Saturday marks the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The barrier that divided East and West Berlin served as a symbol of the larger battle between communism and capitalism.
On one side of the wall sat a thriving industrialized city full of art and culture. On the other sat a nation full of poverty and despair.
It is believed that more than 10,000 people were killed trying to cross into East Germany, either at the Berlin Wall or other heavily fortified areas of the country.
Following the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four zones. The eastern half of the country was controlled by the Soviet Union, and the Western half was controlled by the United States, Britain, and France. The three western powers would eventually consolidate their control into one entity, giving birth to the nation of West Germany.
The Soviets retained control over East Germany and implemented socialism in the East.
The two countries were far different from each other. On the western side was a thriving capitalist country and on the other was a poor centrally-planned economy.
It is estimated that 2,000 East Germans tried to cross the border from 1948-1961. That is what led to the Soviets backing the East German’s in building a wall to keep the population from escaping to the West.
The socialist economic policies devastated East Germany.
The population of the country declined from 18.4 million people in 1950 to 16.4 million in 1989.
West Germany vastly out-produced the East and its economy quickly outgrew the economy of their socialist neighbor.
The East German economy was only 56% of that of the West’s economy, and their GDP per worker was far below that of West Germany.
The growth of West Germany in the decade-and-a-half following the end of World War II was remarkable.
The gross national product of West Germany grew at an annual rate of 17% and wages rose by 90%. The country would become the second-largest exporter of goods in the world.
In the year prior to the building of the Berlin wall, Indian economist B.R. Shenoy described the differences he saw upon visiting both countries.
He wrote, “Visiting East Berlin gives the impression of visiting a prison camp. The people do not seem to feel free. In striking contrast with the cordiality of West Berliners, they show an unwillingness to talk to strangers, generally taking shelter behind the plea that they do not understand English.
At frequent intervals, one comes across on the pavements uniformed police and military strutting along. Apart from the white-armed traffic police and the police in the routine patrol cars, uniformed men are rarely seen on West Berlin roads.”
He also wrote that “department stores in West Berlin are cramming with wearing apparel, other personal effects and a multiplicity of household equipment, temptingly displayed. Nothing at all comparable is visible in East Berlin…The food shops in East Berlin exhibit cheap articles in indifferent wrappers or containers and the prices for comparable items, despite the poor quality, are noticeably higher in East Berlin.”
In 1987, Ronald Reagan famously contrasted the thriving west vs. the desolate east when he said, “behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe… In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle…the leaders understood the practical importance of liberty—that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom.”
Then came the famous line. What he said next would go down in history: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!
The crowd erupted.
Two years later, the Berlin Wall would be torn down and reduced to rubble.
America won the cold war and with it the liberation of the East German people and the reunification of a democratic Germany.
On this thirty-year anniversary, let us remember the moral superiority of individual liberty and free enterprise.
If someone doubts this, remember the Berlin Wall.