The Berlin Wall (German: Berliner Mauer) was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), starting on 13 August 1961, the Wall completely cut off by land West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until government officials opened it in November 1989.
The end of World War II in 1945 saw Germany divided into four Allied occupation zones, each one controlled by one of the four occupying Allied powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. The capital of Berlin, as the seat of the Allied Control Council, was similarly subdivided into four sectors despite the city’s location, which was fully within the Soviet zone.
By 1961, Cold War tensions over Berlin were running high again. For East Germans dissatisfied with life under the communist system, West Berlin was a gateway to the democratic West. Between 1949 and 1961, some 2.5 million East Germans fled from East to West Germany, most via West Berlin. To halt the exodus to the West, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev recommended to East Germany that it close off access between East and West Berlin.
On the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers laid down more than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin. East Berlin citizens were forbidden to pass into West Berlin, and the number of checkpoints in which Westerners could cross the border was drastically reduced. On August 15, 1961, they began replacing barbed wire with concrete. For the next 28 years, the heavily fortified Berlin Wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War. About 5,000 East Germans managed to escape across the Berlin Wall to the West, but the frequency of successful escapes dwindled as the wall was increasingly fortified.
In 1989, East Germany’s communist regime was overwhelmed by the democratization sweeping across Eastern Europe. On the evening of November 9, 1989, East Germany announced an easing of travel restrictions to the West, and thousands demanded passage though the Berlin Wall. Faced with growing demonstrations, East German border guards opened the borders. The next day, East German troops began dismantling the wall.