The Berlin Wall
Because of dissatisfaction with the economic and political
conditions (forced collectivization of agriculture, repression
of private trade, supply gaps), an increasing number of people
left the GDR. From January to the beginning of August 1961,
about 160,000 refugees were counted. Also, the international
political situation was tense. On 1958-11-27, the Soviets
(Khrushchev) had delivered their Berlin ultimatum, demanding
that the western allies should withdraw their troops from West Berlin
and that West Berlin should become a "Free City" within six
months. On 1959-02-17, the threat of settling a separate peace
treaty between the USSR the GDR followed. The meeting between US President
Kennedy and the Prime Minister of the USSR, Khrushchev, on
1961-06-03/04 in Vienna ended without any noticeable results.
Generally, measures of the government of the GDR were expected with the
aim of preventing people from leaving the GDR. At an international
press conference on June 15, 1961, Walter Ulbricht (the leader
of the east German communist party, SED, and President of the
Privy Council) answered to the question of a journalist:
"I understand your question as follows: there are people in
West Germany who want us to mobilize the construction workers
of the GDR to build a wall. I am not aware of any such plans...
No one has the intention of constructing a wall."
Early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961,
the GDR began under the leadership of Erich Honecker to
block off East Berlin and the GDR from West Berlin by means
of barbed wire and antitank obstacles. Streets were torn up,
and barricades of paving stones were erected. Tanks gathered
at crucial places. The subway and local railway services between
East and West Berlin were interrupted. Inhabitants of East
Berlin and the GDR were no longer allowed to enter West Berlin,
amongst them 60,000 commuters who had worked in West Berlin so far.
In the following days, construction brigades began replacing
the provisional barriers by a
The reaction of the western allies was moderate, since the three
essentials of the American policy regarding Berlin were not affected:
presence of allied troops, free access to Berlin and the right
of self-determination of the West Berliners.
After 1961-08-23, citizens of West Berlin were no longer allowed
to enter East Berlin. On 1961-09-20, the forced evacuation of
houses situated immediately at the border to West Berlin began.
On 1962-08-17, Peter Fechter, an eighteen years old citizen
of East Berlin, bled to death after he was shot down
by East Berlin border patrol in an attempt to escape over the wall.
On 1963-06-21, the Minister of National Defense of the GDR
gave orders concerning the installation of a border area
at the frontier between the GDR and West Berlin. Afterwards
inhabitants of East Berlin living within a distance of 100 m
to the border had to register.
The GDR propaganda called the wall an "Anti-fascist protection
The border between West Berlin and East Berlin and the GDR had
a total length of 166 km, and there was a deeply staggered system
of barriers. There was a wall with a length of 107 km at this
border. Finally, the border area looked about as follows:
First, there was a wall which was made up of concrete segments
with a height of 4 m, usually with a concrete tube on top of
it. Behind it (at the "eastern" side) there was an illuminated
control area (also called death area). Refugees who had reached
that area were shot without warning. A trench followed which should
prevent vehicles from breaking through. Then there was a patrol track,
a corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers and bunkers, and a second wall.
The border cut through 192 streets, 97 of them leading to East
Berlin and 95 into the GDR.
At least 100 people were killed at the Berlin Wall, the
last of them was Chris Gueffroy (1989-02-06).
In the year 1989, there were dramatic events such as a massive
flight of inhabitants of the GDR via Hungary and big demonstrations
in Leipzig on Mondays. After weeks of discussion about a new
travel law, the leader of East Berlin's communist party (SED),
Günter Schabowski, said on November 9, 1989 at about
7 p.m. in somewhat unclear words that the border would
be opened for "private trips abroad". Little later, an onrush
of East Berliner's towards West Berlin began, and there were
celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate
and at the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin. On November 10,
demolition works began with the aim of creating new border
crossings. On November 12, a checkpoint at the Potsdamer Platz
was opened, and on December 22, a checkpoint for pedestrians
was opened at the Brandenburg Gate. So-called "wall woodpeckers"
hammered pieces out of the wall, many of which were sold
as souvenirs. A few larger segments were officially donated
On July 1 1990, an economic, monetary and social union between
East and West Germany was formed, and all restrictions concerning
travels were dropped. The wall had vanished almost completely by 1991;
there are a few remainders at the Bernauer Strasse,
the Niederkirchnerstrasse (near the building of the
former Prussian parliament, now housing the parliament of Berlin)
and as the 1.3 km long "East-Side-Gallery" near the railway station
On February 1997, a red line was painted on the pavement at the
former "Checkpoint Charlie" to mark the course of the former
Berlin wall. This line shall reach a length of 20 km and shall be
replaced by two rows of paving stones.
On August 13 1998, a
was inaugurated at the Bernauer Strasse
(at the corner to the Ackerstrasse, city districts Wedding/Mitte).
It consists of a remainder of the Berlin wall with a length of 70 m,
provided with slits in the inner wall and steel sheets at the ends.
Burkhard Kirste, 1997-02-21, last modification 2003-02-27 (2014-01-22)