The history of the Berlin Wall began in 1961. In order to stop the ever-increasing flood of refugees from the GDR into the then undivided city of Berlin, during the night of Aug. 12, 1961 units of the People's Police, workers' militia groups and the National People's Army of the GDR sealed off the eastern part of the city and the borderline between West Berlin and the GDR, and began to erect street barriers and barbed-wire fences.
The number of check-points was drastically reduced from 81 to seven and the trams and underground services completely halted. A concrete wall and border barriers gradually followed. The "Wall" was officially designated by the East German government as a "Protective Wall against Fascism."
Renewed several times during its lifetime, at the time of the territorial exchanges in 1988 the Berlin Wall had a total length of some 155km/ 96mi, 43.1km/27mi of which was inside the city confines and 111.9km/70mi covered the boundary between West Berlin and the GDR District of Potsdam. Going from West Berlin to East Berlin, the costly barricades consisted of the Wall itself, made up partly of an L-shaped wall, 4.1 m/13.5ft high and 16 cm/7 in thick and made of concrete slabs, measuring 111km/70mi long and with a heavy concrete pipe running along the top, and partly of a metal lattice fence (55km/34mi), supplemented by 293 observation towers and 57 bunkers. There was an illuminated "Death Strip" some 10 m/33ft wide patrolled by dogs and an electric fence that gave off noise and light signals when touched, together with a "no-go area" 100 m/330ft wide. Fifty-five streets were cut off by the Wall. The West Berlin side of the Wall, covered in graffiti, did not always follow the direct boundary line, but frequently entered "no man's land." An idea of the way in which these treacherous barricades were conceived can be obtained from the two models prepared for Erich Honecker and now in the Berlin Museum.
After the building of the Berlin Wall more than 70 people died trying to escape. There are memorial crosses in Bernauer Strasse, near the Reichstag Building and in Zimmerstrasse, as well as a memorial plaque in Bernauer Strasse inscribed "13.8.1990". Well over 100 people were wounded as a result of being fired at by the East German border guards (the order to shoot was lifted on Oct. 11, 1989), but several thousand did manage to escape to the West. More than 3,000 arrests on the East Berlin side of the Wall were witnessed from the West Berlin side (documents, etc. in the House at Checkpoint Charlie).
On Nov. 9, 1989 the new government of the GDR announced the opening of the borders with West Berlin and the Federal German Republic. From 10 p.m. onwards people were able to pass through the border crossings between East and West Berlin.
Nov. 10-14, 1989: Over the weekend more than one million people from the eastern sector of Berlin and from other parts of the GDR streamed into West Berlin, especially to the Kurfürstendamm and the Berlin Wall. By Nov. 14 nine new border crossings were opened between West and East Berlin. The most symbolic breakthrough in the Wall occurred at Potsdamer Platz, the very center of the old Berlin and once the busiest square in the whole of Europe.
Dec. 1989: The opening of the Brandenburg Gate on Dec. 22 symbolized the end of the division of Berlin after 28 years. New travel regulations were issued permitting free travel as from Dec. 24 between the two German states.
Since then, the Berlin Wall has dwindled in size day by day. In many places it has been chipped away by hand by those who have become known as "Wall Woodpeckers." Bits of the Wall in all shapes and sizes have become collectors' items. Sections of the Berlin Wall have been preserved as memorials. These include a short stretch at "Checkpoint Charlie," a section decorated by the "Wall Woodpeckers" on Niederkirchnerstrasse near the Gropius Building, a longer piece on Bernauer Strasse in the Wedding district and a further section at Humboldthafen opposite the Reichstag Building on which the victims of the wall are listed.
A 1,300 m/1,400yd length of the Wall between Oberbaumbrücke and the Hauptbahnhof (main railroad station) has recently been covered with murals by various artists, some well-known. This "East Side Gallery" has been under a protection order since early 1992.