As people in East Germany began to realize that they did not want to live under the rule of the Soviet Union and communism, they started to leave the eastern part of the country and move to the west. These people were called defectors. Over time more and more people left. The Soviet and East German leaders began to worry that they were losing too many people. Over the course of the years 1949 to 1959, over 2 million people left the country. In 1960 alone, around 230,000 people defected. Although the East Germans tried to keep people from leaving, it was fairly easy for people to leave in the city of Berlin because the inside of the city was controlled by all four major powers.
Finally, the Soviets and the East German leaders had had enough. On August 12th and 13th of 1961 they built a wall around Berlin to prevent people from leaving. At first the wall was just a barbed wire fence. Later it would be rebuilt with concrete blocks 12 feet high and four feet wide.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Berlin where he asked the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to "Tear down this Wall!"
Around that time the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse. They were losing their hold on East Germany. A few years later on November 9, 1989 the announcement was made. The borders were open and people could freely move between Eastern and Western Germany. Much of the wall was torn down by people chipping away as they celebrated the end to a divided Germany. On October 3, 1990 Germany was officially reunified into a single country.
Reagan at the Berlin Wall
Interesting Facts About the Berlin Wall:
- The Eastern Germany government called the wall the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart. The Western Germans often referred to it as the Wall of Shame.
- Around 20% of the East German population left the country in the years leading up to the building of the wall.
- The country of East Germany was officially called the German Democratic Republic or GDR. There were also many guard towers along the wall.
- Guards were ordered to shoot anyone attempting to escape. It is estimated that around 5000 people escaped over or through the wall during the 28 years it stood. Around 200 were killed trying to escape.