The Berlin Wall was built by the communist government of East Berlin in 1961. The wall separated East Berlin and West Berlin. It was built in order to prevent people from fleeing East Berlin. In many ways it was the perfect symbol of the "Iron Curtain" that separated the democratic western countries and the communist countries of Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War.
Berlin wall 1990 Photo by Bob Tubs
How it All Started
After World War II the country of Germany ended up dividing into two separate countries. East Germany became a communist country under the control of the Soviet Union. At the same time West Germany was a democratic country and allied with Britain, France, and the United States. The initial plan was that the country would eventually be reunited, but this didn't happen for a long time.
The City of Berlin
Berlin was the capital of Germany. Even though it was located in the eastern half of the country, the city was controlled by all four major powers; the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France.
As people in East Germany began to realize that they did not want to live under the rule of the Soviet Union and communism, they started to leave the eastern part of the country and move to the west. These people were called defectors.
Over time more and more people left. The Soviet and East German leaders began to worry that they were losing too many people. Over the course of the years 1949 to 1959, over 2 million people left the country. In 1960 alone, around 230,000 people defected.
Although the East Germans tried to keep people from leaving, it was fairly easy for people to leave the city of Berlin because the inside of the city was controlled by all four major powers.
Building the Wall
Finally, the Soviets and the East German leaders had had enough. On August 12th and 13th of 1961 they built a wall around Berlin to prevent people from leaving. At first the wall was just a barbed wire fence. Later it would be rebuilt with concrete blocks 12 feet high and four feet wide.
Reagan at the Berlin Wall Source: White House Photographic Office
Around that time the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse. They were losing their hold on East Germany. A few years later on November 9, 1989 the announcement was made. The borders were open and people could freely move between Eastern and Western Germany. Much of the wall was torn down by people chipping away as they celebrated the end to a divided Germany. On October 3, 1990 Germany was officially reunified into a single country.
Interesting Facts About the Berlin Wall
The Eastern Germany government called the wall the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart. The Western Germans often referred to it as the Wall of Shame.
Around 20% of the East German population left the country in the years leading up to the building of the wall.
The country of East Germany was officially called the German Democratic Republic or GDR.
There were also many guard towers along the wall. Guards were ordered to shoot anyone attempting to escape.
It is estimated that around 5000 people escaped over or through the wall during the 28 years it stood. Around 200 were killed trying to escape.