The Berlin Wall

Construction began on The Berlin Wall early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961. It was a desperate - and effective - move by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) to stop East Berliners escaping from the Soviet-controlled East German state into the West of the city, which was then occupied by the Americans, British and French.

Berlin's unique situation as a city half-controlled by Western forces, in the middle of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, made it a focal point for tensions between the Allies and the Soviets and a place where conflicting ideologies were enforced side-by-side. However, as more and more people in the Soviet-controlled East grew disillusioned with communism and the increasingly oppressive economic and political conditions, an increasing number began defecting to the West. By 1961 an estimated 1,500 people a day were fleeing to the West, damaging both the credibility and - more importantly - the workforce of the GDR. Soon rumours began to spread about a wall, and it wasn't long after that those rumours were made a concrete reality.

In a masterfully-planned operation, spanning just 24 hours, the streets of Berlin were torn up, barricades of paving stones were erected, tanks were gathered at crucial places and subways and local railway services were interrupted, so that within a day the West of Berlin was completely sealed off from the East. As of that same day inhabitants of East Berlin and the GDR were no longer allowed to enter the West of the city (including the 60,000 who had been commuters). In response to international criticism that such drastic measures inevitably drew, the GDR claimed that the barricade had been raised as an 'anti-fascist protection wall', and that they had moved to prevent a third world war.

The version of the 'Wall' that started life in 1961, was in fact not a wall but a 96 miles barbed wire fence. However, after this incarnation proved too easy to scale, work started in 1962 on a second fence, parallel to the first but up to 100 yards further in. The area in between the two fences was demolished to create an empty space, which became widely known as "death strip" as it was here that many would-be escapers met their doom. The strip was covered with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, it offered no cover, was mined and booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the armed guards - who were instructed to shoot on sight.

Later on even these measures were deemed insufficient and a concrete wall was added in 1965, which served until 1975 when the infamous 'St?tzwandelement UL 12.11' was constructed. Known also as Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall '75), it was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. It was made from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 m high and 1.5 m wide, and topped with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult for escapers to scale it. The Grenzmauer was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over 300 watchtowers, and thirty bunkers… Just to be on the safe side!

Despite the various security measures enforced, escape attempts were commonplace, especially in the years immediately following the erection of the wall, when there was still a fighting chance of making it across alive. Climbing was the obvious way to go and some 5,000 were said to have reached the other side. However in its thirty year history 100 people were shot dead, most famously the eighteen year old Peter Fetcher, who, after he was hit in the hip, was left to bleed to death in no-man's land as the world's media watched on.

As security tightened, more 'creative' escape plans became the order of the day. Tunnels and jumping from bordering buildings were two more successful ways of getting to the West, although the Wetzel and Strlzyck families eloped in true style - floating to salvation in a hot air balloon which they had fashioned from hundreds of small pieces of nylon cloth (after which it became almost impossible to buy cloth in the East). Rivalling them for the coveted prize of brave escapes, is the citizen who drove up to the checkpoint barrier and, winding down the roof of his convertible at the last minute, slipped underneath! Needless to say that a lower barrier was subsequently installed.

For those unable or unwilling to abscond from the East, life was bleak; and things only continued to get worse throughout the 70s and 80s as Communism and the USSR began to collapse. Honecker and the GDR resolutely stuck to their guns, speaking out in support of their regime; but when Hungary opened its borders in the summer of 1989, a flood of East Germans made their way West. Meanwhile student protests in Leipzeig put pressure on the government to lower the borders into West Berlin.

As the Iron Curtain cracked the fall of the wall looked inevitable. In the evening of November 9th, 1989 Gunter Schabowski, Minister of Propoganda, read out a note at a press conference announcing that the border would be opened for "private trips abroad". The news spread like wildfire and the German people immediately gathered in their thousands by the checkpoints, demanding passage. There was some confusion as to what the official line was and the border guards, uncertain of what to do and ill-equipped to deal with the huge and unyielding mob, were forced to let them pass. The Wall had fallen.

The days that followed saw chaotic celebrations erupt over the country as Germany celebrated the political fall of the Wall - and in the following days and weeks hundreds of citizens began physically tearing down the concrete division. These events were the first steps to the reunification of Germany, which was formally concluded on October 3rd, 1990. Today remnants of the Berlin Wall can be found at Bernauer Strasse and in front of the Neiderkirchnerstrasse, the former Prussian Parliament and current Berlin Parliament.

Comments

Add review

Rhys from United Kingdom Reply Jun 15th, 2015

didn't say much about the life of a east berliner

Charlotte from United Kingdom Reply Jun 14th, 2015

very helpful, but it didn't really have much about the wall itself and i struggled to find out some facts. however very good

Alaina from United States Reply May 29th, 2015

It would be so much better if there was credibility, other than that it was very informational and informative.

Michael from United States Reply Apr 9th, 2015

Thank U so much, very detailed

jane from United States Reply Feb 13th, 2015

good job but i kinda wanted more about conditions on both sides

Elizabeth from United States Reply Jan 21st, 2015

not a lot of info on the wall and its significance

madison from United States Reply Jan 15th, 2015

it helped me alot on my parper that we had to write in class

katie from United States Reply Dec 18th, 2014

thanks for the help on my school project

frankie from United States Reply Nov 21st, 2014

cool

Janet from New Zealand Reply Nov 19th, 2014

Thanks for the help on my school project :)

Ben Dover from United States Reply Nov 18th, 2014

Nothing about the Berlin wall here whatsoever.

Mike from United States Apr 10th, 2015

Not true. It talks about a lot of things having to do with the wall. Watch the hyperboles there fella!

Paul from United States Reply Nov 13th, 2014

This article was great! A quick and easy way to learn about the Berlin Wall. Reccomended if you don't want to be stuck watching 45 minute to an hour long documentarys about the Berlin Wall on Youtube!

bewewewewity from United States Reply Nov 10th, 2014

thank u very much this very help on project for life story thank so much it make smile me :)

popo pants from United States Reply Mar 19th, 2014

thanks for the info.!

hayden mauch from United States Reply Mar 3rd, 2014

you guys saved me I had trouble finding info on the wall for my power point!

Chad from Germany Reply Dec 15th, 2013

very very good info for my Rights and Responsibilities report by one thing I needed was the author for my bibliography thanks but FYI I got a B- because I didn't have the author!!!!

Avery from United States Reply Nov 1st, 2013

would hate to be in the east side of the berlin wall!

Chris from United States Reply Aug 13th, 2013

Having been to Berlin many times both before and after the wall, let the story serve as a monument to the failure of socialism. Let it serve as a reminder when we go to the polls to vote in our various home countries.

chloe from United Kingdom Reply Jul 6th, 2013

I took a trip to Berlin last week and went to Checkpoint Charlie, and I saw part of the wall - it really was breath taking standing next to it after I had read about the history behind it.

hannah from United States Reply Jun 13th, 2013

I loved this so much and I am really interested in it so much me and my mom are studying it

bubblez0042 from United States Reply May 8th, 2013

good but it should have something with negative effects after the wall fell

Collen from South Africa Reply May 5th, 2013

I am studing the Collapse of USSR and the Fall of Berlin wall this chapter is very interesting

elijah martim from United States Reply May 3rd, 2013

This is a very sad and it helped me explain this to all to my AP US history. thank you very much

from United States Reply Apr 25th, 2013

when did it blow up

Calvin from United States Reply Apr 24th, 2013

Can you tell me what is a bad thing about the wall being destroyed

Naser from United Arab Emirates Reply Apr 21st, 2013

It really helped me on my research paper! THANKS!!!!!

thepman from United States Reply Apr 13th, 2013

good info, but should include some organization

Richard K from United Kingdom Reply Mar 28th, 2013

I remember the day the wall went up, it was two days after my 20th Birthday , i was serving with the REME British Army On The Rhine Forces at the time 1960 to 1966 I visited East Germany in 1982 and could only travel on the allocated transit road, until I reached the allocated Hotel in Rostock, it was nothing but gloom and doom!

Dave Quigley from United Kingdom Reply Mar 24th, 2013

As one who was in Berlin on the night the original wall went this article is certainly factually correct. To thew commnt made about JFK's Berlin speech- this wasn't weird, his German was not as good as it could have been but the peopleof |Berlin knew exactly what he meant to say. A sight I will nevber forget!

Katey from United States Reply Mar 15th, 2013

This helped my Berlin Wall notes! if i haden't found this i wouldn't have such good notes! Thx!!!

CAD from Colombia Reply Mar 14th, 2013

not good but not horrible, there have been better sites

Erin Findlay from United Kingdom Reply Mar 5th, 2013

this is very good i love it

Akika Altman-Chandler from United States Reply Mar 4th, 2013

you did not include Kennedy's very weird speech about a berlin hot dog!

Angie from Taiwan Reply Feb 17th, 2013

i think you should put some more information about what life was like and the differences between east and west Berlin, ;)

Dave from United Kingdom Reply Feb 7th, 2013

Not a bad article- I speak from experience, being in the wrong part of the city on the night of Sat 12th Aug. I helped those wishing to escape and saw my young East German girlfriend murdered by a Stazi officer.

Paula Hohmann from United Arab Emirates Reply Feb 1st, 2013

Thanks!!!! Really helped i nearly failed the test

BOB from United States Reply Jan 18th, 2013

What about why the wall was up and how it fell and also you need more pics in addition to this there was little to no info about the kennedy or reagan visit to the wall reagan demanded it be destroyed and he also talked with gorbachev the wall needs its true history and what about the decline of the communist power after the wall

Dylan from United States Reply Jan 7th, 2013

Was very good but i could use the info were it was like "in the middel of the town" but all though i thought it was very good and yes just a few pics would be nic

from United States Reply Jan 1st, 2013

Good

geno from United States Reply Dec 19th, 2012

it was nice to know our history

Tameira from United States Reply Dec 19th, 2012

When did the it end

Avery from United States Reply Nov 28th, 2012

very informational but needs more information on life behind the berlin wall

Sieben from China Reply Nov 28th, 2012

Danke!The article is useful .I learnt a lot about Berlin Wall.谢谢

Gabriel Anderson from United States Reply Nov 27th, 2012

Very Helpful. But could use more pictures

Ly from United States Reply Nov 1st, 2012

Who is the author?

from Germany Reply Nov 1st, 2012

Helps

patel mansi from India Reply Oct 24th, 2012

veryyyyyyyyyyyyyy long

si from United States Reply Oct 21st, 2012

add subheadings and that would make things so much easier

tof from United States Reply Oct 15th, 2012

bad

Karissa from United States Reply Sep 6th, 2012

Very informational! Cleared up lots of confusion. Very great. I just wish there was a little bit more information

Harry from Greece Reply Jun 17th, 2012

Very good info and i liked the style of writing, easy to read and it made sense, just missing tit-bits of info though over all very good :)

kaleigh and chelsea from Canada Reply Jun 7th, 2012

it was pretty good, helped us with out project :)

rowan from United States Reply Jun 3rd, 2012

I absolutely love this! It helped a lot withy my soocial studies project on the cold war, and I'm really thankfull 'cause it's nearing dark!

A Student from United States Reply May 30th, 2012

I was looking for something easier to read, with like bulleted info, and smaller paragraphs :/

Jose from Brazil Reply May 28th, 2012

A good information, like someone else has said it would be good to have a militar point of the wall, but the info is awesome. Dankeschon!

SotoS from United States Reply May 22nd, 2012

Needs more info on the Miltary aspects

Amber from United States Reply May 8th, 2012

this helped a lot for my social studies project. it has some good information on it.

Gurtrude Fret from Greece Reply May 1st, 2012

tons of info

Anonymous from United States Reply Apr 30th, 2012

Helped with my "Escape from East Berlin Project" I had to do for Global. Thanx! Could use more pix though... XD

Minjae Lee from Korea Reply Apr 23rd, 2012

North Korea FTW!

Payton from United States Reply Apr 17th, 2012

They had to build a wall to keep people from freeing to West Germany. That's really sad.

from United States Reply Apr 9th, 2012

it was good i guess needs more info like idk?

neydishah carter from United States Reply Apr 3rd, 2012

It helps you learn about why America was so afraid of communism.

sydney zvidzai from Zimbabwe Reply Mar 26th, 2012

The Berlin Wall was a testimony of brutal experiment made real by suscipicious partners who were more interested in revenge rather than human rights

Amanda from United States Reply Mar 16th, 2012

This helped me with my project for the Berlin Wall. It is so fascinating and incredible! This is a wonderful source! I want to see more pictures though.

mark from United States Reply Mar 15th, 2012

It really helped me on my research paper! THANKS!!!!!

Alexis from United States Reply Mar 15th, 2012

Thanks so much for writing this article!!! It Helped so much on my research paper. :) Almost all of the other websites i looked at were un-official facts!! Thanks Again.(: Maybe some more pictures would be Okay other than that fantastic!!

Monique from United States Reply Mar 12th, 2012

This really helped me with my history article all the info really came in handy:]

Rylee Waldner from United States Reply Feb 20th, 2012

I think that this is a great website place! It gave me all the info. that i needed! Thank you so much! :)

daved leaton from United States Reply Feb 19th, 2012

I am a american who lived in germany from 1989 to 1992 I can remember vividly when the wall came down I was in the us army for 22my years I again returned to germany from 2007 to 2010be I was there for the 20 year celebration of the fall of the wall I have german friends that I still have in schwabach germany and I continue to wish all the best for all my german friends and all germans thanks for a experience of a life

ihioy from United States Reply Feb 18th, 2012

amazing

pb&j from Cambodia Reply Feb 17th, 2012

nice pics

carla from United States Reply Feb 10th, 2012

I think the Berlin wall was a bad thing. I mean, why would you want to separate a nation that is supposed to be united? But, that's just me. I think all people are created equal.

whitney from United States Reply Feb 8th, 2012

loved it!!! :)

Caybrah64 from United States Reply Feb 7th, 2012

I think the Berlin wall was a bad thing. I mean, why would you want to separate a nation that is supposed to be united? But, that's just me. I think all people are created equal.

Sophie K from United Kingdom Reply Jan 29th, 2012

This was a wonderful piece to read, and it helped loads with my project about the Berlin Wall! My German teacher will be very impressed with it :D

Bob from Uruguay Reply Jan 24th, 2012

where did the unicorns go?! O:

nina from United Kingdom Reply Jan 15th, 2012

cool

person101 from United States Reply Jan 5th, 2012

pretty good few more facts would be nice

ANONIMOUS from United States Reply Jan 4th, 2012

very well done i LOVE this website!!!

alisha from United States Reply Jan 4th, 2012

i thought it was ment for kids there

maggie from United Kingdom Reply Nov 28th, 2011

I am writing my journal for my family and as I was living in Berlin in 1963 aged 25, teaching for the allied forces, I needed to refresh on the history of the wall. It was awesome standing looking at the guards on the watch towers, guns at the ready and binoculars in hand. It was the first time in my life I saw a gun when we travelled on the military train into Berlin! The gun laws in UK are very different from the US. It wasn't all wall alot was barbed wire with no mans land in between. Very factual article well done.

Esme from United States Reply Nov 20th, 2011

wow i totally loved this i had to do an essay on this and i didn't really understand this before but now I'm quite interested in it...

SYDNEY ZVIDZAI from Zimbabwe Reply Nov 8th, 2011

if the fall of the berlin wall was caused by the collapse of Russia,is it possible then that if Russia had remained strong it wouyld be standing still

adam from United States Reply Nov 8th, 2011

it should say when and why it came down

from United States Reply Oct 18th, 2011

when and why did it come down

Emily Martin from Australia Reply Oct 9th, 2011

Pretty good. I found the information realy helpfull. A little bit more information would be nice

OBI CHUKWUKA from Nigeria Reply Sep 23rd, 2011

EXCITING

noreen from Zimbabwe Reply Aug 14th, 2011

Very informative.a great read.i didnt know the east berliners suffered so much.very touchin

Angela from United Kingdom Reply Aug 14th, 2011

I think it has some great facts and figure. It has helped me to finish of my history homework so thanks!!!

Joanne from United States Reply Aug 11th, 2011

Concisely stated. I am researching for a book which I am writing. These details were precisely what I needed. Thank you!

Anthony Eldrian from Indonesia Reply Jul 21st, 2011

Nice picture and great history information. Thanks for the information.

ll from United Kingdom Reply Jul 6th, 2011

useful information

Ella from United Kingdom Reply Jun 30th, 2011

brilliant information! helped me a lot!!!

alex harvey from United Kingdom Reply Jun 16th, 2011

reall good halped me with my german work :D

stu from United States Reply Jun 7th, 2011

its cool

Laugh a Lot :P from United States Reply Jun 1st, 2011

Very good info! It helped me a ton on my portfolio! :P

Nino Baldino from United States Reply May 28th, 2011

It was the 50th victim..a Peter Fechtner,young man ,trying to escape ,shot and was allowed to die just a few feet from freedim for orders were to not help in any way,re: USTRoops.This is what caused MajorGeneral Walker to resign and try to inform the public as to these unseemly orders..Walker on April 10 was shot at by a man later revealed to be Oswald...

Jimoh, Wahab Olaide from Nigeria Reply May 24th, 2011

great history........concise and well detailed

Load more comments (50)