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Air Force Museum Foundation

Berlin Wall: Concrete Symbol of the Iron Curtain


In 1961, Berlin became the focal point of increased tensions between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union. Dissatisfied with the economy and the political conditions in East Germany, thousands of East German refugees fled into West Berlin, the only gap in the Iron Curtain running from the Baltic to the Black Sea. To stop the exodus of their nation's elite -- doctors, teachers, engineers and other professionals -- the East German government sealed the border between East and West Berlin. During the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 13, 1961, East German troops and workers, backed by Soviet tanks, ran barbed wire and built barricades. The wire soon gave way to heavy concrete segments topped with a concrete tube. A parallel barrier later went up in the East, leaving between them a brightly lit Todesstreifen (death strip), consisting of tank traps, fixed guns, attack dogs and land mines.

In 1989 communist governments collapsed across eastern Europe, and on Nov. 9, the East German government partially opened the border in Berlin. A resulting flood of East Germans rushed to West Berlin, and following celebrations at the Brandenberg Gate and other locations, the Berlin Wall began to come down.

During the 28 years it separated East and West Berlin, more than 5,000 people escaped over, through and under the wall. Approximately 100 people died making the attempt -- most shot by border guards.

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