The Atlantic

The Divides That Make Hong Kong and West Berlin

The two cities have had shared stresses, balancing radically different ideologies.
Source: Claro Cortes / Reuters

This article was updated at 11:20 ET on February 24, 2020.

Hong Kong and West Berlin stand about as far apart as two cities can be. Yet for most of the second half of the 20th century, they were doppelgängers in an important way: Each was a focal point of Cold War tensions, linked by the shared stresses of being a battleground for two diametrically opposed ideologies.

During the final dozen years of the last century, the unwinding of the Cold War changed each city in a profound way. For Berlin, Germany’s reunification made the city whole again. It is now the country’s capital and most important metropolis. Walking or driving around Berlin today, you can move between what were once parts of two very different cities without necessarily noticing you have done so. Checkpoint Charlie is now a museum, and the last guard tower near the wall on the east side, from which soldiers sometimes shot at escapees heading for the west, is the focus of a historical preservation effort. Your choice of magazines and newspapers does not depend on where you are in the city. If you prefer digital forms of information, the web works identically east and west of the old wall.

Hong Kong is different. In 1997, Britain handed over its prized colony to the People’s Republic of China, making it a special administrative region, , let alone specialized sites devoted to such varied things as , a documentary about the Tiananmen protests and June 4 massacre of 1989, and the Shen Yun pageant, which is linked to the banned Falun Gong sect. By contrast, those who come to Hong Kong from Toronto, Toledo, Lisbon, or London are likely to notice little difference in using the web—except that their internet connection in Hong Kong will likely be faster, and their internet provider’s reach more extensive, than at home.

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