Construction of the Berlin Wall – August 13th, 1961
Streets were closed off, buildings divided up, rail links severed. In the night before August 13th, 1961, the armed border guards of East Germany's governing party, the SED, were already being deployed to block off all passage points around West Berlin with barbwire fencing. The Berlin Wall tore families and friendships apart, enforcing a strict separation of people's private and working lives. On August 15th, 1961, the "Iron Curtain" began to descend as stone slabs, concrete blocks and barbwire were erected right across the city. The first incarnation of the Berlin Wall, known as the "Vorderlandmauer" (the outer wall), was around 30 cm thick and was extended to a length of some 15 km by 1968, linking up to 170 km of barbwire fencing.
Expansion of the Berlin Wall – 1963 to 1989
Despite the Wall, refugees continued to slip across the border. Indeed, the division of families and friends only increased the urge of East Berliners, in particular, to flee to the other side. From 1968 onwards, in response to the continuing exodus, the Wall was further reinforced in Berlin and complex border fortifications were added. At the end of the 1960s, a border strip was created in East Berlin and another wall (the "Hinterlandmauer" or inner wall) constructed and fenced off. Known as the "Todesstreifen" (the "death zone") this no man's land was equipped with further complex security structures such as watch towers, photoelectric barriers and automatic guns over the years. The Berlin Wall became a virtually insurmountable obstacle.
Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 9th, 1989
On November 9th, 1989, the Secretary of the East German Central Committee for Media Politics, Günter Schabowski, held a press conference that was broadcast live in the GDR and around the world. The conference had been prompted by unrest and the continuing flight of East German citizens to the West. In an unexpected move, the travel restrictions to which East Germans were then subject were suddenly lifted. Just minutes after the announcement, the divided city was to be reunified. Right after the press conference, East Berliners flocked to the Wall. The border guards, who had not been informed about the new regulations on travel, were unable withstand the crowds of people storming the Wall. On the same evening, the Wall was opened and images of the peaceful revolution were broadcast around the world.
The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of the end for the German Democratic Republic.
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