Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall

In August 1961, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) began erecting a barrier to prevent East Berliners and other Eastern-bloc citizens from fleeing into West Berlin. Walls that started as small barriers became, over time, massive concrete structures dotted with watchtowers overlooking buffer zones known as “death strips.” During the 28 years it stood, only about 5,000 people managed to cross over the wall, escaping into West Berlin. More than 100 are believed to have been killed in the attempt, most shot by East German border guards. In 1989, waves of protest in East Berlin and a flood of defections through neighboring Hungary and Czechoslovakia led the government to finally allow free passage across the border on November 9. West German citizens swarmed the wall, pulling parts of it down with hammers and machinery, an act that set the stage for Germany’s reunification.

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