The Berlin Wall

The building of the Wall

Before 1961, the socialist GDR felt the economic pressure of its properous West German neighbour. While in fact both sides were active subverting the cold war opponent, it was mainly the comparatively little economic success and the severe lack of political freedom that made people flee in numbers from the new socialist state. The Wall was supposed to stop the haemorrhage. The building plan remained the top secret of the East German state. In a conference on 15 June 1961, Communist Party (SED) leader Walter Ulbricht said: „Noone intends to build a wall.“ Only two months later, he ordered construction workers to do it, under the control of heavily armed police and soldiers.

Read more about the Building of the Wall.

The border system


The border between East and West Berlin  was a complex system of preventive structures and devices, rather than a mere wall. It consisted of several walls and fences, watchtowers, trenches, other barriers and in some parts even automatic shooting devices. It was permanently patrolled , dog-watched and illuminated . The entire border system was on East German  territory, the official border being behind the last wall structure – the one that is world known as ‚The Berlin Wall‘. The zone between the first and the last wall was commonly referred to as „Todesstreifen“ – death strip.

Facts about the Wall construction

Total length of the Wall encircling West Berlin: 156.4 km
of which within the city of Berlin: 43,7 km
and between West Berlin and the East German countryside: 112.7 km
incl. through built-up areas: 63.8 km (cutting through Berlin: 37 km)
average height of the concrete elements „Wall 75“: 3.60 m
trench system : 105,5 km  watchtowers: 186 
command towers: 31  bunkers: 20  guard dogs: 484
costs Wall material until 1970: 100m GDR marks
cost of border personnel: 1 bn. marks in 1983
official costs of each arrest at the Wall: 2.1 Mio marks

Border Policy and Wall Victims

The political rhetoric of the GDR claimed that the Berlin Wall was erected as a protection against a neo-fascist threat from the West. Its real purpose was to deny East Germans the freedom of movement and the choice of leaving the country. The border policy was rigorous. An order to fire obliged border guards, many of them military conscripts under the threat  of imprisonment or severe career disadvantages, to use fire against would-be refugees. This was communicated to them in a daily order as well.

Read more about the Border Policy and Wall Victims.

Fall of the Wall

227271On 2 May 1989, Hungarian border troops demonstratively begin to dismantle the “Iron Curtain” to Austria. Most of GDR citizens go on holiday to Hungary with the intension of not returning to East Germany. Budapest turns into a refugee camp. on 10 September the Hungarian government will not longer act as a border police. Furthermore there are already hundreads of demonstrations in East Germany. With the exodus via Hungary the Wall is beginning to crumble. The SED leaders has two alternatives: political reforms or put up a second WALL on the border to Czechoslovakia and Poland. In the end the state capitulate in the face of 70,000 peaceful revolutionists.


Berlin Wall ressources of the Goethe Institute in English
Goethe Institute Wall information for German language learners
Special on the Berlin wall and German unification by Deutsche Welle Radio online


 LAB, F Rep. 290-02-23, 




 Landesarchiv Berlin


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