Editorial: After The Berlin Wall

Standing in a small park in south London, not far from the grim Elephant and Castle roundabout, is a huge ugly piece of concrete, covered in graffiti.

But this is not some remains of inner-city urban decay waiting for the bulldozer to put it out of its misery. It's a small section of the Berlin Wall and it's a museum exhibit. Our children now learn about the Cold War in school history lessons. We should be pleased they're not learning about the Third World War instead, but it's always surprising to find something that doesn't seem that long ago is now part of the school curriculum.

If learning dates were still central to history lessons, 9 November 1989 would now be a crucial one. On that day 20 years ago, thousands of East Germans gathered at sections of the Berlin Wall, heavily fortified crossings between the communist East and the capitalist West sectors of the city that had been divided in two after the Second World War. The guards stood back, while stunned but jubilant people crossed the divide, and then began to tear down the wall with whatever tools they could get.

Alexey Novikov tells the story of the wall - or rather walls - on p22. See the heavy civil engineering devised by East Germany and discover some of the amateur but ingenious engineering (as well as cunning plans, brute force and desperate courage) employed by escapees.

When the wall came down, so too did the communist regimes behind the 'Iron Curtain'. Soviet technology had seemed formidable; it had built a nuclear power and beaten Western satellites into orbit. A lot of it, though, wasn't what it seemed.

Geographical areas of specialisation mushroomed in the capitalist West, from Manchester's textile mills to California's silicon valley. In communist Eastern Europe they were centrally planned.

The GDR had made Dresden its centre of electronics. On p34 Chris Edwards investigates Saxony's efforts to keep it going, the inward investment it attracted, and how it is planning for new technologies in the future.

How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill it up with petrol.

A man walks into a garage and says he wants a wing mirror for his Skoda. The mechanic thinks for a moment and then says "seems like a fair swap".

And: What's the best loved car in the 21st-century UK? The Skoda.

This last comment would surely have drawn the biggest laugh from a 1989 crowd, but indeed, VW has had the last laugh by buying Skoda and achieving one of the most remarkable makeovers in corporate history. Pelle Noreth tells the story on p25.

Vitali Vitaliev - our very own features editor, who was brought up beyond the Berlin Wall - was last in Estonia in 1966 so we sent him back to find out how it's fared since 1989. He found a Baltic Tiger economy with broadband access to die for, a famous Internet company that's shaken up the telecoms market, and a civil service already running an electronic democracy. He contrasts Tallinn then and now on p16.

On p28, we look at the major new barriers that are forever springing up, from world wonders to wonder walls, and from heritage sites of antiquity to vast modern civil engineering projects that have been built to keep people in, keep them out, keep them safe or keep them apart.

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