The Berlin Wall ( German: Berliner Mauer ), known in the Soviet Union and in the German Democratic Republic as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart,” was a separation barrier between West Berlin and East Germany (the German Democratic Republic), which closed the border between East and West Berlin for 28 years. Construction on the wall began on August 13, 1961, and it was dismantled in the weeks following November 9, 1989. The Berlin Wall was the most prominent part of the inner German border and an iconic symbol of the Cold War.
Conceived by the East German administration of Walter Ulbricht and approved by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, it was built during the post- World War II period of divided Germany, in an effort to stop the drain of labour and economic output associated with the daily migration of huge numbers of professionals and skilled workers from East to West Berlin, and the attendant defections, which hurt the Communist bloc economically and politically.
The Wall was successful at decreasing emigration (escapes – “Republikflucht” in German) from 2.5 million between 1949 and 1962 to 5,000 between 1962 and 1989. However, it was a propaganda disaster for East Germany and the Communist bloc. It became a key symbol of what Western powers regarded as Communist tyranny, particularly after the high-profile shootings of would-be defectors. Political liberalization in the late 1980s, associated with the decline of the Soviet Union, led East Germany to relax border restrictions, culminating in mass demonstrations and the fall of the East German government. On November 9, 1989, the government announced that crossing of the border would be permitted. Masses of East Germans approached and then crossed the wall, and were joined by crowds of West Germans in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks parts of the wall were chipped away by a euphoric public and by souvenir hunters; it was later removed using industrial equipment. Its so-called “fall” prepared the way for Nationalist tendencies, which gained ascendancy in East Germany towards the end of 1989. Following extravagant promises of “blooming landscapes” and “economic wonders”, the East German voters were convinced of the need for German reunification, which was formally concluded on October 3, 1990.
After the end of World War II in Europe, what territorially remained of Nazi Germany was divided into four occupation zones (per the [Potsdam Agreement]), each one controlled by one of the four occupying Allied powers: the Americans, British, French and Soviets. The old capital of Berlin, as the seat of the Allied Control Council, was itself similarly subdivided into four zones despite the city itself lying deep inside the zone of the Soviet Union. Although the intent was for the occupying powers to govern Germany together inside the 1947 borders, the advent of Cold War tension caused the French, British and American zones to be formed into the Federal Republic of Germany (and West Berlin) in 1949, excluding the Soviet zone which then formed the German Democratic Republic (including East Berlin ) the same year.
On 15 June 1961 – two months before the construction of the Berlin Wall started – Walter Ulbricht pretended in an international press meeting: “Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!” (No one intends to set up a wall) . It was the first time the colloquial term Mauer (Wall) was used.
Construction of 45 km (28 miles) around the three western sectors began early on Sunday, the 13th of August, 1961 in East Berlin. That morning the zonal boundary had been sealed by East German troops. The barrier was built by East German troops and workers, not directly involving the Soviets. It was built slightly inside East German territory to ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point; if one stood next to the West Berlin side of the barrier (and later the Wall), one was actually standing on East Berlin soil. Some streets running alongside the barrier were torn up to make them impassable to most vehicles, and a barbed-wire fence was erected, which was later built up into the full-scale Wall. It physically divided the city and completely surrounded West Berlin. During the construction of the Wall, NVA and KdA soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to defect. Additionally, the whole length of the border between East and West Germany was closed with chain-fences, walls, minefields, and other installations (see GDR border system).
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