The Berlin Wall

After the setting up of the Iron Curtain between the East and West of Europe, many people wanted to leave the East. The Soviets put up a number of barriers to prevent people fleeing eastern Europe, but The Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape. 3.5 million East Germans had left by 1961, approximately 20% of the entire East German population.

An important reason that passage between East Germany and West Berlin was not stopped earlier was that doing so would cut off much of the railway traffic in East Germany. Construction of a new railway bypassing West Berlin, the Berlin outer ring, commenced in 1951. Following the completion of the railway in 1961, closing the border became a more practical proposition.

On Saturday, 12 August 1961, Ulbricht, the East German leader, signed the order to close the border and erect a wall. At midnight that day, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border and, by Sunday morning, 13 August, the border with West Berlin was closed. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the border to make them impassable to most vehicles and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156 kilometres around the three western sectors, and the 43 kilometres that divided West and East Berlin.

The barrier was built inside East Berlin on East German territory to ensure that it did not encroach on West Berlin at any point. Later, the initial barrier was built up into the Wall proper, the first concrete elements and large blocks being put in place on 17 August. During the construction of the Wall, National People's Army (NVA) and Combat Groups of the Working Class (KdA) soldiers stood in front of it with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to defect. Additionally, chain fences, walls, minefields and other obstacles were installed along the length of East Germany's western border with West Germany proper. A huge no man's land was cleared to provide a clear line of fire at fleeing refugees.

In June 1962, a second, parallel fence, the inner wall, was built some 100 metres farther into East German territory. The houses contained between the wall and fences were razed and the inhabitants relocated, thus establishing what later became known as the death strip. The death strip was covered with raked sand or gravel, rendering footprints easy to notice, easing the detection of trespassers and also enabling officers to see which guards had neglected their task; it offered no cover; and, most importantly, it offered clear fields of fire for the Wall guards.

The "fourth-generation Wall" was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. Begun in 1975 and completed about 1980, it was constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 12 ft high and 4 ft wide.At strategic points, the Wall was constructed to a somewhat weaker standard, so that East German and Soviet armoured vehicles could easily break through in the event of war.The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, to make it more difficult to scale. The Wall was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, dogs on long lines, over 116 watchtowers, and 20 bunkers with hundreds of guards. This version of the Wall is the one most commonly seen in photographs, and surviving fragments of the Wall in Berlin and elsewhere around the world are generally pieces of the fourth-generation Wall.

During the years of the Wall, around 5,000 people successfully defected to West Berlin. The number of people who died trying to cross the Wall has been disputed but is believed to be about 150.

The evening of 9 November 1989 is known as the night the Wall came down. A series of events led to the border crossings being opened and the crowds dismantling the wall. Three long sections are still standing: an 80-metre-long piece of the wall at the Topography of Terror, site of the former Gestapo headquarters; a longer section of the second wall along the Spree River near the Oberbaumbr├╝cke; and a third section that is partly reconstructed, in the north at Bernauer Stra├če, which was turned into a memorial in 1999. Other isolated fragments, lampposts, other elements, and a few watchtowers also remain in various parts of the city.

The most famous of the crossing points was Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (on foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces.

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The wall certainly was a massive obstacle, and what remains gives but a distant glimpse of what it must have been like cutting its way across Berlin

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Berlin Holiday