When was the Berlin Wall built?

The construction of the Berlin Wall

Around 2.7 million people had left the GDR and East Berlin between 1949 and 1961: a stream of refugees, around half of which consisted of young people under the age of 25, and which posed ever greater difficulties for the SED leadership. Every day around half a million people passed the sector borders in Berlin in both directions and were thus able to compare living conditions. In 1960 alone, around 200,000 people went permanently to the West. The GDR was on the verge of social and economic collapse.

On June 15, 1961, the GDR State Council Chairman Walter Ulbricht declared that no one had any intention of building a wall. On August 12, 1961, the GDR Council of Ministers announced: “To prevent the hostile activity of the revanchist and militarist forces in West Germany and West Berlin, such controls will be introduced on the border of the German Democratic Republic, including the border with the western sectors of Greater Berlin as is customary on the borders of every sovereign state. " The Council of Ministers did not mention that this measure was primarily directed against its own population, who would be prohibited from crossing the border in the future.

In the early morning hours of August 13, 1961, provisional barriers were erected on the border between the Soviet sector and West Berlin and the pavement was torn up on the connecting roads. Units of the People's Police, the Transport Police and the so-called factory combat groups prevented all traffic at the sector border. The SED leadership had probably not chosen a holiday Sunday in midsummer for their campaign without a triviality.

Over the next few days and weeks, the barbed wire barriers on the border with West Berlin were replaced by East Berlin construction workers under strict guard by GDR border guards with a wall made of concrete slabs and hollow blocks. Residential houses, such as in Bernauer Strasse, in which the sidewalks to the Wedding district (West Berlin), but the southern row of houses belonged to the Mitte district (East Berlin), were included in the border fortifications: the GDR government left house entrances and Walling up the first floor window. The residents could only enter their apartments from the courtyard side, which was in East Berlin. As early as 1961 there were numerous evictions - not only in Bernauer Strasse, but also in other border areas.

As a result of the construction of the wall, streets, squares and living quarters were divided from one day to the other and local traffic was interrupted. On the evening of August 13th, the Governing Mayor Willy Brandt said in front of the House of Representatives: “(...) The Senate of Berlin is bringing charges against the world against the illegal and inhumane measures taken by the divisors of Germany, the oppressors of East Berlin and those threatening West Berlin (...) ”.

On October 25, 1961, American and Soviet tanks faced each other at the “Ausländerübergang” on Friedrichstrasse (CheckpointCharlie): GDR border guards had previously tried to control representatives of the Western Allies entering the Soviet sector. In the eyes of the Americans, this acted against the allied right to unhindered freedom of movement in the entire city. For 16 hours, the two nuclear powers stood face to face, only a few meters apart. For the contemporaries a moment of great danger of war. A day later, both sides withdraw. Through a diplomatic initiative by US President Kennedy, the Soviet head of state and party leader Khrushchev had confirmed the four-power status of all of Berlin for this time.

In the period that followed, the barriers were expanded and rebuilt and the control system at the border was perfected. The inner city wall that separated East from West Berlin was 43.1 kilometers long. The part of the barrier that cordoned off the rest of the GDR on the border with West Berlin was 111.9 kilometers long. Well over 100,000 citizens of the GDR tried to flee via the inner-German border or the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1988. Far more than 600 people were shot by GDR border guards or died trying to escape; Between 1961 and 1989 there were at least 140 deaths on the Berlin Wall alone.