This Day In History: Construction of the Berlin Wall Began (1961)

This Day In History: Construction of the Berlin Wall Began (1961)

Ed - August 12, 2016

This day in history the East German government decided to build a wall in the divided city of Berlin. The communist government sought to keep people in East Germany. As West Germany became more prosperous more and more people left the Communist East for the Democratic West. So many left that it began to threaten the stability and economy of the state.

Since the arrival of the Soviets, the eastern region of Germany had been turned into a puppet regime of Moscow. The East German communists had been imposed on the people. They rigidly followed the instructions and orders of the Soviet Politburo.

The East German State had initially been popular with some left-leaning Germans. However, after riots by building workers were brutally repressed by Soviet tanks, many people became increasingly disillusioned. From the mid-1950s more and more people left the east for the west. They were drawn by better jobs and higher wages. Then there was also the lure of western culture with rock music and its consumer products. Above all, they were leaving the Communist state for freedom. East Germany was a one-party state where any opposition to the Communist Party was seen as treason.

As more and more people left the East, it was feared that the Communist country could collapse. With the agreement of Moscow, the East Germans decided to build a huge wall. This wall was some twenty feet high and was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by border guards. They were armed with rifles and also had guard dogs. Anyone who tried to climb the wall risked being killed. The construction of the wall involved thousands of construction workers.

The American commanders in West Berlin were outraged by the building of the Wall. This was because they believed that it was unjust and it broke an existing agreement with regard to the administration of the city. One commander wanted to take a bulldozer and knock down the Wall. The building of the Wall shocked the Free World and was widely condemned.

This Day In History: Construction of the Berlin Wall Began (1961)
Memorial for those killed trying to escape over the Berlin Wall

The Wall did manage to halt the flood of people who were leaving East Germany slowed to a trickle. This allowed the Communist government to ensure that they had a viable state with the workforce needed to keep the centrally-planned economy going. The Berlin Wall was to effectively save the regime. Many speculate that if the East Germans had not done it that the Soviets would have intervened and they would have brutally repressed any opposition. While the Wall allowed the East German state to survive it did not survive for long. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and with it Communism in Eastern Germany.