The infamous Berlin Wall was constructed 50 years ago, on Aug. 13, 1951. Both its construction and deconstruction were milestone events in the history of the world. Here is a look at the reasons why it was built and the significance of what some call, the “Wall of Shame.”
* Eastern Germany modeled itself by the Soviet Union’s approach to controlling national movement. In the 1950s, Eastern Germany leaders met with Joseph Stalin who advised them to build up their border defenses.
* The border area was initially established with barbed wire and guards to prevent citizens in East Germany from escaping the Communist regime.
* In the years just before the wall was built, East German citizens had experienced food shortages, poor housing and low wages in the severe and oppressive regime. By 1961, 3 million people had left for hopes of a better life. Most of these people were skilled workers that the state could not afford to lose.
* The final straw for the government came on Aug. 12, 1961, when a record 4,000 people moved to West Berlin.
* On Aug. 13, 1961, East Berlin and the GDR was blocked off from West Berlin with barbed wire and tanks. The subway and railway systems between the east and the west were stopped, and even the 60,000 East Berliners who had commuted to West Berlin for work every day were not allowed to go to their jobs.
* Within just a few days, the provisional barbed wire fence was replaced by a concrete wall, with 300 watch towers manned by German guards.
* The wall cut many people off from their loved ones in addition to their jobs. Initially the East German authorities told people the reason for the wall was for keeping out all the spies that had infiltrated West Berlin.
* Many East Berliners became desperate to get to the other side of the wall, and the area became known as the “Death Strip.” 171 people were killed between the time the wall was erected, and its fall on Nov. 9, 1989.
* The entire length of the wall was 96 miles, with 27 miles of it going through the center of the city. A 66 mile section of the wall’s concrete barrier was 13 feet high.
* On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. He said, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
* In May 1989, Gorbachev announced during his first official visit to West Germany, that Moscow would no longer prevent democratic conversion of its outlying states. On Nov. 9, 1989, the wall was torn down. A blissful and passionate crowd took hammers to it as it fell to the ground.