It was on August 13, 1961 that the German Democratic Republic of East Germany started the construction of the Berlin Wall. The purpose of the wall was to completely cut-off West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany. At the time, the Soviets were backing East Germany while the United States were backing West Germany. While the East claimed that the building of the wall was to stop Western spies from entering East Germany, it was actually built to prevent citizens from leaving East Germany for West Germany.
After the events of World War II, Germany was divided into four zones that were controlled by the Soviets, Britain, France and the United States. The Berlin Wall divided the communist Soviet side from all other three areas. It was made up of 96 miles of barrier between the East and West. There was concrete and barbed wire barriers that were put into place to separate the two sides at different areas along the wall.
Here are some interesting facts about the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was often referred to as the Iron Curtain
The wall was built more than 15 years into the Cold War. During that time more than 2 million East Germans fled to the West in between the years of 1949 and 1961. The Soviets had rejected East Germany’s original request to build the wall in 1953, however with defections through West Berlin reaching 1,000 people a day by the summer of 1961. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally gave in and the residents of Berlin woke up on the morning of August 13th 1961 to see barbed wire fencing had been installed on the border between the east and west sections as they slept.
It was built to stop the East Germans from defecting to the West. West Germans were able to visit East Germany by using a permit.
In June 1961, Khrushchev warned President John F. Kennedy that he would blockade West Berlin if Western forces were not removed. This was an act that could lead to war. When Kennedy heard about the wall being built, he confided to an aide “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war. This is the end of the Berlin crisis. The other side panicked-not we. We’re going to do nothing now because there is no alternative except war.”
136 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall as it stood. However, it is believed that approximately five thousand people were able to escape from East Germany to West Germany successfully by crossing over the wall.
The Brandenburg Gate had once been a part of another wall that existed in the 18th century. Prussian King Frederick William II commissioned the triumphal arch that straddles East and West Berlin. It served as the iconic backdrop for many presidential speeches by Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Though it was completed in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate was incorporated into the city’s original Customs Wall, which helped to ring in the city’s beginnings in the 1730s.
The West Side of the Berlin Wall was covered in graffiti while the East side was not.
The subway system that operated in Berlin had to be divided after the wall was built. Subways on the East could only operate on the east side while those on the West could only operate on the west.
The Berlin Wall was actually two walls, the 27-mile portion of the barrier that separated the east and west sections consisted of two concrete walls between which was a “death strip” of up to 160 yards that contained hundreds of watchtowers, miles of anti-vehicle trenches, guard dogs and floodlights as well as trip-wire machine guns.
In the Summer of 1989, the Hungary border was opened. That made it easier for East Germans to escape through Hungary into Austria.
There were checkpoints along the Berlin Wall were people could cross over. The most popular was Checkpoint Charlie. The guard house from Checkpoint Charlie is on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.
The official date of the fall of the Berlin Wall is November 9th 1989. Actual demolition of the wall did not start until June 13th 1990. In between these dates, the border control still existed, but they were less strict. All Berlin Wall controls came to an end on July 1st , 1990 and Germany became one country again that same year on October 3rd.
Today the place where the Berlin Wall stood is marked with a row of cobblestones in the streets of Germany. The wall had 302 observation towers, 259 dog runs and 20 bunkers. The destruction of the Berlin Wall helped to put an end to the Cold War.