The Berlin Wall Goes Up: August 12, 1961

Sixty years ago this month, two tired, gray-haired women stood waving their handkerchiefs. Tears spilled down their cheeks as they strained to see a baby, lifted high in the air by its parents. They were the child’s grandmothers, separated from their family by a newly built wall. Just days earlier, on August 12, 1961, officials strung barbed wire through the heart of Berlin. The wire was then replaced with rows of concrete blocks, now nearly five feet tall and growing by the day. The Berlin Wall, built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), would separate East Berlin from West Berlin. It remained standing for the next 28 years until the Cold War thawed and protestors tore it down in 1989.

The Logan Daily News – August 18, 1961

As WWII came to an end in 1945, leaders from the Soviet Union, the UK, and the United States gathered at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany. They decided to divide Germany into four zones. The Soviet Union occupied the eastern part, while the United States, Great Britain, and France combined their zones and occupied the western part of the country. As the capital city, Berlin would also be divided into similar sectors, even though it was located entirely in the Soviet part of the country.

In 1948, the Russians tried to starve the Allies out of Berlin by creating a blockade to prevent food and supplies from reaching the city. Rather than retreating, the Americans responded with the Berlin Airlift, which supplied food to the residents of Berlin. The Soviets called off the blockade the following year. Between 1949-1961, an estimated 2.5 million people left East Germany for the west. The steady stream included younger skilled workers and educated professionals. The exodus threatened the economic viability of East Germany, so to stem the tide, government officials decided to seal the border.

Stevens Point Journal – August 19, 1961

On August 12, 1961, East Berlin started building a wall. Residents living on Harzer Strasse (the road that delineated East from West Berlin) found themselves in a unique situation. Their front doors were in East Berlin, and their back doors opened to West Berlin. Shocked residents watched as workers arrived to nail their back door shut and then further sealed the exit by building brick walls inside the door frame. After rolling out barbed wire to create a temporary barrier, construction began immediately on a more permanent structure. Over time, the concrete block wall was further fortified with barbed wire on top, watchtowers, and electrified fences. Border guards were under orders to shoot anyone attempting to flee. Over the next several decades, there were many attempts to escape. Refugees tunneled under the wall, climbed over it, or even flew to West Germany in homemade hot-air balloons. About 5,000 were successful and made it to West Berlin. Another 5,000 were captured, and nearly 200 died trying to escape.

The Guardian – August 24, 1961

In October 1989, the chief of the Communist Party in East Germany was forced from power. He had rejected the growing chorus of calls to reunite East and West Germany saying, “Socialism and capitalism can no more be united than fire and water.” Just weeks after his departure, East Germany announced that they would relax restrictions, allowing citizens to apply for a visa to travel to West Berlin. Ecstatic crowds gathered at the wall to celebrate the news. Border guards, unsure what to do, opened the gates. A flood of people poured through while others climbed the wall or began to chip away at it with sledgehammers and tools. The Berlin Wall came down, both physically and figuratively. On October 3, 1990, East Germany and West Germany officially reunited.

If you would like to learn more about the Berlin Wall, search™ today. You can also find more curated clippings on our Berlin Wall topic page.

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The Berlin Airlift

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78 thoughts on “The Berlin Wall Goes Up: August 12, 1961

  1. I arrived in Germany in that very day to begin my new job as a teacher for the American Army. No one knew for weeks what was going on in Berlin.

  2. My father was stationed in W. Berlin from Aug 1957 through Aug 1960. I was a student at that Army dependant school.
    We lived at 10 Auf Dem Great near Clay Allee. I witnessed droves of young adults from East Germany pushing baby carriages loaded with suit cases. They were using the subways to escape to freedom. That is a civics lesson on socialism that I will never forget

        1. Thanks for keeping the autobahn open for my latter trips between NeUlm and Frankfort in my jeep with its governor set at about 75mph. I felt the breeze of many cars as they blew pass me!!!

          1. You have no idea what you are talking about.

            “Socialism” has become the new boogey-man phrase in the U.S. What most people mean by socialism in the U.S. is democratic socialism, where individual rights of free speech, fair elections, private business and ownership etc. are respected, but there are programs that benefit society at large, such as healthcare, education, social safety nets for the truly disadvantaged, the ability for the elderly to live out a decent and dignified life, and decent living standards for all working people. Many countries in the developed world have such a form of government and they have not “devolved into communism.”

            The greater danger to our country is dictatorial totalitarianism.

          1. It has been decades and the Swiss, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes are yet to run out of “other people’s money.”

            Here’s a message a friend of mine from Norway sent me when we were discussing the differences between the two societies:

            … it is true, we pay our taxes with pleasure! I have an high income, and I pay around 40 % tax. That includes wealth tax. It is wonderful to be a mum here. It starts with free hospital. After the baby is born, mom and dad gets one year paid leave. One third for mum, one third for dad and the last part is split as we like between mum and dad. We are also guaranteed kindergarten. We only have half an hour lunch, but that means we work only from 0800-1530. So it is possible to work and be a parent. We pay 35 dollar to visit a doctor, but never more than 250 dollars a year. That includes expenses for medicine. We have free universities. The infrastructure is partly paid for, with roads and ferries sponsored. We have five weeks vacation. From 60 years old we have six weeks. I am indeed privileged.

      1. It’s the same ideology. Generally communism achieved through a revolution


        “so•cial•ism sō′shə-lĭz″əm►
        n. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
        n. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which the means of production are collectively owned but a completely classless society has not yet been achieved.“

        1. Such as, for example, the programs created in the United States under FDR – and other administrations. Socialism has, regrettably, become a bad word in this country, but how many would be willing to give up programs such as Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, unemployment, free public education and the like? Like it or not, the U.S. government structure is comprised of some elements of socialism.

          1. I have worked for 46 years and pay into Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment, etc taxes (schools, college, police, fire, roads & sewers etc). My son’s education was never free. For K-12, a portion came from taxes, and a small portion I additionally paid. For college, he was fortunate to win scholarship, but those monies come from either endowments or taxes etc generated by the school. The balance was paid out of pocket or on loans, which we also paid. We have not taken advantage of food stamps or food programs, but I’m assured those also come from taxes. The government is acts like a big bank where you pre-pay. Some of your monies comes back to you and some disappears!

        1. Bingo and the way things are going these days socialism will definitely turn into communism in a short time. The problem is people are too spoiled from having it too easy they don’t realise that in many places in the world slavery still exists and if you say something the government doesn’t like you could be executed family members tortured… Why mess with a good thing. Things have never been more fair and equal our biggest problem are globalists. Look at the west coast if the usa? Almost nothi.g is considered a crime anymore
          .. Why? For the Chinese ccp to have when they bulldoze us all while we cry ourselves to sleep cause life is so hard? Or so socialists who turn communist can have it all to themselves after anyone with a concern or voice has either been murdered or has been driven away. Idk pretty scarey. And they’d like to erase history too. Why? Retards!

  3. I was in the US Army and stationed in West Germany when the wall was built. Later on I drove a truck in one of the convoys the US ran between West Germany and West Berlin to prove that the Autobahn between those two points needed to remain open. We were held at the respective check points by East German Vopo’s (peoples police) for several hours as a harrassment technique. I spent 2 weeks in West Berlin, and we were given a guided tour of East Berlin while traveling to the Russian War Memorial in East Berlin. I was amazed to see the wall come down.

    1. Thanks for keeping the autobahn open for my latter trips between NeUlm and Frankfort in my jeep with its governor set at about 75mph. I felt the breeze of many cars as they blew pass me!!!

  4. My husband was a US Army Troop Commamder on the border in the early 70’s. He and his troop would be gone for 30 days at a time every 3 months, so one time in the summer, we arranged for a bus to take all the wives and children to the border for a picnic. We could see across to the guns and tank roads and were told not to make any suddent moves as it made the Soviet soldiers nervous !

  5. I was an Army MP Officer at the time. We all believed that if JFK had just ordered engineer bulldozers ti take out the beginning wall, it would have ended the entire attempt just as the airlift had in 1947-48. JFK was too green in the White House, so it never happened, and his reticence led to the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later.

    1. That’s BS. And as far as the Cuban Missile, JFK’s action kept us out of a sure aggression that would have resulted in deaths of both sides; and at the same time stop the installation of nukes aim at us in our hemisphere! Job well done!!!

      1. Unless you were there handling intelligence you do not know what was happening. JFKs weakness in dealing with Khrushchev led to the missiles in Cuba. I was there in the war room. True, he took solid advice and kept us out of what would have been a disastrous war–even worse than any of us relalised at the time.

        1. And your being a MP I suppose made you an expert on policy. Most everything you know came from rumors and barracks talk. Nothing to do with fact.

          1. I was in the war room at XVIII Airborne Corps handling intelligence. Where were you? Also I hold a PhD with a specialty in Communist block strategic policy so I think I know a little.

    2. I have heard that from others … if the Allies rolled over the barbedwire with bulldozers, it would have been over quickly. Kruschev took advantage of JFK. Tested him and found out he was weak and no leader. You were on the ground and knew what the atmosphere was like

      1. Kruschev did indeed consider Kennedy a weak leader, and that did play a part in the stationing of missiles in Cuba. Today, we have a weak leader and look what’s happening domestically and around the world. “American Marxism,” the latest book by Mark Levin, is highly recommended for its insightful analysis about where “democratic socialism” is leading.

        1. Incidentally, the East German government’s official name was “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” (German Democratic Republic). In fact, it was a communist state. What something is called has nothing to do with what it actually is.

  6. made the trip from sandhoffen-manhiem in the convoy tto berlin when it started.all the peole of west berlin was out to greet us as we pulled in headed for andews baracks,lyndon johnson greeted us the next my time in germany extended 6 monyhs as i was due to rotate ack across the big pond.

  7. My wife and I rode the troop train into West Berlin at the end of April 1964 at the height of the Cold War.
    On May Day we attended a Communist rally at the Reichstag. I believe I was the only person there in an American uniform.
    Due to leave at 6 pm that day we were delayed until 12.01 May 2 because the East German engine pulling the US military train was flying East German flags in defiance of the agreement. General Clay (I believe) was in charge of the US sector of Berlin and made the call to brake the train.

  8. Were there any Canadian troops or diplomats involved with the construction or guarding the wall?

  9. ER update before the year 2000?

    It goes from 2000 to present and has been the same for a VERY long time. It’s like they forgot and many other papers have this kind of issue. I think the site’s ‘staff’ is a few very old senile people or young punks that are on their phones browsing R/Politics all day getting brainwashed.

  10. Seriously? Not one mention of President Reagan? More liberal rewriting of history!

    1. Hi Stephen, the focus of our story was the wall going up, not coming down. President Reagan would definitely be included if the blog was about the latter.

      1. Jenny — Thank you for remembering this key development in the story of the “Cold War.” However, you had the date wrong: It was not the 12th. It was after midnight on the morning of August 13th, 1961, when the East German Army, border police and government militia closed the internal border between Berlin’s eastern half and its western zone… I know, because I was there, as a 20-year-old American soldier, assigned to the Army Security Agency, and after being roused from bed about 2 or 3 AM, I spent much of the day on the parapet at the west end of Tempelhof airbase with a loaded M-14, waiting for an attack that never came. Despite what people say, the reason the West didn’t knock down the barriers was the 10,000 tanks the Soviets and East Germans had surrounding Berlin — more than the soldiers we had there.

        1. Your date is correct. I was stationed in Berlin at the time assigned to the Provost Marshal Office. I was responsible for investigating border incidents along Berlin and the border with East Germany. The closing of the Berlin border fell within my purview. I later established “Check Point Charlie”. DEROS to CONUS June 1962.

    2. Non-sense from the right wing continues. Reagan’s capricious and corrupt foreign policies had little if anything to do with the collapse of Soviet-style communism (Stalinism). It was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action—including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other forms of ingenious non-cooperation by hundreds of thousands of Polish, German, Chek, Hungarian citizens — that finally brought down these communist regimes. You should be thanking the people who took to the streets, not the U.S. President who crippled our economy so he could hand out defense contracts to his buddies.

      Nice try though. The Right Wing movement in the U.S. under Trump has moved closer to Stalinism now that it has ever been. Stop living a lie and wake up.

      1. Agree; however, 20+ years of US pressure did help. That pressure came from JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Cater. Regan just happen to be in office when the walls actually tumbled.

        1. Reagan was not on office in 1989 when the wall came down, George H.W. Bush was president.

      2. Syd,
        Can you provide some some factual information about the demonstrations?
        I was stationed in Germany in 1963-4 and followed news closely until the wall came down. I don’t remember much about the demonstrations you cite?

      3. Reagan crippled the economy? Despite the news media constantly referring to it as the “Reagan Recession”, that recession was well underway by the last months of 1979- which prompted us to move in Novemeber from Ohio, across country, in search of jobs.

        1. You are right about that “recession” being already in progress in the late 1970’s! The construction company in Phoenix, AZ that I was working for as office manager had to shut down in the spring of 1979 as money for new projects dried up. I spent months looking for work and taking a few short-term jobs, and finally moved back to the DC area in early 1981 to get back into the federal workforce, but Reagan put a freeze on hiring and it took me 2 more years to do so (I retired with 30 years total military and civil service in 2002). By the way, see my reply above about the wrong date in the headline and main story for the start of the Wall — it was August 13, not 12.

  11. As a member of the 394th Trans Battalion, Neulm, Germany, I visited the wall separating Hof Germany from Chech side in 1976. The bridge that separated to the sides was blown and half remain standing. The area included a stone wall, as well as a fence on the perimeter which was patrolled by Communist guards and dogs. Heartbreaking!!!

  12. In June 1962 I was part of a student People to People group that went by bus from Hamburg to Berlin. Halfway there we were held up for several hours as the East Germans examined & re-examined our passports. Finally we were allowed to continue. Supposedly something was happening in Berlin & the last thing they wanted was a bus load of young people adding to the chaos or demonstrations or whatever was happening. I never did hear. Anyone have any idea?
    One day we were given a bus tour along the wall. In the French sector we got out of the buses. Immediately soldiers in the watchtowers on the East side aimed their guns at us, martial music blared down the street & Someone blasted a propaganda speech in rapid fire German. To guard/protect us the French army sent a tank aimed at the wall. It was a lot for a young, naive person to take in.

  13. I was a young soldier stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base when the Wall went up. Our Nike Hercules unit was ordered to its highest alert status, and the Air Force had four (loaded with bombs) aircraft in its readiness area adjacent to our missile site.

    Actually, it was President George HW Bush who was in office when the Berlin Wall came down after many years of pressure and responses from successive US administrations beginning with President Truman’s.

  14. My half brother (Billy Starr) stage name was a performer for the troops in the 40,s a very good tap dancer there were 2 others Lou and possibly women to dance also when I was young I was able to watch him perform in my Uncle Louie and my aunt Olives night club in Mononogahela, Pa. they also needed that during war for entertainment, a great escape! Also my dad did Vaudeville! I had a very special family back at those earlier times

  15. We were stationed there from 1964-1966 and the contrast between both E. and W.
    Berlin was enormous. Freedom on W. Berlin side and Communism on E. Berlin.
    They had nothing but dilapolated buildings, little markets and stores, while the West prospered 20 yrs. after W.W.II. into a city as big as NYC even being walled off. One side free, the other under govt. control. So don’t talk to me about how great handing out everything to you. They always give to themselves first and leave the scraps for you. I was there and saw it firsthand.

    1. I can attest to what you said.
      I was stationed in West Germany 1963-4 and later toured eastern Germany in 1994. The differences between the two were stark.

  16. The date would more accurately be stated “the night of August 12-13, 1961.” It was around 2 am when they started putting up the barbed wire. See several sites that document this.

  17. In 1991 we were in Berlin, performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when the announcement was made, during our concert, that Berlin would once again be the capital of the unified Germany. In fact, our announcer broke the news to the audience. This was before cell phones.

  18. As an US Army soldier stationed in Germany 1961-1963, I had the opportunity to go behind the Berlin Wall. What I saw was a desolate,ruined city that was quite revealing to me. Lines for everything, groceries, baked goods, prescptions,etc. Call it communism,socialism or liberalism. I pray that the USA never,never comes to what I observed for a few hours where most all people were resigned to a life of misery.

  19. Odd how this author completely ignores President Reagan’s role in forcing the wall down.

  20. Gosh, those poor defeated nazis…they’d have been a lot nicer to us if they’d won the war; just look at their record

  21. Socialism, communism, Patriotism. As an American whose father fought in two wars and those that fought and died for our country so we can be free to decide how our lives may be lived. Thank you I chose, along with millions of other Americans to be a patriot and leave communism and socialism in the gutter where they belong.

  22. My dad was in the Air Force and stationed stationed at Templehof from 1965 to 1968. It was a crazy time, West Berlin was wonderful and such a stark contrast to a rundown East Berlin.

    1. Tears came to my eyes when the Wall came down. My husband was stationed at Tempelhof 1965-68. Our local apartment (which is still there), had bullet holes from WW II on exterior, no hot water, and coal to heat. Eventually later we moved to Army housing over by Exchange. Despite the travails (delays, air sick child) – as I was traveling alone with 2 children as civilian to Berlin (flights LA-London-Frankfurt- Tempelhof in W. Berlin) – we made it. My husband & I married in Berlin.

      The tyranny was never more evident than when a 13 yr young man was shot trying to escape vis the “Wall” Or when Russians invaded Czechoslovakia & we were on alert for possible evacuation.

      It was also a time of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations at US Embassy (near housing area), and one time told to stay indoors & fill bathtub German police and dogs patrolled. Luckily the demonstration was small.

      Despite it all – loved Berlin! Buses, subways took us most places. Went to many a park, often to Zoo . Plenty to do there. Would love to go back to see Berlin today.

  23. I spent a few months in the summers of 1978 and 1979 in East Berlin – an apartment overlooking Alexanderplatz. I crossed Checkpoint Charlie numerous times. I cannot accurately draw Checkpoint Charlie ( I remember the lines, running the mirror under the car when we drove, the white cards that had to be turned in on every crossing – be sure to remember your passport number), but I will never forget the totality of the experience. Never thought I would see its demise – what a joy when the Wall came down.

  24. My Dad was stationed in Kafertal 1954 1958 I got married to the love of my life in Kafertal.In December of 1957 my husband left to go to Berlin on an assignment.I was 8 months pregnant at the time.I remember him telling me not to worry.His truck was full of guns and c rations.Had our 1st baby with my mother and Dad at my Heidelberg.My husband arrived the next day.He did not have a shower for weeks..Never talked about this assignment.
    We were married 55 and 1/2 Happy years.
    John passed away 8 years ago.John left Viet Nam but Viet Nam never left him. Stomach cancer and lung cancer,neuropaty ,Diabetes.ravished his body until he could not fight it anymore.I will always love you and I’m so proud and thankful to you and all our Veterans for serving and protecting us.You will never be forgotten.

  25. Please unsubscribe me. I don’t want to continue with this at this time. Thank you. Ann Parmiter.

  26. I was stationed in W. Germany with my family in the U.S. Army from 1987-Nov 1990. We witnessed 10’s of 1000’s of E. Germans coming into W. Germany via Hungary and Austria before Oct ’89. After the wall opened, I went to Berlin with my son and his Cub Scout Pack. We went to East Berlin. There was nothing in the stores to buy and the people were afraid to be on the streets, like they couldn’t believe what was happening. We chiseled pieces of the wall, went to the Check Point Charlie Museum and saw many of the historical and beautiful sights in Berlin. That was the beginning of the end of Soviet Communism. Now communism is on the rise within our own United States, even in our own government. We beat it before and we must beat it again for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

  27. My cousin survived the 28 years behind that wall, after her mother was raped multiple times by Russians during WW2 and waited 9 years for her father to finally be released from a Russian POW camp in 1950, barely alive after fighting Typhus TWICE.
    All my letters to my Godmother (auntie) were opened and my mother’s parcels were ripped open. Gifts were stolen and their phones were always bugged, so they could not even inquire about stolen items.
    My cousin was not permitted to wear blue jeans under E.Berlin communist law and is still unable to smile since the wall came down, even though she now travels 3 times per year to different countries.
    If it wasn’t bad enough that my grandmother was murdered by the Russian who raped my mother, the Russians even fired ack-ack guns at the RAF Airlift plane Mom escaped on, from Gatow Airport.
    Lucky for Mom and me, they missed.

  28. My Dad was a Tank Commander with the Army in Berlin 1963 and 1964. I was in the 3rd Grade and attended school at the Military Base. Who remembers the “Outpost” Theater where Military Quarters were? 10cents to see a movie back then. We walked along the wall many times when we lived there. I remember there were graves on the sidewalks on the West (Free) side where people were killed trying to escape. They buried them where they died. My Dad even pulled a few watches at Checkpoint Charlie. We were at the Wall, Brandenburg Gate, when Kennedy gave his “Ich Bin Erin Berliner” speech. After Kennedy died, I also stood in line with my mom for hours outside the American Embassy to sign the condolences book for Jackie Kennedy. Most standing in the long lines were Berliners. What a real history lesson for a kid.

  29. If we do not learn history, we will repeat it. I read with fascination the stories that were written (I was born in 1959) and what people endured. It is happening again in the world in Afghanistan. When will we learn? Its heartbreaking to see what communism socialism, and terrorism does to the human race.

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