From August 13, 1961 to November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall divided the city into two parts: West and East Berlin. It became the most famous symbol of the Cold War.
Berlin before 1961 – was the last “hole” in the West
Before the construction of the Berlin Wall, the borders between the western and eastern parts of the city were open, which gave the citizens of the GDR an opportunity to leave the country freely. Between 1949 and 1961, more than two and a half million people took advantage of this opportunity. The mass departure was called a “vote with their feet”: leaving, the citizens of the GDR spoke out against the existing socialist system. Young specialists often left the country, which had a negative impact not only on demography, but also on the economy of the East German state.
The leadership of the socialist camp decided to build the Berlin Wall against the background of the aggravation of the conflict between the two military-political blocs: NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. Historians call this event the “second birth” of the GDR: the country, completely isolated from the West, decided to focus on the ideological component and build “already existing socialism”.
The immediate start of the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 is still an event, not all of its circumstances are 100% clear. German historian Martin Sabro (Martin Sabro) believes that the situation was influenced by various post-war conditions and well-defined personalities. “The leader of East Germany, Walter Ulbricht, was more interested than Khrushchev in stopping the flow of people,” Zabrov confirmed. “Khrushchev believed in utopia, believing that socialism would triumph in Berlin without any walls and borders. He was really convinced of the superiority of the Soviet regime, Ulbricht realized that the situation was getting worse every day, and began to bombard the Soviet leadership with letters and talk of a blockade, and considered the wall a necessary measure on the way to saving the republic German Democratic Republic.”
Escape attempts and the victims of the Berlin Wall
Construction of the wall began on the night of August 13. Its total length was 155 km, of which 45 km stretched inside the city, sometimes dividing one street in two. 155 kilometers of barbed wire, a 3.6-meter-high concrete wall and 302 watchtowers halted mass immigration to Germany. However, there were later attempts to escape. For a few citizens of the GDR, they ended up in tragedy.
In 1962, 18-year-old Peter Fichter was killed by East German border guards while trying to cross the Berlin Wall. He bled for an hour until the border guards took him away. Died from blood loss.
Until 1989, the escape to the West, which required careful preparation and was associated with a danger to life, was a success for several thousand people. With border controls tightened, the fugitives’ imaginations became more complex: they hid in specially built bunkers in cars and loudspeakers, and crossed the border in hot air balloons and makeshift gliders. One of the most famous cases of escape was the mass exodus through a 140-meter self-drilled tunnel. On two evenings in 1964, 57 people crossed it into the territory of West Berlin.
The first victim of the Berlin Wall was a woman who jumped out of a window of a house in East Germany on August 22, 1961. She wanted to get to the other side of the street, which belongs to the western part of the city, but she crashed to death. Two days later, on August 24, 1961, the border guards of the German Democratic Republic shot a citizen of the GDR who was trying to flee west for the first time near the wall: his name was Gunter Lytvyn.
A “Piece of History” from Berlin
After the border between West and East Berlin was opened, the wall literally began to dismantle piece by piece. Its fragments have become a favorite souvenir. Some discerning lovers of modern history even took whole lumps …
Today, the remaining sections of the wall are a favorite place of pilgrimage for city guests. The concrete blocks that once separated the two states are considered a historical monument and are under state protection.