The majority of the immigrants were young and well educated and sought the freedoms of the West. This mass exodus was referred to by the communist regime as a 'brain drain' Most immigrants officially stated their reasons for leaving were political more than materialistic.
|A border watch tower along the Inner German Border with West Germany|
|East German troops along a mere fenced border between the two Germanys|
Almost overnight, entire families were separated and Republikflucht (Desertion of the Republic) was made a capital offense by the East German government. Hundreds were shot and killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall, and estimates show that nearly 75,000 were caught and imprisioned for trying to escape into West Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Officially East German government officials declared the Wall an Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart) intended to dissuade aggressive influences from the West.The Wall was essentially a public relations disaster for communist officials attempting to improve their image with the people. There nine crossing points into Berlin where citizens could cross into West Berlin and these were closely monitored by Border Troops and Secret Police units. Several subsequent crossings were established for West Germany to use crossing into East Germany and four autobahns (highways) were established linking West Berlin to West Germany.
|A sign notifying American personnel of their proximity to the Inner German Border region|
|A U.S. Army Cobra gunship flies along the Inner German Border in southern West Germany|
The first death in attempt to defect was a young woman in August of 1961 when she jumped from the third floor of her apartment. A twenty four year old tailor would be the first shooting victim when he was shot by border guards while trying to swim across Spree Canal to West Germany.
East German citizens still managed to successfully defect by a variety of methods: digging long tunnels under the wall, waiting for favorable winds and taking a hot air balloon, sliding along aerial wires, flying ultralights, and in one instance, simply driving a sports car at full speed through the basic, initial fortifications. When a metal beam was placed at checkpoints to prevent this kind of defection, up to four people (two in the front seats and possibly two in the boot) drove under the bar in a sports car that had been modified to allow the roof and windscreen to come away when it made contact with the beam. They lay flat and kept driving forward. The East Germans then built zig-zagging roads at checkpoints. The sewer system predated the wall, and some people escaped through the sewers, in a number of cases with assistance from a prominent student group.
Many escapees were wounded attempting to flee into the West and if they were within the 'death strip' no matter their proximity to the western side, Westerners could not interfene to assist the wounded out of fear of provoking attack from East German forces. East German border guards notoriously left would be defectors to bleed to death in this area such was the most infamous case regarding 18 year old Peter Fechter.
Soon after the construction of the Wall, Fechter along with a friend jumped into the death strip and were immediately fired upon by East German border guards. Fechter's friend managed to escape over the wall however, while atop the Wall; Fechter himself was shot in the pelvis before hundreds of witnesses in West Berlin. Wounded, Fechter fell back into the death-strip on the East German side. He remained in view of Western onlookers, including journalists screaming in pain for assistance. Despite his screams; he received no medical assistance from the East side, and could not be tended to by those on the West German side. He bled to death after approximately one hour. Sparked by outrage, the East Germans did enter the death strip and retrieve his body an hour or so after he died. As a result many West Germans demonstrated shouting "Murderers!" at the East German guards.
The negative attention as a result of the Fechter incident, prompted East German officials to order stricter rules for firing weapons in public weapons. The last shooting death along the Wall occurred in 1989.
It is estimated that 5,000 people successfully escaped through the Berlin Wall into West Germany. Almost 200 were confirmed killed attempting to escape and another 75,000 were wounded attempting to defect.
With U.S. President Ronald Reagan's official statement to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 challenging him to tear down the Wall, and Hungary dismantling it's border obstacles allowing East Germans to flee into Austria in 1989, mass demonstrations began in East Germany denouncing the communist regime. No one in the East German government wanted to be held responsible for ordering the use of force against protestors and so the Army and police forces were held in restraint. On 9 November 1989, segments of the Berlin Wall were officially torn down and border crossings were reopened in December. Official dismantling of the Wall by the East German government began in June of 1990 and East and West Germany were officially reunified on 3 October 1990.
|A West German border sign announcing the Border between West & East|
|Another border sign announcing the proximity of the border in German, English, French & Cyrillic|
|Another sign from a border checkpoint in English, French, Cyrillic & German|
|Small pieces of the Berlin Wall and a 1982 issue of National Geographic magazine highlighting the situation in divided Berlin|
|A member of the East German Wachregiment Friedrich Engels participates in the ceremonial changing of the guards at the Neue Wache in East Berlin as American servicemen and onlookers look on|
|Small fragments of the Berlin Wall which divided Berlin and became a symbol of the Cold War from 1961 - 1989|