On this day: First block in Berlin Wall was set up

In the afternoon of August 12 at 4 p.m. Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader, signed the commands to close the border. Next Sunday at midnight the army, police and the “Kampfgruppen” began to bolt the city. The wall is built and separates the city into two parts for more than 28 years.

Streets, the railway and the S-Bahn (city railway) are broken, stations of the U-Bahn (underground railway) are closed, even cemeteries are not spared. Nothing is forgotten and the East Germans will not be allowed to free travel to the West until 1989.
Building the wall

Until 1961 East German citizen were allowed to travel to West Berlin.Travelling to West Germany became difficult after closing the border between East and West Germany in 1952. The Wall was erected in 1961 because more than 2.6 million East Germans escaped to West Berlin or West Germany from 1949 to 1961 (total population of East Germany was about 17 million!).

The wall in early years

The life in the West was much better than in the East after 1948. West Germany including West Berlin had got financial help through the Marshallplan from the USA. In East Germany a communist system was established and many people had to suffer under repressions of the Communist party.

The wall goes through the city

In May 1952 the open border (Zonengrenze) between East and West Germany was closed by the East German government. In the years after 1952 it became more difficult and dangerous to escape to the West over this border. However, the sectorial borders between East and West Berlin were not closed. Many East German citizen went to East Berlin and from there to West Berlin. Once arrived in West Berlin they stayed there or were fled out to West Germany.

East Germany lost too many skilled workers in these years. Another big problem were the two currencies in Germany and especially in Berlin. West German DM had been exchanged into East German DM at a rate of 1:4 (1 DM West = 4 DM Ost) in West Berlin. People with West German DM could get goods very cheaply in the Eastern part of Berlin. The East German government saw no other way to prevent from escaping to the West via Berlin than closing the border between East and West Berlin on August 13, 1961.

The Berlin Wall was erected in the night of August 13, 1961. It was a weekend and most Berliners slept while the East German government begun to close the border. In the early morning of that Sunday most of the first work was done: the border to West Berlin was closed. The East German troups had begun to tear up streets and to install barbed wire entanglement and fences through Berlin.

The first concrete elements and large square blocks were used first on August 15, 1961. Within the next months the first generation of the Berlin Wall was build up: a wall consisting of concrete elements and square blocks.

A second Wall was build in June 1962 in order to prevent from escaping to the West.
The first Wall was improved during the next years and it’s difficult to distinguish between the first and the second generation of the Wall.

Checkpoint Charlie today

These two first generations were removed by the third generation beginning about 1965. The third generation of Wall consisted of concrete slabs between steel girder and concrete posts with a concrete sewage pipe on top of the Wall.

East German citizen were not allowed to leave the country without permission. However, during the first days many people could escape through the border but day by day it became more dangerous. At the beginning people tried to climb over the Wall or the fences, they jumped out of the houses which were in the border area or tunnels were build to escape. During the first days several people lost their live or were killed by the Eastern border guard . Günter Litwin was the first victim who was shot down by East German border guard in Berlin on August 24, 1961.171 people were killed or died attempting to escape at the Berlin Wall between August 13, 1961 and November 9, 1989.

18 year old boy shot in attempt to escape

From the year 1975 the third generation of Wall was replaced by the fourth generation. New concrete segements were used which were easy to build up and were more resistant to breakthroughs and to environmental polutions.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the Cold War and separation of Germany and Berlin. For more than 30 years tourists also came to Berlin to view the Berlin Wall. Today tourists will be disappointed about the Berlin Wall as a tourist attraction. In Berlin only a few sections of the former Berlin Wall and some watch towers still exist and it’s to be expected that even more of these Berlin Wall sections on original places will disappear within the next years. On most streets the former course of the Berlin Wall is marked by a doubled row of paving stones.

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