German Language Blog

Berliner Mauerbau – Building of the Berlin Wall Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Building of the Berlin Wall was a topic in the German media on the last weekend because 50 years ago, on 13 August 1961, the Wall was built. Thus, I would like to remind you in this post why this wall was ever erected.

The allied forces, the USA, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union occupied Germany after they had won WWII and divided the country into four occupation zones: an American area, a British and French one, as well as a Soviet zone. Berlin (located in the east of Germany) was the capital of the Third Reich, and thus the residence of political activists. Therefore, the victorious powers decided to divide the capital separately. In other words, geographically Berlin would have belonged to the Soviet zone alone.

During the war, the allied forces pursued one and the same goal, namely to beat megalomaniac Hitler and his idea of conquering the whole world. But after the war, the ideologies (politically as well as economically) of the West and the East clashed, that is, the USA, Great Britain, and France were representatives of democracy and capitalism, whereas the Soviet Union favored socialism and communism.

The West was interested in new trade relations and markets. Thus, it immensely supported Germany with its reconstruction and the improvement of its economic climate. It supplied natural resources, goods, and food, lent money, implemented a currency reform, and helped the country to become a sovereign state.

The East, on the other hand, sought primarily for revenge and compensation. It looted everything possible and dismantled any industrial facilities. I should note that looting and dismantling took place in the other three zones, too, but in the Soviet one it was most excessive. People in the East suffered from hunger and had no means to reconstruct their part of the country. The Soviet government strictly forbade relationships to and any kind of contact with democratic countries. The bad economic condition and the missing political voice prompted people again and again to flee from the Soviet zone. One way to flee from the Soviet sector or GDR was Berlin, which more and more people used. In order to prevent a mass escape, the government of the GDR planned to build a wall around the western part of Berlin, so that neither Berliners from the Soviet zone, nor other citizens of the Soviet zone, by which Berlin was surrounded, could flee from East Germany.

Officially, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded 23 May 1949 and the German Democratic Republic 7 October 1949. From 1945 and during the whole 28-year-long-era of the Berlin Wall people tried to flee from the GDR and some of them had even lost their lives because there was a so called death strip on the east side of the wall, an area riddled with grenades and where border officials were allowed to shoot at humans when they enter this area.

Of course, there is not enough space here to present a detailed description of all the political circumstances that gave rise to a divided Germany with two different forms of governments: West = parliamentary democracy and East = post-war dictatorship. But let me give you one of my personal memories and feeling I have of the GDR.

I was born and grew up in East Germany, in a town close to Berlin and the Wall was that present in my childhood consciousness that I thought that all countries in the world are divided by fortifications made of cement. I remember the time when I found out that this wasn’t so. I was on the road with my family and my uncle was talking about the surroundings and told me that I could see the “border” to another country. I didn’t see anything, so I told him that there wasn’t a wall. He laughed about that and informed that it is only an imaginary line. That confused me a lot because it was so unintelligible to me why some borders are visual and others are not.

Although I was a little child when the GDR still existed it was, nevertheless, like living in two parallel worlds. Officially, everybody had to love the state but in private people complained about the political system and the social structures. Sometimes we received so called West Parcels, filled with goods that weren’t available in the GDR. Once I got a kind of plastic bag with colorful flower pattern and I loved that bag so much that I wanted to show it to everybody but my mother forbade that I go outside with the bag. Obviously, she didn’t want anybody to see me with a product of the West.

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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. Pete Croft:

    After always wanting to visit Berlin for 40 years (since a 10 year old), I visited in March 2011. There is a part of the wall, still standing, that a group of us on a tour went to, about the place where a family used a kind of zip wire to cross to the west.
    Just standing there and looking at this was one of the most powerful feelings I have ever felt.
    The Wall was built a few months after I was born and I watched on the TV when President Reagan made his famous (Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!) speech, then sometime later I watched the students crossing the checkpoints, sitting on the wall and smashing it with hammers, etc.
    So glad it came down.

  2. andrew nemec:

    thank you for the story,i am looking for a book to read about the berline wall.i cant even imagine what it was like lving thru that.

  3. Kate stewart:

    Excellent post. Your personal anecdotes about DDR life are really striking. I will share this with my students (I’m a German teacher.)

  4. Charles Laster:

    I remember the wall from my youth in college in the 1980’s as a menacing figure. Glad it went down.

  5. Loraine:

    wow, I loved your story from the perspective of a child. I can relate a lot to it because I grew up in a communist country (Cuba). Germany and Cuba are so different in all aspects, such as climat and culture. However it is kind of interesting how they share the same sad history of communism. It makes me so happy to listen to Ronald Reagan’s words, and to see how brave the German people were. Hope the “wall” will fall soon for the people of my country. Thanks for your story!

  6. Arne:

    In 1981 i had the opportunity to travel from west Germany via east Germany to west Berlin ,I saw that big differences between two countries ,It was unbelievable ,Till Then I thought I would never help or vote to the communism.In a communist country only the rulers are rich all others are very poor ,It was so at that time very bad ,today it is much better than the past

  7. Julio Yañez:

    Gracias otra vez. Disfruto mucho sus articulos. Saludos.

  8. Charles Laster:

    I once, as a present, was given a shard of the berlin wall–after it fell, of course!