The Internet Encyclopedia of International Relations

Andrea N. Kelley
Towson University

     For 28 years, the Berlin Wall separated friends, families, and a nation.  After World War II in 1945, the Allies, who won the war, divided the country of Germany into four sections, each under the control of an ally.  The countries who made up the ally control were the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia.  The United States, British, and French sectors combined to form a democratic state known as The Federal Republic of Germany.  It was also known as West Germany.  The Soviet Sector became a communist state known as The German Democratic Republic (GDR) on October 7, 1949.  The GDR was more commonly referred to as East Germany.
     The people of East Germany became dissatisfied with the economic and political conditions of the German Democratic Republic.  Private trade was outlawed, as was the ownership of private land.  People were forced to work on collective state owned farms.  There were food and supply shortages.  About 160,000 refugees crossed the border from East Berlin to West Berlin between January and the beginning of August 1961 in search of a better life.  This upset the East German government and the Soviet countries.  East Germany was a Soviet satellite, but was of interest to Moscow.
     Nikita Krushev, the Soviet premier during that time, ordered the Berlin Wall built to stop the refugees.  On August 13,1961, the GDR began building the "anti-fascist protection wall" under the leadership of Erich Honecker.  The wall was built to block off East Berlin and the GDR from West Berlin by using barbed wire and antitank obstacles.  Streets were torn up, and barricades of paving stones were erected.  Tanks gathered around the area.  Subway and local railway services between East and West Berlin were stopped.  Telephone services were also stopped.  Residents of East Berlin and the GDR were not permitted to enter West Berlin.  This created a problem because there were 60,000 commuters who worked in West Berlin.
     On September 20, 1961, houses near the wall were demolished by the GDR.  They then began construction of a more permanent wall to be made out of concrete.  When the wall was completed, the wall had a total length of 166 km.  There was a wall with a length of 107 km at this border.  At the end of construction, the area was as follows: First, there was a wall which was made up of concrete segments with a height of 4 m, usually with a concrete tube on top of it.  Behind this on the eastern side, there was an illuminated control area, which was known as "death area".  Refugees who had reached that area were shot without any warning given.  A trench followed which would prevent vehicles from breaking through.  Next, there was a patrol track, a corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers, bunkers, and a second wall.   The border cut through 192 streets, 97 of which led to East Berlin and 95 into the GDR.
     Checkpoint Charley was the main crossing point used for the American sector of West Berlin.  Checkpoint Charley was 680 feet west of the Brandenberg Gate.  The United States ordered tanks, jeeps, and soldiers to Checkpoint Charley to ensure officials of the United States acess to West Berlin on October 27, 1961.
     Near Checkpoint Charley on August 17, 1962, Peter Fechter was shot and killed because he tried to climb over the wall.  He was left to bleed to death by the border patrol.  Because of this, riots broke out in West Berlin.  The residents of West Berlin began to hate the Americans for failing to help Fechter as he died.  This caused President John F, Kennedy of the US to visit Berlin to convince East Germany and the USSR to tear down the wall.
     The end of the German Democratic Republic was beginning when Hungary, also a communist state, opened its doors to the west.  This allowed East Germans to move about between Hungary and East Germany because migration between communist states was unrestricted.  From Hungary, the East Germans would then go to West Germany or another Western European state.
     During 1989, dramatic events began to occur.  Massive flights of inhabitants of the GDR via Hungary began.  There were also huge demonstrations in Leipzig on Mondays.