Facing the Wall: Building the Berlin Wall

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Photo credit: Thierry Noir

In the early morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961, barbed wire was strung around the apartment blocks, sidewalks, empty lots and alley ways of central Berlin, completely encircling the western part of the city, severing neighborhoods, districts and transit lines. It physically separated families, friends and business associates who had previously moved freely through this metropolis of 2.5 million people. Within days, this new barrier was reinforced with concrete blocks. For the next 28 years, the 96 mile long Berlin Wall evolved into a complex system of precast concrete segments, anti-tank trenches, wire mesh fencing and guard towers. It was designed to stem the tide of escaping working age, skilled workers and trained graduates of the East German educational system.

In the immediate aftermath of building the Wall in August 1961 separating East and West Berlin, the East German authorities designated the intersection of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, not far from Potsdamer Platz, as the high security crossing point for foreigners, diplomatic officials, members of the occupying military (American, British, French) and certain regular business travelers. Across the street, on the median strip in West Berlin, stood the Allied presence in the form of the white guard shack or information booth known as Checkpoint Charlie. The East German border installation was considerably larger, occupying a six-block bombed out area, on which the GDR erected watchtowers and barriers, as well as barracks-like structures for passport control, currency exchange and vehicle inspections.

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