From the time of the Vienna summit, East German exodus to West Germany began to skyrocket. The Soviets began to talk about war, and in July the Soviets detonated a 60-megaton atomic bomb, the largest atomic bomb up to that point. On August 13th, the Berlin Wall went up, dividing East and West Berlin, ending the flow of refugees out of East Germany and dividing the city.
9 Essential Berlin Wall Stories
From the Aug. 31, 1962, issue of TIME
For a structure that stood only about 12 ft. high, the Berlin Wall left quite a mark on modern history. Throughout the 28 years during which it endured, TIME followed the wall’s surprise construction, those who died attempting to get across, and finally its fall and aftermath.
You can trace that tale through our timeline of the Berlin Wall’s history or, below, read how the wall went down in the words of those who were watching it happen:
Aug. 25, 1961: Berlin: The Wall
The Berlin Wall went up quickly and with no warning on Aug. 13, 1961. Though it was at that point less a wall than a fence, it startled the world. For nearly a decade, Berlin &mdash a divided city situated within the Eastern portion of a divided country &mdash had been the easiest way to cross from East Germany to West, but the East had been facing a dwindling population and took drastic measures despite earlier promises to preserve freedom of movement:
The scream of sirens and the clank of steel on cobblestones echoed down the mean, dark streets. Frightened East Berliners peeked from behind their curtains to see military convoys stretching for blocks. First came the motorcycle outriders, then jeeps, trucks and buses crammed with grim, steel-helmeted East German troops. Rattling in their wake were the tanks &mdash squat Russian-built T-34s and T-54s. At each major intersection, a platoon peeled off and ground to a halt, guns at the ready. The rest headed on for the sector border, the 25-mile frontier that cuts through the heart of Berlin like a jagged piece of glass. As the troops arrived at scores of border points, cargo trucks were already unloading rolls of barbed wire, concrete posts, wooden horses, stone blocks, picks and shovels. When dawn came four hours later, a wall divided East Berlin from West for the first time in eight years.
Aug. 31, 1962: Wall of Shame (see map at top)
A year later, protests erupted in West Berlin, sparked by cruel treatment of an attempted escapee named Peter Fechter &mdash who was shot and left to bleed in the no-man’s-land between the two sides. TIME explored whether extended violence and further protest was likely to become a constant in the divided city, finding that many Berliners believed such an outcome unlikely but felt that the Wall would stand for the rest of their lives:
In flat, open country within the city’s northern boundary, the land to the west is checkered with brown wheatfields and lush, green, potato gardens. Eastward stretches a no-man’s land where once fertile fields lie desolate and deathly still. They could be in two different worlds&mdashand, in a sense, they are. Even the countryside outside Berlin is divided into East and West by a vicious, impenetrable hedge of rusty barbed wire and concrete. As itsnakes southward toward the partitioned city, it becomes the Wall.
Seldom in history have blocks and mortar been so malevolently employed or sorichly hated in return. One year old this month, the Wall of Shame, as it is often called, cleaves Berlin’s war-scarred face like an unhealed wound its hideousness offends the eye as its inhumanity hurts the heart. For 27 miles it coils through the city, amputating proud squares and busy thoroughfares, marching insolently across graveyards and gardens, dividing families and friends, transforming whole street-fronts into bricked-up blankness. “The Wall,” muses a Berlin policeman, “is not just sad. It is not just ridiculous. It is schizophrenic.”
Aug. 18, 1986: East-West Tale of a Sundered City by Jill Smolowe
On the 25th anniversary of the wall’s construction, TIME checked in on the city and found that Germans on the two sides of the Wall had evolved into two very different groups of people. West Berlin was more modern, East Berlin was quieter, their economies were distinct &mdash but Berliners from both sides still harbored hopes that they would one day be reunited. Even with a quarter-century of division under their belt, they felt that they could all get along:
West Berliners have managed to make an uneasy peace with the monstrous Wall. Almost every Berliner’s emotional survival kit includes a wisecracking sense of humor. Standard encounter: an American, returning to Berlin after 60 years, asks his taxi driver to run down the events during his absence. Responds the driver: “The Nazis came, the war came, the Russians came. You didn’t miss much.” No less mordant are the graffiti spray-painted on the western side of the Wall. ALL IN ALL, YOU’RE JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, reads one bit of wisdom. DONALD DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, declares another. One of the newest decorations is a purple cake, divided in two by a brown wall. The inscription: HAPPY 25TH BIRTHDAY.
There are no clever messages on the eastern side of the Wall. East German officials regard the barricade with pride. To celebrate its anniversary, they plan to stage a parade and have already issued a commemorative postage stamp. “Since its construction,” says Karl-Heinz Gummich, a representative in the East German Tourist Office, “the economy has grown strong, relations with West Germany have been stabilized, and the threat of war has been removed.”
June 22, 1987: Back to the Berlin Wall by George J. Church
The Berlin Wall had already been the site of much speechifying when President Ronald Reagan appeared there in 1987 &mdash but by that point, something that changed. In the USSR, the words glasnost and perestroika had entered the political vocabulary. Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of openness, and his influence in East Germany presented a glimmer of hope that the Berlin Wall might not be forever. Reagan urged that hope on with one of the most famous lines of his career: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”
Before an audience estimated at 20,000, the President rose to the occasion. Referring to the city’s division and deliberately inviting comparison with John F. Kennedy’s famed “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, Reagan expressed “this unalterable belief: es gibt nur ein Berlin” (there is only one Berlin). Taking note of the violent demonstrations against U.S. foreign policy that swirled through West Berlin before his arrival, Reagan asserted, “I invite those who protest today to mark this fact: because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table” and are on the verge of a treaty “eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons.”
Oct. 16, 1989: Freedom Train by William R. Doerner
On the occasion of Eat Germany’s 40th birthday, the Berlin Wall had begun to lose its oomph. Originally meant to prevent traffic between the two sides of the city, it was made far less effective when it became possible to get to West Germany by other routes:
So far this year, more than 110,000 East Germans have left, far and away the most since the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. Slightly more than half have departed with official permission, a sign that the Honecker regime has been forced to relax its policy of limiting emigration to the elderly and a few political dissidents. According to West German officials, some 1.8 million East Germans — more than 10% of the population — have applied to leave, despite the risk of job and educational discrimination.
But growing numbers refuse to wait for permission. In August and September, more than 30,000 vacationers took advantage of the newly opened border between Hungary and Austria to cross into West Germany. East Berlin tightened controls on travel to Hungary, yet new refugees continue to slip over at the rate of 200 to 500 a day. Hungary has rejected any suggestion that it close its borders.
Nov. 20, 1989: Freedom! by George J. Church
Until the Wall fell at midnight on Nov. 9, 1989 &mdash losing its power as suddenly as it had gone up, though it would take many months for the concrete to be dismantled &mdash TIME had been planning to run a cover story about the election of the first black governor in the United States, Doug Wilder of Virginia. But, as then-managing editor Henry Muller recounted in a letter to readers, “then came the stunning announcement that East Germans be allowed to travel through the Berlin Wall and would be granted freer elections as well. Bonn bureau chief Jim Jackson called me to urge that we change the cover, but my fellow editors and I hardly needed to be persuaded.” The result was 12 pages of reporting and photography and, as Muller put it, “history as it is made, each day and each week”:
What happened in Berlin last week was a combination of the fall of the Bastille and a New Year’s Eve blowout, of revolution and celebration. At the stroke of midnight on Nov. 9, a date that not only Germans would remember, thousands who had gathered on both sides of the Wall let out a roar and started going through it, as well as up and over. West Berliners pulled East Berliners to the top of the barrier along which in years past many an East German had been shot while trying to escape at times the Wall almost disappeared beneath waves of humanity. They tooted trumpets and danced on the top. They brought out hammers and chisels and whacked away at the hated symbol of imprisonment, knocking loose chunks of concrete and waving them triumphantly before television cameras. They spilled out into the streets of West Berlin for a champagne-spraying, horn-honking bash that continued well past dawn, into the following day and then another dawn. As the daily BZ would headline: BERLIN IS BERLIN AGAIN.
Coverage of the wall’s fall wasn’t all about serious pronouncements on the future of Europe. There were also some gems like this one, the story of some American entrepreneurs who were marketing chunks of the Wall as timely gifts for that holiday season:
Last week two shipments of gray and white rubble, totaling 20 tons, were airlifted from Germany to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The Missouri entrepreneurs who imported the debris swear that it comes from demolished portions of the Berlin Wall. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, they will split it into 2-oz. chunks to be sold, along with an “informative booklet and a declaration of authenticity,” for $10 to $15 in gift shops and department stores.
Dec. 18, 1989: What the Future Holds by Frederick Painton
About a month after the Wall fell, TIME gathered five experts on European politics and economics to predict what would be next for the continent &mdash including whether the end of the Wall would inevitably lead to the reunification of Germany:
For the third time in this century the old order is crumbling in Europe, and the world waits anxiously for a new one to be born. The transition promises to be long, difficult and hazardous. But rarely if ever has the vision of a peaceful and relatively free Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals seemed so palpably within grasp. Thus 1989 is destined to join other dates in history — 1918 and 1945 — that schoolchildren are required to remember, another year when an era ended, in this case the 44-year postwar period, which is closing with the rapid unraveling of the Soviet empire.
Oct. 8, 1990: Germany: And Now There Is One by Bruce W. Nelan
In their rush toward unification over the past 11 months, East and West Germany struck down the barriers between them like so many tenpins. The most unforgettable and heart-quickening breakthrough was the first, the fall of the Berlin Wall last Nov. 9. Then came free elections in the East on March 18, economic union on July 1, and the Sept. 12 agreement of the four World War II Allies to end their remaining occupation rights in Berlin.
Any of those could be taken as the date on which unification became inevitable. But the date that will be celebrated in the future Germany comes this week, Oct. 3, when the Freedom Bell in West Berlin’s Schoneberg city hall tolls and the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany is raised in front of the 96-year-old Reichstag building. At that moment, the German Democratic Republic, a relic of Stalin’s postwar empire, ceases to exist.
Read more about the fall of the Berlin Wall here in TIME’s archives, where the Nov. 20, 1989, cover story is now available.
Why the Berlin Wall rose—and how it fell
The ugly symbol of the Cold War was built to keep East Germans from escaping to the West. A decades-long fight to flee brought it down.
For nearly 30 years, Berlin was divided not just by ideology, but by a concrete barrier that snaked through the city, serving as an ugly symbol of the Cold War. Erected in haste and torn down in protest, the Berlin Wall was almost 27 miles long and was protected with barbed wire, attack dogs, and 55,000 landmines. But though the wall stood between 1961 and 1989, it could not survive a massive democratic movement that ended up bringing down the the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR) and spurring on the Cold War’s end.
The wall had its origins in the end of World War II, when Germany was carved into four pieces and occupied by Allied powers. Although Berlin was located about 90 miles east from the border between the GDR and West Germany and completely surrounded by the Soviet sector, the city was also originally divided into four quarters, but by 1947 was consolidated into east and west zones.
In 1949, the two new Germanies were officially founded. Socialist East Germany was wracked by poverty and convulsed by labor strikes in response to its new political and economic systems. The brain drain and worker shortage that resulted prompted the GDR to close its border with West Germany in 1952, making it much harder for people to cross from “Communist” to “free” Europe. (Revisit National Geographic's reporting from West Berlin before the wall fell.)
East Germans began fleeing through the more permeable border between East and West Berlin instead. At one point, 1,700 people a day sought refugee status by crossing from East to West Berlin, and about 3 million GDR citizens went to West Germany through the via West Berlin between 1949 and 1961.
In the wee hours of August 13, 1961, as Berliners slept, the GDR began building fences and barriers to seal off entry points from East Berlin into the western part of the city. The overnight move stunned Germans on both sides of the new border. As GDR soldiers patrolled the demarcation line and laborers began constructing a concrete wall, diplomatic officials and the militaries of both sides engaged in a series of tense standoffs.
The story of Berlin Wall in pictures, 1961-1989
West Berlin citizens hold a vigil atop the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate on November 10, 1989, the day after the East German government opened the border between East and West Berlin.
Erected in the dead of night on August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall (known as Berliner Mauer in German) was a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany. Its purpose was to keep disaffected East Germans from fleeing to the West.
When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, its destruction was nearly as instantaneous as its creation. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall had been a symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain between Soviet-led Communism and the democracies of the West. When it fell, it was celebrated around the world.
On August 13, 1961, East Germany closed its borders with the west. Here, East German soldiers set up barbed wire barricades at the border separating East and West Berlin. West Berlin citizens watch the work.
At the end of World War II, the Allied powers divided conquered Germany into four zones. As agreed at the Potsdam Conference, each was occupied by either the United States, Great Britain, France, or the Soviet Union. The same was done with Germany’s capital city, Berlin. The relationship between the Soviet Union and the other three Allied powers quickly disintegrated.
As a result, the cooperative atmosphere of the occupation of Germany turned competitive and aggressive. One of the best-known incidents was the Berlin Blockade in June of 1948 during which the Soviet Union stopped all supplies from reaching West Berlin.
Although an eventual reunification of Germany had been intended, the new relationship between the Allied powers turned Germany into West versus East and democracy versus Communism.
In 1949, this new organization of Germany became official when the three zones occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France combined to form West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, or FRG).
The zone occupied by the Soviet Union quickly followed by forming East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR). This same division into West and East occurred in Berlin. Since the city of Berlin had been situated entirely within the Soviet Zone of Occupation, West Berlin became an island of democracy within Communist East Germany.
A young East Berliner erects a concrete wall that was later topped by barbed wire at a sector border in the divided city August 18, 1961. East German police stand guard in the background as another worker mixed cement.
Within a short period of time after the war, living conditions in West Germany and East Germany became distinctly different. With the help and support of its occupying powers, West Germany set up a capitalist society.
The economy experienced such rapid growth that it became known as the “economic miracle”. With hard work, individuals living in West Germany were able to live well, buy gadgets and appliances, and travel as they wished.
Nearly the opposite was true in East Germany. The Soviet Union had viewed their zone as a spoil of war. They had pilfered factory equipment and other valuable assets from their zone and shipped them back to the Soviet Union.
When East Germany became its own country in 1949, it was under the direct influence of the Soviet Union, and a Communist society was established. The economy of East Germany dragged and individual freedoms were severely restricted.
Tracks of the Berlin elevated railroad stop at the border of American sector of Berlin in this air view on August 26, 1961. Beyond the fence, communist-ruled East Berlin side, the tracks have been removed.
Outside of Berlin, East Germany had been fortified in 1952. By the late 1950s, many people living in East Germany wanted out. No longer able to stand the repressive living conditions, they would head to West Berlin. Although some of them would be stopped on their way, hundreds of thousands made it across the border.
Once across, these refugees were housed in warehouses and then flown to West Germany. Many of those who escaped were young, trained professionals. By the early 1960s, East Germany was rapidly losing both its labor force and its population.
Between 1949 and 1961, it’s estimated that nearly 2.7 million people fled East Germany. The government was desperate to stop this mass exodus. The obvious leak was the easy access East Germans had to West Berlin. With the support of the Soviet Union, there had been several attempts to simply take over West Berlin.
Although the Soviet Union even threatened the United States with the use of nuclear weapons over this issue, the United States and other Western countries were committed to defending West Berlin.
Desperate to keep its citizens, East Germany knew that something needed to be done. Famously, two months before the Berlin Wall appeared, Walter Ulbricht, Head of the State Council of the GDR (1960–1973) said, “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten”. These iconic words mean, “No one intended to build a wall”. After this statement, the exodus of East Germans only increased. Over those next two months of 1961, nearly 20,000 people fled to the West.
Formidable concrete walls took shape at the seven crossing points between East and West Berlin on December 4, 1961. The new walls were seven feet high and five feet thick. Only small passages for traffic were left open. In center of the Bornholmer Bridge (French/Russian sector border), behind steel tank traps, a big sign showing the East German emblem hammer and compass.
Rumors had spread that something might happen to tighten the border of East and West Berlin. No one was expecting the speed—nor the absoluteness—of the Berlin Wall. Just past midnight on the night of August 12–13, 1961, trucks with soldiers and construction workers rumbled through East Berlin.
While most Berliners were sleeping, these crews began tearing up streets that entered into West Berlin. They dug holes to put up concrete posts and strung barbed wire all across the border between East and West Berlin. Telephone wires between East and West Berlin were also cut and railroad lines were blocked.
Berliners were shocked when they woke up that morning. What had once been a very fluid border was now rigid. No longer could East Berliners cross the border for operas, plays, soccer games, or any other activity.
No longer could the approximately 60,000 commuters head to West Berlin for well-paying jobs. No longer could families, friends, and lovers cross the border to meet their loved ones. Whichever side of the border one went to sleep on during the night of August 12, they were stuck on that side for decades.
East German VOPO, a quasi-military border policeman using binoculars, standing guard on one of the bridges linking East and West Berlin, in 1961.
The total length of the Berlin Wall was 91 miles (155 kilometers). It ran not only through the center of Berlin, but also wrapped around West Berlin, entirely cutting it off from the rest of East Germany. The wall itself went through four major transformations during its 28-year history. It started out as a barbed-wire fence with concrete posts.
Just days later, on August 15, it was quickly replaced with a sturdier, more permanent structure. This one was made out of concrete blocks and topped with barbed wire.
The first two versions of the wall were replaced by the third version in 1965. This consisted of a concrete wall supported by steel girders. The fourth version of the Berlin Wall, constructed from 1975 to 1980, was the most complicated and thorough. It consisted of concrete slabs reaching nearly 12-feet high (3.6 meters) and 4-feet wide (1.2 meters). It also had a smooth pipe running across the top to hinder people from scaling it.
By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there was a 300-foot No Man’s Land and an additional inner wall. Soldiers patrolled with dogs and a raked ground showed footprints. The East Germans also installed anti-vehicle trenches, electric fences, massive light systems, 302 watchtowers, 20 bunkers, and even minefields.
Over the years, propaganda from the East German government would say that the people of East Germany welcomed the Wall. In reality, the oppression they suffered and the potential consequences they faced kept many from speaking out to the contrary.
Under the eye of a communist “people’s policeman”, East Berlin workers with a power shovel destroy one of a number of cottages and one-family houses along a sparsely settled stretch of the east-west Berlin boundary in October of 1961.
Although most of the border between East and West consisted of layers of preventative measures, there were little more than a handful of official openings along the Berlin Wall. These checkpoints were for the infrequent use of officials and others with special permission to cross the border.
The most famous of these was Checkpoint Charlie, located on the border between East and West Berlin at Friedrichstrasse. Checkpoint Charlie was the main access point for Allied personnel and Westerners to cross the border. Soon after the Berlin Wall was built, Checkpoint Charlie became an icon of the Cold War. It has frequently been featured in movies and books set during this time period.
A young girl in the Eastern Sector looks through barbed wire into Steinstucken, Berlin, in October of 1961.
The Berlin Wall did prevent the majority of East Germans from emigrating to the West, but it did not deter everyone. During the history of the Berlin Wall, it is estimated that about 5,000 people made it safely across. Some early successful attempts were simple, like throwing a rope over the Berlin Wall and climbing up.
Others were brash, like ramming a truck or bus into the Berlin Wall and making a run for it. Still, others were suicidal as some people jumped from the upper-story windows of apartment buildings that bordered the Berlin Wall.
In September 1961, the windows of these buildings were boarded up and the sewers connecting East and West were shut off. Other buildings were torn down to clear space for what would become known as the Todeslinie, the “Death Line” or “Death Strip.”
This open area allowed a direct line of fire so East German soldiers could carry out Shiessbefehl, a 1960 order that they were to shoot anyone trying escape. Twenty-nine people were killed within the first year. As the Berlin Wall became stronger and larger, the escape attempts became more elaborately planned.
Some people dug tunnels from the basements of buildings in East Berlin, under the Berlin Wall, and into West Berlin. Another group saved scraps of cloth and built a hot air balloon and flew over the Wall.
Unfortunately, not all escape attempts were successful. Since the East German guards were allowed to shoot anyone nearing the eastern side without warning, there was always a chance of death in any and all escape plots. It is estimated that somewhere between 192 and 239 people died at the Berlin Wall.
Blocking the church – Two East Germans work on a huge 15 foot wall, placing pieces of broken glass on the top to prevent East Berliners from escaping.
One of the most infamous cases of a failed attempt occurred on August 17, 1962. In the early afternoon, two 18-year-old men ran toward the Wall with the intention of scaling it. The first of the young men to reach it was successful. The second one, Peter Fechter, was not.
As he was about to scale the Wall, a border guard opened fire. Fechter continued to climb but ran out of energy just as he reached the top. He then tumbled back onto the East German side. To the shock of the world, Fechter was just left there. The East German guards did not shoot him again nor did they go to his aid.
Fechter shouted in agony for nearly an hour. Once he had bled to death, East German guards carried off his body. He became the 50th person to die at the Berlin Wall and a permanent symbol of the struggle for freedom.
A refugee runs during an attempt to escape from the East German part of Berlin to West Berlin by climbing over the Berlin Wall on October 16, 1961.
The fall of the Berlin Wall happened nearly as suddenly as its rise. There had been signs that the Communist bloc was weakening, but the East German Communist leaders insisted that East Germany just needed a moderate change rather than a drastic revolution. East German citizens did not agree.
Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1985–1991) was attempting to save his country and decided to break off from many of its satellites. As Communism began to falter in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in 1988 and 1989, new exodus points were opened to East Germans who wanted to flee to the West.
In East Germany, protests against the government were countered by threats of violence from its leader, Erich Honecker. In October 1989, Honecker was forced to resign after losing support from Gorbachev. He was replaced by Egon Krenz who decided that violence was not going to solve the country’s problems. Krenz also loosened travel restrictions from East Germany.
Picture taken in June 1968 of the Berlin Wall and East Berlin (Soviet sector).
Suddenly, on the evening of November 9, 1989, East German government official Günter Schabowski blundered by stating in an announcement, “Permanent relocations can be done through all border checkpoints between the GDR [East Germany] into the FRG [West Germany] or West Berlin”.
People were in shock. Were the borders really open? East Germans tentatively approached the border and indeed found that the border guards were letting people cross.
Very quickly, the Berlin Wall was inundated with people from both sides. Some began chipping at the Berlin Wall with hammers and chisels. There was an impromptu and massive celebration along the Berlin Wall, with people hugging, kissing, singing, cheering, and crying.
The Berlin Wall was eventually chipped away into smaller pieces (some the size of a coin and others in big slabs). The pieces have become collectibles and are stored in both homes and museums. There is also now a Berlin Wall Memorial at the site on Bernauer Strasse. After the Berlin Wall came down, East and West Germany reunified into a single German state on October 3, 1990.
Typical of East Berlin measures to halt the escape of refugees to the west are these bricked-up windows in an apartment house along the city’s dividing line October 6, 1961. The house, on the South side of Bernauerstrasse, is in East Berlin.
Aerial view of Berlin border wall, seen in this 1978 picture.
East German border guards carry away a refugee who was wounded by East German machine gun fire as he dashed through communist border installations toward the Berlin Wall in 1971.
East Berlin laborers work on “Death Strip” which communist authorities created on their side of the border in the divided city on October 1, 1961. A double barbed wire fence marks the border, with West Berlin at right. In this view of the area laborers level rubble of houses which, just days before, stood on the site close to the border. Buildings along the 25-mile dividing line were evacuated and razed by Berlin reds to eliminate one means of escape used by East Berliners to jump to the west.
Dying Peter Fechter is carried away by East German border guards who shot him down when he tried to flee to the west in this August 17, 1962 photo. Fechter was lying 50 minutes in no-man’s land before he was taken to a hospital where he died shortly after arrival.
View from top of the old Reichstag building of the Brandenburg Gate, which marks the border in this divided city. The semi-circled wall around the Brandenburg Gate was erected by East German Vopos on November 19, 1961.
The Brandenburg Gate is shrouded in fog as a man looks from a watchtower over the Wall to the Eastern part of the divided city on November 25, 1961. The tower was erected by the West German police to observe the Inner-German border.
East German border guard Conrad Schumann leaps into the French Sector of West Berlin over barbed wire on August 15, 1961. More info about this picture.
West German construction workers have a chat in West Berlin, April 18, 1967 beside the wall separating the city.
East German border guards carry away a 50 year old refugee, who was shot three times by East German border police on September 4, 1962, as he dashed through communist border installations and tried to climb the Berlin wall in the cemetery of the Sophien Church.
A woman and child walk beside a section of the Berlin Wall.
Reverend Martin Luther King, American civil rights leader, invited to Berlin by West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, visits the wall on September 13, 1964, at the border Potsdamer Platz in West Berlin.
A mass escape of 57 people in October 1964 from East Berlin through a tunnel to the cellar of a former bakery in “Bernauer Street”, West Berlin. Picture of the tunnel exit.
A graffiti-covered section of the wall close to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1988. Sign reads: “Attention! You are now leaving West Berlin”
(1 of 3) Two East Berliners jump across border barriers on the Eastern side of border checkpoint at Chaussee Street in Berlin in April of 1989. They were stopped by gun wielding East German border guards and arrested while trying to escape into West Berlin. People in the foreground, still in East Berlin, wait for permits to visit the West.
(2 of 3) Two East Berlin refugees are taken away by border guards after a thwarted escape attempt at Berlin border crossing Chausseestreet, in this April 1989 picture.
(3 of 3) An East Berlin border guard, cigarette in mouth, points his pistol to the scene where two East Germans were led away after failing to escape to the west at Berlin border crossing Chausseestrasse. Eyewitnesses reported the guard also fired shots.
A general view of the overcrowded East Berlin Gethsemane Church on October 12, 1989. About 1,000 East Germans took part in a prayer service here for imprisoned pro-democracy protesters. The church was the focus of protests in the final days of the wall.
An unidentified East German border guard gestures toward some demonstrators, who who threw bottles on the eastern side of newly-erected barriers at the Checkpoint Charlie crossing point on October 7, 1989.
East and West Berliners mingle as they celebrate in front of a control station on East Berlin territory, on November 10, 1989, during the opening of the borders to the West following the announcement by the East German government that the border to the West would be open.
East Berliners get helping hands from West Berliners as they climb the Berlin Wall which divided the city for decades, near the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) on November 10, 1989.
A man hammers away at the Berlin Wall on November 12, 1989 as the border barrier between East and West Germany was torn down.
West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall early November 11, 1989 as they watch East German border guards demolishing a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin, near the Potsdamer Square.
East and West German Police try to contain the crowd of East Berliners flowing through the recent opening made in the Berlin wall at Potsdamer Square, on November 12, 1989.
Decades later, the Berlin Wall is a memory, pieces of it scattered around the world. Here, some original pieces of the wall are displayed for sale at the city of Teltow near Berlin, on November 8, 2013
(Photo credit: AP / Getty Images/ Text: Jennifer Rosenberg).
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a series of walls, fences and barriers separating the East German-Soviet sections of Berlin from Western-occupied sections. It was erected in the midst of the Berlin Crisis in 1961 and stood for almost three decades as a symbol of Cold War division. With its fortifications, guards and booby traps, attempting to cross the Berlin Wall proved fatal for scores of civilians.
The Wall erected
The story of the Berlin Wall began in the early hours of August 13th 1961, when the government of East Germany ordered the closure of all borders between East and West Berlin.
As the sun rose that morning, Berliners were awoken by the sound of trucks, jackhammers and other heavy machinery. Watched by Soviet troops and East German police, workmen began breaking up roads, footpaths and other structures, before laying thousands of metres of temporary but impassable fencing, barricades and barbed wire. They worked for several days, completely surrounding the western zones of Berlin and cutting them off from the city’s eastern sectors.
Within three days, almost 200 kilometres of fenceline and barbed wire had been erected. The East German government’s official name for this new structure was Die anti-Faschistischer Schutzwall, or the ‘Anti-fascist Protective Wall’. It became known more simply as the Berlin Wall. According to East Germany, the wall’s function was to keep out Western spies and stop West German profiteers buying up state-subsidised East German goods. In reality, the wall was erected to stop the exodus of skilled labourers and technicians from East to West Berlin.
The erection of the Berlin Wall made headlines around the world. For the Western powers, the closure of East Germany’s borders was not entirely unexpected, though the erection of a permanent wall took many by surprise.
The United States and West Germany immediately went on high alert, in case the events in Berlin were a prelude to a Soviet-backed invasion of the city’s western zones. Six days later, US president John F. Kennedy ordered American reinforcements into West Berlin. More than 1,500 soldiers were transported into the city along East German autobahns (unlike in the Berlin Blockade, access to West Berlin through East German territory was not blocked).
To prepare for another possible Soviet blockade, Kennedy also ordered a contingent of US cargo planes to be sent to West Germany. Some experts considered the Berlin Wall an act of aggression against Berliners in both zones and demanded strong action. Kennedy was more sanguine, suggesting that a wall “is a hell of a lot better than a war”.
The ‘death strip’
As weeks passed, the Berlin Wall became stronger and more sophisticated – and also more deadly. By June 1962, the East Germans had erected a second line of fencing, approximately 100 metres inside the first wall. The area between both fences came to be known as ‘no man’s land’ or the ‘death strip’.
Under East German regulations, any unauthorised person observed between the two walls could be shot without warning. Houses within the ‘death strip’ were seized by the East German government, destroyed and levelled. The area was floodlit and covered with fine gravel that revealed footprints, which prevented people from sneaking across unnoticed. Structures that overhung the ‘death strip’, like balconies or trees, were booby-trapped with nails, spikes or barbed wire.
In 1965, following several escape attempts where cars or trucks were used to punch through the fenceline, many sections of the barrier were replaced with pre-fabricated sections of concrete. This 3.4-metre high concrete barrier became the Berlin Wall’s most visible feature.
Crossing the Berlin Wall
Needless to say, crossing the border between the two Berlins became even more restrictive. Prior to the erection of the Berlin Wall, it had been comparatively easy for West Berliners to visit relatives in eastern sectors. They did so with a day pass issued by East German authorities.
Travelling in the other direction was more difficult. East Berliners wanting to cross the border had to show a government permit that was difficult to obtain. Elderly East Berliners found these permits easier to obtain because their potential defection was not detrimental to East Germany’s economy.
Those with business ties or immediate family in the West could also be granted permits – though these permits were often denied or revoked without reason. Permit-holders could cross the Berlin Wall at several points, the best known of which was ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ in Friedrichstrasse. Young East Germans, particularly those with any college education or technical training, found permits almost impossible to obtain.
There were, of course, many attempts to cross the wall illegally. Some East Germans tried climbing, scampering or abseiling over the wall – but the fortifications, barbed wire and armed Grepo (border police) made this a dangerous activity.
Ramming through barriers or checkpoints in vehicles was a common tactic in the early years of the wall. This tactic was nullified when the East Germans rebuilt all roads approaching the wall as narrow zig-zags, preventing vehicles from accelerating. Others tried tunnelling under the wall or flying over it, using makeshift hot-air balloons, with varying levels of success.
Around 230 people died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall. In 1962 Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old East German factory worker, was shot in the hip by a border patrol. Fechter bled to death in the ‘death strip’ while helpless onlookers on both sides watched impotently. Siegfried Noffke, who had been separated from his wife and daughter by the wall, dug a tunnel underneath it, only to be captured and machine-gunned by Stasi agents.
The Berlin Wall as propaganda
The Berlin Wall became a stark and foreboding symbol of the Cold War. In the West, its presence was exploited as propaganda.
The Berlin Wall, Western leaders said, was evidence that East Germany was a failing state, that thousands of its people did not want to live under communism. US secretary of state Dean Rusk called the Wall “a monument to communist failure” while West German mayor Willy Brandt called it “the wall of shame”.
In Washington, there was considerable debate about how the US should respond to the erection of the Berlin Wall. Ever the realist, President Kennedy knew that threats or shows of aggression might provoke confrontation or lead to war. He instead focused his attention on West Berlin, hailing it as a small but determined bastion of freedom, locked inside an imprisoned state.
Kennedy visited West Berlin in June 1963 and was greeted by ecstatic crowds, which cheered wildly and showered his motorcade with flowers and confetti. In the Rudolph Wilde Platz (later renamed the John F. Kennedy Platz), the US president told a rapt audience:
“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. ‘Lass sie nach Berlin kommen’: let them come to Berlin… Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all men are not free… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (I am a citizen of Berlin).”
The Berlin Wall stood in place for almost 30 years. It remained the most tangible evidence of the Cold War and Iron Curtain separating the Soviet bloc from the West. Western leaders often referred to it as a symbol of Soviet repression. US president Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin in June 1987 and urged his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall“. It was the people of Berlin themselves who tore it down, during a public demonstration in November 1989.
1. The Berlin Wall was erected by the East German government in 1961. It was constructed to halt the exodus of people, particularly skilled workers, from communist East Berlin.
2. Construction of the Berlin Wall began before dawn on August 13th 1961. Borders were initially closed with fences and barbed wire, then later fortified with large concrete walls
3. The West condemned the Berlin Wall and exploited it as anti-communist propaganda. The wall was evidence, they said, that Soviet communism was failing and East Germany was now a prison state.
4. Over time, the Berlin Wall was heavily fortified, booby-trapped and policed by armed guards. Despite this, many Berliners tried to cross it, and around 230 were killed in the process.
5. The Berlin Wall would stand for almost three decades as a tangible sign of the Iron Curtain and the divisions between the Soviet bloc and the democratic West. The political changes of the late 1980s, the weakening of the East German government and a popular uprising led to the Berlin Wall being torn down in November 1989.
Effects of the Berlin Wall
With the closing of the East-West sector boundary in Berlin, the vast majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Berlin soon went from the easiest place to make an unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to the most difficult. Many families were split, and East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs. West Berlin became an isolated exclave in a hostile land. West Berliners demonstrated against the Wall, led by their Mayor Willy Brandt, who strongly criticized the United States for failing to respond. Allied intelligence agencies had hypothesized about a wall to stop the flood of refugees, but the main candidate for its location was around the perimeter of the city. In 1961, Secretary of State Dean Rusk proclaimed, “The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is … to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to communist failure.”
United States and UK sources expected the Soviet sector to be sealed off from West Berlin, but were surprised how long they took to do so. They considered the Wall an end to concerns about a GDR/Soviet retaking or capture of the whole of Berlin the Wall would presumably have been an unnecessary project if such plans were afloat. Thus, they concluded that the possibility of a Soviet military conflict over Berlin had decreased.
The East German government claimed that the Wall was an “anti-fascist protective rampart” intended to dissuade aggression from the West. Another official justification was the activities of Western agents in Eastern Europe. The Eastern German government also claimed that West Berliners were buying state-subsidized goods in East Berlin. East Germans and others greeted such statements with skepticism, as most of the time the border was closed for citizens of East Germany traveling to the West but not for residents of West Berlin travelling East. The construction of the Wall caused considerable hardship to families divided by it. Most people believed that the Wall was mainly a means of preventing the citizens of East Germany from entering or fleeing to West Berlin.
Bernauer Strasse Over the Wall_Six Stories from East Germany 3
Bernauer Strasse, 1978. Factories and houses were torn down those that remained were bricked over to form part of the wall.
Age 40 on November 9, 1989
Many GDR scientists needed only 1.5 grams for promotion to senior scientist or professor, says Joachim Sauer, now a computational chemist at Humboldt University in Berlin. “This was the weight of the Communist Party sticker.”
Before the wall fell, joining the Communist Party was an essential step for career advancement. For Sauer and other scientists who didn’t have the political stamp of approval, permanent postdoc-level positions were the most they could hope for. They also had to avoid making any provocative or critical statements about the Communist Party. Even so, Sauer says, “Staying quiet and keeping to yourself was not always enough.”
For example, late on a Friday afternoon in 1986, Sauer recalls the arrival of an unexpected guest in his office at the Institute of Chemistry in East Berlin. The institute’s Communist Party secretary showed up to request—in reality to demand—an opinion essay about a recent Communist Party congress, a demand completely unrelated to Sauer’s work as a theoretical chemist. The essay, Sauer was told, would be posted on the institute’s notice board for all to read.
It was a catch-22. “If you were to write what you think, you were in trouble,” says Sauer. “If you were to write what they wanted you to write, then you would deny yourself.” Sauer spent a stressful weekend searching for a solution to the impossible conundrum. In the end he says what he wrote was “okay on the surface, but had a double meaning, a small hammer that gave a message.” Sauer says the experience seems almost funny now, but not then. The essay was posted for only a few hours before officials decided to remove it.
Living behind the Berlin wall was not just personally stressful but also professionally frustrating. By the 1980s the GDR’s economic problems combined with Western embargoes meant research equipment was often outdated. As a computational chemist, Sauer says it was frustrating to be stuck behind the wall just as VAX computers were shrinking from building sized to room sized.
But sometimes equipment was unofficially available the GDR regularly smuggled in from the West all sorts of things, from exotic fruit to medical equipment. For example, Sauer says his research institute had managed to get embargoed computers via Austria, a fact that the institute’s administrators tried to keep secret by keeping the machines in a locked room and placing the terminals in another room, one open to the scientists. Sauer says he and his fellow scientists were skilled enough to extract the system information and so learned the computers’ origin.
After the wall came down, Sauer went to work for a software company in San Diego before being recruited back to Germany. A few years later he was awarded a professorship at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Sauer continues his quantum computational research—with brief breaks to entertain international heads of states with his wife, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sauer’s new workspace is in a recently renovated lab on Humboldt University’s Aldershof campus, where the GDR’s Institute of Chemistry used to sit, just across from a former Stasi military barracks.
Age 38 on November 9, 1989
India’s flamboyant Bollywood film industry may seem worlds apart from the factories of Communist East Germany, but business made them bedfellows. Before 1989 Heinz Mustroph worked as a chemist for Filmfabrik Wolfen, a government-owned company that supplied color film to primarily Bolly-wood clients.
After the Berlin wall collapsed, workers at the film company tried to keep business alive, but clients forced to pay in more expensive West German Deutschmarks soon went elsewhere. The color-film company—like many businesses in the East—couldn’t stay afloat. Without a job Mustroph partnered with some former colleagues to start a contract research company that in 1997 morphed into FEW Chemicals, a manufacturer of specialized dyes, also based in Wolfen.
Mustroph was in his late 30s when the Berlin wall fell, young enough to adapt to the new political and economic realities, even though the adjustment was not always smooth. “Although I worked much harder in the years after the wall came down than before, life is better for me now. Now, if someone wants to try something new with their lives, they make their own limits,” he says, instead of being dictated by government.
Trying to escape from East Germany often wasn’t as simple as climbing the wall — in some places, people also had to cross a “no man’s land” between two walls undetected. Along some stretches of the wall, the East Germans built a second wall and kept the heavily patrolled span between the two clear so soldiers could look for defectors’ footprints in the dirt and have a clear firing line. Here it’s shown in an archival photo.
The History and Meaning of the Berlin Wall
This November marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989, as the shaky East German communist government resigned, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Large crowds formed on both sides of the Wall. East and West Berliners climbed on top, and then people began using sledgehammers and pickaxes to cut holes in it. Large numbers of East and West Berliners started to move back and forth through the Wall, capturing the spirit of a freedom to move without political barriers standing in the way.
It is worth recalling how and why the Berlin Wall was constructed in the first place, and what it meant for an individual to be viewed as the property of the state in the stream of 20th-century political events.
Barb Wire and Bricks Stop People From “Voting With Their Feet”
On August 10, 1961, Nikita S. Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, attended a birthday party in Moscow for Sergei S. Verentsov, the Soviet marshal in charge of the missile program of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Khrushchev informed the celebrating assembly of leading Soviet military and political dignitaries that something momentous was about to occur.
“We are going to close Berlin,” Khrushchev announced. “We’ll just put up serpentine barbed wire and the West will stand there like dumb sheep. And while they’re standing there, we’ll finish a wall.” The crowd broke into an enthusiastic applause.
The city of Berlin had been divided into four Allied occupation zones at the end of the Second World War in Europe. The eastern half of the city was the Soviet zone. The western half was divided into American, British, and French zones, surrounded by the Soviet zone of occupation in eastern Germany. The closest British or American zone of occupation in western Germany was 110 miles to the west. The Soviets had established a “people’s republic” in their zone — the German Democratic Republic, with East Berlin as its capital.
Between the late 1940s and 1961, more than 4 million East Germans and East Berliners took advantage of the relative ease of crossing from the Soviet zone in Berlin to one of the Western zones to “vote with their feet” not to live in the “workers’ paradise” that Moscow had been generous enough to impose upon them. This mass exodus was a huge embarrassment to both the Soviet and the East German governments. It also represented a major loss in skilled labor and in many of the professional occupations.
The Soviets had been almost completely successful in keeping secret that West Berlin was to be sealed. On Saturday, August 12, 1961, 1,573 East Germans crossed the line separating East and West Berlin and registered as refugees desiring to live in the West. They were the last group to be allowed to freely depart. The Soviets stretched barbed wire across the Brandenburg Gate facing the Western zones in the center of the city. And at 2:30 on the morning of August 13, the border between East and West Berlin was closed.
“Successes” and “Failures” of the Wall
Two days later, on August 15, work began on the Berlin Wall it was made of brick and concrete and took two years to complete. When finished, it was 28 miles long and nine feet high, with barbed wire at the top. East German guards armed with machine guns fired upon any who attempted to cross it. There was also a 200-yard area leading up to the Wall covered with land mines and patrolled by police dogs.
Yet, in spite of this, during the 28 years of the Wall’s existence, between 1961 and 1989, an estimated 5,000 people managed to escape either over, under, or through the Wall. Some escaped through the sewer system under the Wall. Others dug tunnels — the longest one was 500 feet long, through which 57 people made their getaway to West Berlin in 1964.
One woman sewed Soviet military uniforms for three male friends, who drove through one of the Wall’s border checkpoints with her crammed under the front seat. An archer used an arrow to shoot a cable over the Wall from a building in East Berlin and slid along it to freedom.
Some constructed hot-air balloons and crude flying machines using bicycle motors to power their flight over the Wall. Others swam across canals or rivers that separated parts of East and West Berlin.
The Costs of Trying to Escape to Freedom
There also emerged a smuggling business that ran ads in West German newspapers. One such company, Aramco, with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, gave out press releases referring to their “most modern technical methods.” The company’s prices were not that unreasonable: $10,000 to $12,000 per person, with “quantity discounts” for families, payable into a numbered account in a Swiss bank. If an escape attempt failed, the company refunded most of the money to the person financially sponsoring the breakout.
The East German government issued “wanted” posters on the East Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie, offering 500,000 East German marks for the director of Aramco, Hans Ulrich Lenzlinger (about $25,000 at the black market exchange rate in the 1970s). The “wanted” posters negatively referred to him as a “trader in people.” In February 1979, someone collected the bounty on Lenzlinger’s head, after he was shot repeatedly in the chest and killed at his home in Zurich.
He was not the only victim of escape attempts. During those 28 years of the Wall’s existence, 80 people lost their lives trying to get to the western side of the Wall. And more than 100 others lost their lives trying to escape along other points of the highly fortified East German border with West Germany.
One of the most inhuman border killings happened in August 1962. Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old bricklayer, was shot and wounded while attempting to climb over the Wall. For 50 minutes he begged for help as he slowly bled to death in sight of soldiers and journalists looking over the Wall from one of the western border checkpoints. Only after he died did the East German guards retrieve his body.
The Berlin Wall came to symbolize the Cold War and its division of the world into halves, one half still relatively free and the other half under the most brutal and comprehensive tyranny ever experienced by man in modern history. Nothing was supposed to cross the Iron Curtain of barb wire fences, landmined farm fields, and machine-gun watchtowers that cut across central Europe from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea, without the permission of the Marxist masters in Moscow.
The Wall vs. the Right to Move
What the Berlin Wall epitomized was the 20th-century idea of the individual as the property of the state. Behind that Wall the East German government told the people where to live and work, what goods they could consume, and what enjoyments and entertainments they would be permitted. The state determined what they read and watched and said. And they could not leave the country — either for a visit or forever — unless it served the goals and interests of their political masters. And if anyone attempted to leave without permission, he could be shot and left to die, alone and helpless, with others forced to stand by as horrified observers.
In the 19th century, the great triumph of classical liberalism had been the abolition of the last of the ancient restrictions on the right of the individual to his life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. This had included the right of people to freely travel without undue government interference or control.
In earlier times, not only the physical difficulties of transportation prevented men from widely moving from one region or continent to another. Matching these physical barriers were the legal barriers of taxes, tolls, passports, and serfdom, which bound the vast majority of people to the land owned by the privileged and titled political castes.
Classical liberals and classical economists of the early 19th century argued for the removal of such restraints on people’s freedom. The guiding principle was that a man has a property right in himself, that he owns himself. As the British classical economist John R. McCulloch expressed it in the 1820s:
Of all the species of property which a man can possess, the faculties of his mind and the powers of his body are the most particularly his own and these he should be permitted to enjoy, that is, to use and exert, at his discretion … in any way, not injurious to others, [as] he considers most beneficial for himself.
A logical extension of the right of self-ownership over one’s mind and body and its use to further his personal and peaceful purposes was the right to move to where he believed he could best improve his circumstances. As the 19th century progressed, the various restrictions on the freedom to move were removed. Passports were virtually eliminated throughout the major countries of Europe and North America, and legal barriers to both emigration and immigration were almost completely abolished in these same nations.
Tens of millions of people, on their own personal account and with private funding, left their places of birth in pursuit of better lives and fortunes in countries and on continents of their own choice. Free movement of people matched the increasingly free trade in goods and capital. About 65 million people took advantage of this greater freedom of movement between 1840 and 1914, before the First World War began.
Modern Barriers to the Freedom to Move
But with the coming of the First World War, governments reinstituted passport and other restrictions on the freedom of movement. With the rise of the totalitarian ideologies in the years following the end of the First World War, the freedom to move was increasingly abolished. Communism, fascism, and Nazism all worked from the premise that the individual was subordinate to and lived and worked only for the advancement of the interests of the state. As an “object” owned by government, the individual stayed put or was forcibly removed to some other location under the brutal orders of the political authority.
Even outside the totalitarian systems of the 20th century, barriers to migration have been logical extensions of the emergence and growth of the interventionist-welfare state. When the government influences the direction of production, has responsibility for both the amount and types of employment in the society, and is the paternalistic administrator of a redistribution of wealth and income for retirement, health care, unemployment, housing, and education, it is inevitable that the same government will be concerned about and responsible for the amount, types, and demographics of any individuals or groups desiring to move into a country under that government’s jurisdiction.
The growth and development of the regulated economy, in other words, has provided the rationale for barriers to free migration. They stand as legal and political walls far higher than the Berlin Wall in preventing people from passing freely and unmolested from one part of the world to another. The passport that each and every one of us is forced to apply for and carry on our person whenever traveling outside the territorial jurisdiction of our own country, and which we must present upon our attempt to return to our own land, clearly shows that we are all in fact subjects under — not citizens above — the political authorities controlling our lives.
The German free market economist Wilhelm Röpke once pointed out in an article titled “Barriers to Migration” (1950):f
Modern nationalism and collectivism have, by the restriction of migration, perhaps come nearest to the “servile state.”… Man can hardly be reduced more to a mere wheel in the clockwork of the national collectivist state than being deprived of the freedom to move… Feeling that he belongs now to his nation, body and soul, we will be more easily subdued to the obedient state serf which nationalist and collectivist governments demand.
It has become a cliché that the world, every day, becomes a little smaller. Methods of global transportation improve the quality of travel and reduce the time between any two points around the world. Computer technology — the internet and email — has made virtually everything written, said, or photographed a simple and almost instantaneous “click” away. The expanding worldwide network of business, trade, and capital markets is increasingly making the globe a single market for commerce and culture.
On this 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we should remember all that it represented as a symbol of tyranny under which the individual was marked with the label: property of the state. He not only was controlled in everything he did and publicly said, but his every movement was watched, commanded, or restricted.
Freedom in all its forms — to speak, write, associate, and worship as we want to pursue any occupation, profession, or private enterprise that inclination and opportunity suggests to us and to visit, live, and work where our dreams and desires lead us to look for a better life — is a precious thing.
The history of the Berlin Wall and the collectivist ideology behind it should remind us of how important a loss any of our freedoms can be, as we determine in what direction — toward greater individual liberty and free enterprise or more government command and control — we wish our country and the world to move in the 21st century.
When was the Berlin Wall built and why?
Topic of Study [For H2 and H1 History Students]:
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
What is the Berlin Wall?
The German Berliner Mauer is a man-made barrier that surrounded West Berlin. It was established to built by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) on 13 August 1961 to prevent defections from East to West.
Why did the Germans flee from East to West Germany?
Following the end of World War Two, the signing of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements led to the division of Germany into four occupation zones. The Soviet Union controlled the eastern zones, while the United States, Great Britain and France occupied the western part. Due to the deteriorating living conditions, most people moved from East to West Germany.
As difficult as life was in Berlin, refugees came to the city from Eastern Europe and other parts of Germany. Conditions were even worse in their hometowns, and they hoped they might have better luck surviving in Berlin.
Food was scarce across the city – a condition made worse by the Soviets. Before leaving the other sectors of Berlin, the Soviets had stolen 7,000 cows along with machinery and pipes from buildings. The Soviets also limited access to farms in the Soviet zone outside Berlin. The Soviets wanted the food for their troops in Germany. Still some Berliners managed to reach farms in the countryside.An excerpt from “The Berlin Airlift: Breaking the Soviet Blockade” by Michael Burgan.
To prevent the departure of Berliners in the East, Stalin ordered the imposition of a Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948. In response, the Allies launched the Berlin Airlift that demonstrated their resolve to oversee the post-war recovery of the Western zones. More than 2.3 million tons of fuel and food were sent to West Berlin. A year later, the Berlin Blockade was lifted.
The Berlin Crisis
After the Berlin Wall was built, none could move from East to West Berlin, except through three checkpoints. “Checkpoint Charlie” (at Friedrichstrasse) was a site of flashpoint in October 1961.
On 22 October, a senior US diplomat in West Berlin was stopped by the East German border guards. General Lucius D. Clay ordered the deployment of American tanks to Checkpoint Charlie.
Moscow interpreted the move as an alarming threat. In retaliation, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sent Russian tanks to the checkpoint as well. Both parties had military forces facing each other for nearly sixteen hours.
Fortunately, American President Kennedy opened communications with the Soviet government to de-escalate tensions. Eventually, both forces withdrew.
[Khrushchev] believed the peak of confrontation with the United States had passed, a perception that did not change during the October 26-27 tank stand-off in Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie. Khrushchev, tipped off by erroneous Soviet intelligence, believed that Lucius Clay, a commander of the U.S. forces in West Berlin, was ready to storm the Wall by force. Persuaded that Kennedy was not personally behind the ploy, the Soviet leader contacted him and the confrontation was quickly resolved.An excerpt from “Khrushchev and the Berlin Crisis (1958-1962)” by Vladislav Martinovich Zubok.
What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– How far do you agree that the Soviet Union was responsible for the Berlin Crisis of 1961?
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