Why was the Berlin Wall built?

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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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After 16 years of Soviet occupation and communist rule, life was markedly worse in the eastern zone of Berlin and the rest of the country in general.  The Soviet Army had stolen pretty much anything that was not nailed down as war reparations, and much of the original war damage had not yet been repaired.

By contrast, in West Berlin/West Germany, an economic miracle recovery had taken place, in no small part because of the Marshall Plan, and the economy was booming.  The division of Berlin and Germany had also split some families for years and that was a great incentive for escape.

Tens of thousands of Berliners had done just that, crossing the wire, minefields, risking death or imprisonment along the way.  So the Soviets and the East German government decided to make it much more difficult, and constructed the entire wall in about 24 hours.  It took everyone by surprise.

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In August of 1961 the Berlin Wall was constructed to keep the East Berliners from escaping the Soviet Occupation Zone and going into West Germany which was occupied by other Germans as well as Americans, British, and French.

As people became disillusioned with Communism and the economic and political state became increasingly oppressive, many people sought to escape.  By 1961 an approximate 1500 people a day were defecting from Communist Germany.  So, the Soviets had the concrete wall dividing the country constructed.  In just 24 hours streets were torn up, subways, etc. blocked and a barracades of paving stones were constructed.  No longer were the 60,000 commuters allowed to travel, either. 

Since the first "wall" was mostly barbed wire, another real wall was constructed in 1962 and a space left between the wire fence and the new wall.  This space contained gravel which would display footprints.  In addition, mines were placed in this area and guards were instructed to shoot whoever was seen there.

In 1989 there were many student protests, and with the fall of the Iron Curtain, President Ronald Reagan called upon Premier Gorbechev to "tear down this wall."  On October 3, 1990, the reunification of Germany became official, and Berliners claimed pieces of the wall for themselves.  Remnants of the wall can be seen in local museums.

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The Berlin WallWhy was the Berlin Wall built?

It is post-World War II Germany.  The two biggest conquering world powers, the United States and the USSR, are distrustful of each other.  Although they fought for a common cause during the war, their political systems (Democracy vs Communism) have created a breach that will prove to be too wide to cross. 

As an aftermath of the war, these two countries, along with Great Britain and France, divide Germany into four sectors.  The Russian sector is by far the largest, encompassing all of Eastern Germany and part of the city of Berlin.  For the first ten years after the war, people were free to travel back and forth between the sectors, but the Russians began to notice an alarming trend.  East German schools were spending a great deal of money educating German citizens, and turning out highly skilled doctors, scientists, engineers, and technicians.  According to "Why the Berlin Wall was built," we read:

"Education was free in East, but it cost money in West. So of course German students went to East German schools to get their education for free, then returned to work in West Germany where they could earn more money."

Between 1954 and 1960, East Germany lost over 35,000 very educated people to the west!  They needed these scholars and citizens to rebuild their war-torn country so they took drastic steps to close off their country and keep their citizens from leaving. 

In June 1961, communist leaders officially closed the border between the sectors and began construction of the wall.  Hundreds of miles of land were cleared to create a "no-man's land on either side of the wall.  This was designed to provide a clear line of fire upon those trying to escape.  Mines, barbed wire, guard towers, and attack dogs completed the picture of terror!  Families were split apart and overnight many citizens were trapped on the east side.

For thirty years, many brave people tired of the oppression of Communism tried to escape to freedom.  Some made it; some didn't, but their stories are compelling nonetheless.  Then in 1987, President Ronald Reagan appealed to the then General Secretary of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachov, to "tear down this wall!" as a symbol of enlightenment and increasing freedoms for the people under his rule.  This set about a chain of events that eventually resulted in the taking down of the wall in 1989.

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Why was building the Berlin Wall necessary?

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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