Throwback Thursday: August 13

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: Construction Begins on the Berlin Wall  (1961)

East German Workers reinforce the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, 1961 (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Information Service)

East German Workers reinforce the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, 1961 (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Information Service)

On August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) began constructing a wall to isolate West Berlin from surrounding East Germany. 

The GDR built the wall in an effort to reduce defections and border-crossings by East Germans into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). Although the border between the Eastern Bloc and West Germany had been fortified since the 1950s, the borders of Berlin remained somewhat porous given the shared occupation by the US, USSR, UK, and France.  Faced with mounting defections, GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht authorized the closure of the border with West Berlin.

Although the Berlin Wall began as a chain fence between Soviet and Western sections of the capital city, it expanded into a massive concrete fortification spanning over 90 miles around the city. The wall was patrolled round-the-clock by Eastern armed guards and featured watchtowers, traps, and anti-vehicle trenches. The United States condemned the creation of the Berlin Wall, and despite its effectiveness at reducing emigration and black market activities in East Germany, the barrier damaged the reputation of the Soviet Union and symbolized the oppressive nature of the Iron Curtain dividing Europe.  

Following multiple political upheavals in 1989, including popular movements of dissent against Soviet control in Poland and Hungary, mass demonstrations unfolded in East Germany. As pressure mounted for peaceful German reunification, the Berlin Wall crumbled and today remains an important reminder of the struggles faced by Europeans during the Cold War Era.