The significance of Berlin is highlighted by its explicit mention in the 20th century world history syllabus – an explanation of how the communists used this to maintain its regime is time well spent for pragmatic reasons.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the closing of boders within Berlin. Berliners went to sleep one night in a united city and work to a city divided by barbed wire and patrolled by guards. Over time, the barbed wire became a wall that was in place until 1989.
Most of us who teach the Cold War cover this event and the ongoing Berlin Crisis but it is more difficult to explain the relevance of the events as our students have been born after the end of communism. Indeed, the idea of a bipolar world is one that they don’t always understand.
Online sites provide a number of film clips of these events and interviews with people who lived in Berlin on both sides during 1961. Some of the most compelling footage was compiled into CNN’s 1998 series ‘Cold War’ – this seems to be the best way to show the students the urgency of the event and how it was received. In particular, the footage of a woman literally being pulled in two directions as she tried to escape to the west through a remaining window gives them a view of how Berlin was a battleground.
For those fortunate enough to be near Berlin, a visit to the museums, and especially to Checkpoint Charlie, can give them the experience of life in a divided Berlin.
With interactive lessons students can really understand what life was like at the time.