Turn Back the Clock: Why Was the Berlin Wall Built?

Why Was The Berlin Wall Built
The Berlin Wall is indeed one of the most painful and amazing chapters of the German history, but people outside Germany have no clue as to why it was built. Join us as we explore mid-twentieth century Germany to find out why this Wall was built and how it was eventually demolished.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier built to separate the city of West Berlin from East Germany. The Wall, commissioned by the German Democratic Republic, was considered one of the best defense structures of that period, with prominent defense tactics, such as anti-vehicle trenches and fakir beds to its credit. The wide area in the vicinity was referred to as the 'Death Strip', owing to the notoriety it derived during the existence of the Wall. Since it was erected in 1961 until its fall in 1989, more than 5000 people attempted to cross the Wall and escape.

Why Was the Berlin Wall Built in 1961?

Post World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors with Americans, British, and French in the West and Soviet on the East. In the following year, the concept of 'Inter-zone pass' was introduced in order to travel between different sectors in Germany. In 1948, West Berlin, along with West Germany, received financial help from the United States through Marshall Plan―a program of economic aid for the reconstruction of Europe. In East Germany, however, the communist system prevailed. This meant that the way of life in West Germany was far better than that in East. Naturally, many people realized that escaping to the West was their only hope for survival.

What followed next was an even bigger blow, as Germany was divided into two currency zones on June 23, 1948. The ratio of currency between West Germany and East Germany was 4:1, meaning 1 DM of West was equal to 4 DM of East. This prompted many people from the East to crossover to the other side for better opportunities. During this migration, East Germany lost a significant number of skilled workers. The period between 1948 and 1949 also witnessed the initiation and removal of the Berlin blockade by the Soviet Union.

On May 26, 1952, the entire border between West Germany and East Germany was blocked by Soviet forces, except for the sectorial border between West Berlin and East Berlin. As a result, any person wanting to escape to West had to enter West Berlin and then flee to other parts of West Germany. This was exactly what scores of individuals did. Between 1949 and 1961, approximately 2 million people escaped from East Germany into the West. This was a significant number, considering that the then population of East Germany was only 17 million. The German Democratic Republic was left with no option, but to close the border between East and West Berlin in order to prevent this emigration. Thus on August 13, 1961, the Berlin sectorial border was closed by building a barrier, which came to be known as the Berlin Wall.

Why Was the it Eventually Demolished?

For nearly three decades, the Berlin Wall separated the German Democratic Republic from West Berlin by barring all the means of migration between the East and West. The decade of 1980s was marked by the decline of communism as well as the Soviet Union. As the revolutionary wave swept across the Eastern Bloc, the government of East Germany announced that all its citizens would visit West Germany and Berlin. The announcement, which came on November 9, 1989, triggered a wave of jubilation in East Germany. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were chipped away by the people, thus bringing about its fall. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the historic moment which led to German reunification in 1990.

In East, the wall was often referred to as 'The Anti-Fascist Protection Wall', while in the West, it was called the 'Wall of Shame'. The Berlin Wall held ground for nearly three decades, during which it didn't just alter the history of Germany, but also affected the world history. Historians believe that it is difficult to asses how the circumstances would have been without the Wall; some believe things would have been better, some say they would have been worse.