50 Years Ago: Building the Berlin Wall
Construction work on the Berlin Wall began fifty years ago, on August 13th, 1961. Overnight, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) closed the last gap in the Inner German border between East and West Germany. It became illegal to cross the border and barbed wire was installed around the three western sectors of Berlin and along the 43 kilometres that divided East and West Berlin. The foundations and first stones of the concrete wall were laid three days later. The mayor of West Berlin at the time, Willy Brandt, described the closing of the border as an ‘outrageous injustice’.
The Inner German border, the frontier line between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), was formally established on July 1st, 1945, as the border between the Western and Soviet occupation zones of Germany. It was almost 1,400 km long and ran from the Baltic Sea to Czechoslovakia. The Berlin Wall was a physically separate and shorter barrier surrounding West Berlin.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall Spiegel Online has launched a special interactive feature, which enables users to view and compare sites along the border before and after reunification. The interactive map features the photographs of Jürgen Ritter, which show the cities, villages and natural reserves along the border zone both while the border existed and after reunification. By clicking on a particular area users can drag a slider back and forth to compare the site before and after reunification.
There is also a slideshow of 33 photographs which depict the history of the Berlin Wall.
Despite Willy Brandt's condemnation of the Berlin Wall and closing of the border, was the Berlin Wall in reality more convenient to the Western democracies than their rhetoric suggested? Frederick Taylor addresses this issue in 'The Berlin Wall: A Secret History' (History Today, February 2007).
Read more about the Cold War in the History Today archive
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