The story of Berlin Wall in pictures, 1961-1989

Standing at the end of the night on August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall (known in German as the Berliner Mauer) was a physical division between West Berlin and East Germany. Its purpose was to prevent disgruntled East Germans from fleeing west.

When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, its destruction was as immediate as its construction. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall has 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.

At the end of World War II, the Allied Powers divided conquered Germany into four regions. As agreed at the Potsdam Conference, each was occupied by the United States, Great Britain, France or the Soviet Union.

The same was done with Berlin, the capital of Germany. Relations between the Soviet Union and the other three Allied countries soon disintegrated.

As a result, the cooperative environment of the German occupation became competitive and aggressive. One of the most famous events was the blockade of Berlin in June of 1948, during which the Soviet Union blocked all supplies from reaching West Berlin.

Although an eventual reunification of Germany was intended, the new relations between the Allied powers transformed Germany into West versus East and Democracy versus Communism.

In 1949, this new organization of Germany became official when the three territories occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France were merged to form West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, or FRG).

The territory occupied by the Soviet Union after the creation of East Germany (German Democratic Republic, or GDR). The same division into West and East happened in Berlin. As the city of Berlin was located entirely within the Soviet Zone of Occupation, West Berlin became an island of democracy within communist East Germany.

Within a short time after the war, living conditions in West Germany and East Germany differed markedly. With the help and support of its hegemonic powers, West Germany established 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 equipment, and travel as they wished.

In East Germany the situation was almost the opposite. The Soviet Union saw its territory as spoils of war. They took away factory equipment and other valuable assets from their territory and sent 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. East Germany's economy was dragged on and personal liberty was severely restricted.

Outside Berlin, East Germany was fortified in 1952. By the late 1950s, many people living in East Germany wanted to. No longer able to tolerate the oppressive living conditions, they would turn to West Berlin. Although some of them would be stopped on the way, hundreds of thousands made it across the border.

Once these refugees were kept in warehouses and then taken to West Germany. Many of the escapees 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 is estimated that about 27 million people fled East Germany. The government was desperate to stop this mass exodus. The obvious leak was the easy access of the East Germans to West Berlin. With the support of the Soviet Union, several attempts were made to easily take over West Berlin.

Although the Soviet Union threatened the United States with the use of nuclear weapons over the issue, the United States and other Western countries remained committed to the defense of West Berlin.

Desperate to keep its citizens, East Germany knew something needed to be done. Famously, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the head of the GDR's State Council (1960–1973) Walter Ulbricht said, "Niemand het die Absicht, Ein Mauer zu Erichten". These iconic words mean, "no one intends to build a wall". After this statement the exodus of the East Germans only increased. In those next two months of 1961, about 20,000 people fled west.

Rumors spread that something might happen to tighten the border between East and West Berlin. No one expected the speed—nor the perfection—of the Berlin Wall. Just before midnight on the night of August 12-13, 1961, trucks with soldiers and construction workers passed through East Berlin.

While most of the Berliners were asleep, these workers began tearing down the streets entering West Berlin. They dug holes to put concrete posts and barbed wire across the border between East and West Berlin. Telephone lines between East and West Berlin were also cut and rail routes were blocked.

When they awoke in the morning, the Berliners were astonished. What was once a very fluid boundary has now become rigid. East Berliners could no longer cross the border for opera, plays, soccer games, or any other activity.

Now about 60,000 passengers could not go to West Berlin for well-paying jobs. Now family, friends and lovers could not cross the border to visit their loved ones. On the night of August 12, the side of the border where someone slept was stuck on that side for decades.

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