1. The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall, as pointed out in the question, was larger than just Berlin or Germany. The wall divided the world and was a very real representation of the metaphorical “iron curtain”. Indeed, the division of Germany and Berlin represented the beginning of the Cold War.
The wall was erected in August of 1961 by the East German government in order to stem the tide of East Germans who were able to go freely from East Berlin to West Berlin, and from there seek asylum. Before the wall was built, over 3 million people had availed themselves of the opportunity. In a country with a population of less than 20 million, that sort of a number is a population hemorrhage. The only way the government, under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht, felt they could stop this outpouring of people was by erecting a physical barrier, dividing the city.
Interestingly, they called this barrier the “Antifaschistische Schützmauer”, or “anti-fascist protection wall”, to their own people and explained that it was put in place to “protect” them from the west, rather than keep them in. This did not, of course, explain why people caught escaping were regularly shot in the “death strip” (Todeszone).
The tensions which created the wall were a microcosm of the larger cold war conflict which resulted from the end of World War II and the gravitation of various states either to the Soviet Union (usually under force post-war, as in the cases of satellite states like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc.) or the United States, the two remaining global superpowers. The main stage of this conflict, though, was the status of Germany. At the Potsdam conference, it was divided into four occupation zones. Berlin was made a separate legal entity entirely, and also divided into four occupation zones. But the four powers had difficulty agreeing on how things should be administered; The Soviet Union, in particular, wanted reparations, but the Western powers thought effort should be focused on rebuilding the German economy rather than further destroying it. As relations deteriorated, highlighted by the Blockade of Berlin in 1948, the Western powers founded the Federal Republic of Germany out of their three zones; in response, the Soviets backed the German Democratic Republic, consisting of their zone. While legally, Berlin remained a distinct entity, the GDR acted as though the Soviet zone of occupation was theirs, and declared it their capitol city. This was the section they would ultimately wall off.
These were the conditions that led to the building of the Wall in 1961- the inability for the East and the West to cooperate on the issues of Berlin and Germany. The wall, then, was not solely a German issue, but a larger one, representing in a literally concrete form the stalwart polarization among the two main sides involved in the Cold War.
As noted in the question, while at one time, Salonica was among the largest and most important cities in Europe, it has seen significant decline in relative size and importance in recent centuries, and particularly in the 20th Century. What can be learned from this lesson on a Europe-wide scale?
In the past, for example, while it was an important city in the Byzantine Empire, Salonica was generally known as a multiethnic and multicultural city. Its population was made up of many different groups, including Turks, other Muslims, Jews (both Ashkenazi and Sephardic), and others. As a city on important trade routes, both land and sea, it was frequently influenced by other foreign cultures as well. This led to a vibrant economic and artistic culture, which thrived for many centuries.
However, in recent centuries, and particularly in the 20th Century, a variety of events occurred which contributed to the homogenization of the population of Salonica. One of these major events, of course, was the expulsion of ethnic Turks after the Greco-Turkish war. The book Salonica: City of Ghosts characterizes this as “the dispossession and disappearance of the group which had dominated [Salonica’s] life over the preceeding five centuries.” (360). As noted on page 366, after the expulsion, the Greeks then undertook to demolish the minarets (linked to Islamic culture) in the city to erase the former Muslim presence; yet this also basically demolished the skyline of the city. A notable quote from the text underscores the cultural loss: “history is not written with the destruction of innocent monuments which beautified the city.” (367). In turn, thousands of Greeks from the new Turkish side of the border were settled into the city, massively increasing the proportion of the population of Greek heritage. Another major event that contributed to the homogenization was the Holocaust. After the Nazi invasion, Salonica’s population was sent almost entirely to the gas chambers. The few Jews who survived the war generally did not return to live in a city where they would be reminded daily of the decimation of their community. They often resettled to places like the United States or Israel rather than return. The text mentions the uniqueness of this particular Jewish population- they spoke Judeo-Spanish, which today is in danger of extinction, and due to pressure to learn Greek after the Muslim exodus, were developing their own dialect of it (419).
The decline of Salonica offers much to be learned for other cities of the European Union. Obviously, one major goal of the European Union is more multiculturalism. Certainly, many of these countries are known on an individual basis today as rather mono-cultural. While this is certainly an oversimplification, it is interesting to note that, as shown by the population transfer between Greeks and Turks in Salonica, population transfers in the 20th century throughout Europe contributed dramatically to homogenizing the cultures of various countries and eliminating multi-culturalism, which had traditionally been rather high in Central and Southern Europe in particular. As we can see based on the example Salonica provides, thorough, homogenization can lead to decline. It is therefore a very good thing that the European Union seeks to promote a multicultural Europe, as it is a great step toward reviving culture and promoting creative thought, which in turn leads to ideas of economic and artistic value. On a smaller scale, Salonica can used as a great example for why this multiculturalism is not important only in the largest of cities; medium-sized cities can also benefit from it. Perhaps Salonica itself would be a great place for the EU to focus on revival based on multiculturalism.
BBC History. “The Berlin Wall”. Retrieved from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/places/berlin_wall on 03/08/2013.
Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press. 1997.
Mazower, Mark. Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950. New
York: First Vintage Books. 2006. Print.