Under Bismarck, Germany experienced rapid industrial and economic growth. In the early 20th century, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II began a campaign for European dominance, which led to World War I, beginning on 1 September 1914. Four years, two months later- and millions of young soldiers’ deaths- Germany capitulated, signing the
Armistice on 11 November 1918. The defeat threw Germany into political and economic chaos. Adolph Hitler brought his National Socialist (Nazi) Party to fill the vacuum. His flaming speeches before thousands of worshipping Germans, eager for revenge, galvanized the military soul of Germany. I can remember coming home from high school and listening on the radio to his tirades in that foreign language.
Germany is the fourth largest country in Europe, with 137, 827 square miles, about half the size of Texas. Its terrain varies from coastal flat land to forested mountains. The 1998 population was 82, 079, 454. Through the centuries Germany has been a land of culture, producing Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Thomas Mann.
Hitler’s dream of a 1, 000-year Third Reich ended with Allied victory on 7 May 1945. World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on 1 August 1939, twenty-five years after the beginning of World War I.
It ended five years, eight months and six days later in the crushing defeat of Germany by the Allied forces of Britain, the United States and many countrymen of the European nations, who refused to rest until Hitler was defeated. Germany had 2.85 million dead including a half million civilians killed. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945.
After the war, her factories and cities in rubble, Germany made a remarkable recovery and today is large and modern industrial nation.