This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an important date in German history. But while this year’s focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let’s not forget how everything began.
During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.
GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn’t long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.
To defend their actions, GDR authorities called the barrier the “Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” (“Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”) and claimed that it served to keep fascists away from East Germany.
“No one should think we are in love with the Wall; that is by no means the case… The anti-fascist protective rampart was necessary to stand up to the military adventurers,” East German leader Walter Ulbrecht said in a speech shortly after the wall’s erection.
But instead, West Germans were able to travel freely across the border, while East Germans were, in most cases, prohibited from leaving. East Germans remained trapped behind the wall for 28 years until it finally fell on November 9, 1989 – one of the most important dates in German history.
It’s difficult to imagine what East Germans felt on the day that the wall came crumbling down. But this year, as we celebrate an important anniversary, we are reflecting not just on the fall of the wall, but on how it all came together in the first place. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing Berlin Wall stories from some of our colleagues here at the German Embassy to give you a glimpse into that historic time period. Be sure to check out our new YouTube series “Wall Stories” and subscribe to our channel to stay up to date when we release new videos.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy