Why was building the Berlin Wall necessary?

East German and Soviet leaders felt that the Berlin Wall was a necessary measure to prevent skilled German workers from fleeing the country to the democratic West.

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While people outside the Eastern Bloc certainly did not feel that the Berlin Wall was necessary, leaders within it did. In 1961, authorities in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) began construction on this barrier that physically and symbolically divided the two sides of the Cold War.

The wall was meant to be a solution to a problem that had been plaguing GDR authorities since the early 1950s. Many people located within the Eastern Bloc hoped to escape the poverty and authoritarianism that came with Soviet occupation. To counter this, free movement and emigration were severely restricted. In spite of this, hundreds of thousands of East Germans migrated to West Germany every year in the early 1950s. The border between East Germany and West Germany was closed in 1952. However, it was still possible to cross into West Berlin, which was occupied by the Americans, British, and French.

By 1961, about one in five East Germans had emigrated to the West. This deeply worried GDR leaders, who feared a brain drain in their country. Many of those who left were young and educated members of the professional class. Without enough skilled workers, it was feared that East Germany would not be able to remain economically robust. To prevent more of these desirable citizens from leaving, GDR leadership felt that it was necessary to construct a fortified barrier across Berlin.

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