The German Democratic Republic of East Germany began erecting the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. The purpose of the wall was to separate East Berlin from West Berlin and prevented citizens from defecting to West Germany.
1. Other Names for the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall is known by many names:
- Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart
- Wall of Shame
- Inner German Border
- Iron Curtain
2. Before the Berlin Wall
After the end of World War II, October 7, 1949, parts of Europe were divided up into four sections by the United States, France, England and Russia. Each of these areas was controlled by the aforementioned countries. West Germany became a democratic state controlled by the United States, France and Britain. It became known as the Federal Republic of Germany. The area controlled by Russia became a communist state and became known as The German Democratic Republic of East Germany.
3. The City of Berlin Divided
Not only was East and West Germany divided but the city of Berlin was, as well. Although Berlin sits in Soviet Territory, the United States, France and Britain demanded that Berlin be divided equally among the four countries. West Berlin became controlled by the three allies and East Berlin was controlled by Russia. Before the allied countries took over West Berlin, the Soviets removed almost all machinery, transportation and telephone exchanges from West Berlin.
4. Thousands Leave East Berlin
During the first half of 1961, over 150,000 citizens of Soviet ruled East Germany left for West Germany. They fled because of the failing economy of East Germany, the failure of the government to provide them with the necessities of life and the oppression of the police. The people were not allowed to own their own land or take part in free trade. Their discontent grew and people longed for the freedom of West Germany.
5. Building the Berlin Wall
Building the Berlin Wall was a secretive enterprise led by Erich Honecker. Only about 20 government officials knew the wall was being erected. On August 12, 1961, the building began. Both the citizens and the rest of the government were told that the construction was an exercise. Nothing or very little about the wall construction was written down. The people were led to believe that the wall was made by the police to help with crowd control.
6. Wall Specifications
At first, the wall was just barbed wire. This was a quick means to hold in the citizens. Armed guards were also patrolling along the wall. Eventually, the wall was built of concrete that was 4 meters tall and 107 kilometers long. The side facing East Berlin had lighted control areas and anyone approaching these areas was shot without warning. Beyond the wall, a trench was dug, so vehicles could not try to drive through the wall. In front of the trench were patrols, attack dogs, guard towers and bunkers. A second wall was built in front of the first wall for more security. The wall passed through over 190 streets in East Berlin.
7. Escaping the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall did not prevent all people from escaping. In order to travel into West Berlin, citizens made up of mostly college students dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall. A graveyard was the sight of the first tunnel that could be used. People brought flowers and pretended to be mourning to disguise the digging of the tunnel. The graveyard tunnel was discovered when a woman walking her baby in a carriage, fell through the ground into the tunnel. The tunnel was sealed and never used again. One of the most successful tunnels was located in the cellar of the house at 60 Westerstrasse. This tunnel allowed 29 people to escape into West Berlin. Other attempts to escape were by hot air balloon and another 5,000 people tried to climb over the wall. About 100 of them were shot.
8. Leading up to the Collapse of the Berlin Wall
When Hungary allowed people from Western Europe to travel into their country, the collapse of the Berlin Wall became imminent. Hungary’s open borders allowed people in the communist countries and East Berlin citizens to travel freely into the west. Protests began in the German city of Leipzig, which pressured the government to liberate the people.
9. The Fall of the Berlin Wall
On November 9, 1989, the head of the East Berlin communist party, Gunter Schabowski, said people could cross the border for trips. Once the people heard this announcement, they gathered at the wall and began tearing it down piece by piece. By July 1, 1990, East and West Berlin were finally reunited and people were free to travel.
10. Twenty Years Later
Berlin celebrated the demolition of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 2009. The celebration was known as the Festival of Freedom. Politicians and dignitaries from all over the world attended the celebrations. One of the main features of the celebration was a massive set of dominoes that were more than 8-feet tall were erected along the site of the Berlin Wall. The dominoes toppled, one by one up to the Brandenburg Gate.