Berlin Wall: from its construction to its fall, the key dates

Germans sit on the Berlin Wall near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, November 11, 1989 © John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Text by: Heike Schmidt Follow

7 mins

From the entry of Russian tanks into Berlin ... to the reunification of the two Germanies.

Reminder of the major events that surrounded the construction, consolidation and then destruction of the Wall, the most striking symbol of the Cold War.


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May 8, 1945:

 Russian tanks entered Berlin, the Soviet flag fluttered over the ruined Reichstag.

The German army capitulates and the country will be divided into four zones by the “big four”: the USSR, the United States, France and Great Britain share the territory, including Berlin.

June 24, 1948:

 the first major crisis between the Soviet Union and the West caused the people of Berlin to suffer.

The Soviets block all land traffic to West Berlin.

For eleven months, Americans, British and French made nearly 300,000 flights to supply Berliners with a giant airlift.

The "blockade" will be partially lifted on May 12, 1949 following tough negotiations at the UN.

May 23, 1949:

 Foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

The wish for a united and free Germany will be enshrined in the Constitution.

October 7, 1949:

 constitution of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

More and more citizens of the GDR are moving to the West.

Emigrating is not yet a problem.

You just need to take the metro or the Berlin railway to go from east to west, as many Berliners do to go to work.

Between 1947 and 1961, between 2.6 and 3.6 million Germans left the GDR for the Federal Republic.

Most of the refugees are young and well educated, which is becoming a real headache for the communist regime which fears losing its vital strength.

June 17, 1953:

Thousands of workers in East Germany protest against their working conditions.

They denounce the increase in production rates in factories and on construction sites.

The uprising will be bloodily suppressed by Soviet tanks.

June 15, 1961:

 Walter Ulbricht, head of the SED (Communist Party of the GDR) and head of state, declares: “ 

No one intends to build a wall.

 He was the first to use the word “wall”, two months before it was erected.

Separated by the wall, two mothers can only greet their children and grandchildren who remained in the Soviet sector of Berlin, August 28, 1961. © Keystone / Getty Images

August 13, 1961:

 East Berliners wake up trapped in the Soviet occupation sector, separated overnight from their families and loved ones. From midnight, several divisions of GDR soldiers are deployed along the demarcation line to put an end to the mass emigration of East Germans to West Berlin.

The first stones of the wall

and the barbed wire cut the city in two. Images of

Bernauer Strasse travel

the world, showing residents throwing themselves from windows into tarpaulins hung by West Berlin firefighters.

Berlin thus becomes an island in the middle of the countries of the East.

The wall will be 155 km long, 43 km of which will cut Berlin in two, and 112 km will separate West Berlin from the territory of the GDR.

Three hundred and two watchtowers, 14,000 guards and 600 dogs are used to monitor the “anti-fascist protection barrier”.

But the escape attempts will continue despite the wall.

June 26, 1963:

 US President John F. Kennedy, on an official visit to Europe, shows the solidarity of the “free world” for Berliners by declaring: “

Ich bin ein Berliner

 ” (“I am a Berliner”).

West Berliners gave him a triumphant welcome.

October 5, 1964:

a tunnel dug under the wall by students allows the escape of 57 Berliners.

In all, 70 tunnels will be dug between 1961 and 1989 in order to escape the communist regime.

Nearly 5,000 "wall passes" manage to flee.

But at least 136 people will be killed between 1961 and 1989 while trying to cross the Berlin Wall.

Over a thousand people will die crossing the German border.

December 21, 1972:

 the GDR and the FRG sign a fundamental treaty which will be the starting point for the normalization of relations between the two Germanies.

January 19, 1989:

 Erich Honecker, Head of State of the GDR, declares that "

the wall will still be standing in a hundred years


May 7, 1989: 

during the municipal elections, the inhabitants of Leipzig vote for the first time against the Communist Party by crossing out the names of the candidates.

But the next day, voters discover with dismay that the authorities have, once again, rigged the vote: the United Socialist Party of Germany (SED) obtained 89.9% of the vote.

August 18, 1989:

 in Hungary, during a “pan-European picnic” in Sopron, near the Austrian border, 600 East Germans flee the country, taking advantage of the temporary opening of the border.

To read also:

From the summer of 1989, the East Germans moved to the West

September 30, 1989: 

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the FRG, announces to more than 4,000 East Germans who have taken refuge in the Embassy of the Federal Republic in Prague: “ 

Dear compatriots, we have come to you for tell you that today, your passage in West Germany has become possible.

 "The" freedom trains "will take them to a new life in FRG.

October 6 and 7, 1989:

 Mikhail Gorbachev is in Berlin to celebrate the

40th anniversary of the GDR

. The crowd cheers him by chanting " 

Gorbi, Gorbi

 ". Tired of the interminable military parade and of his ally fiercely opposed to any reform, he declared to the East German leadership: “ 

Those who arrive too late will be punished by life. 

The expression will be interpreted as the announcement of the end of the GDR.

October 9, 1989: 

East Germans "vote with their feet". In Leipzig, during Monday prayers in St. Nicholas Church,

70,000 demonstrators defy the ban on assembling

and take to the streets. "No violence, no stone throwing, no insults," insists Pastor Christian Führer to calm the crowd. Eight thousand police and soldiers are mobilized, but the order to open fire does not come. “ 

The Stasi

(the East German secret police)

had planned everything, except the candles and the prayers

 », Remembers Christian Führer.

It is the beginning of the peaceful revolution, the prelude to the fall of the wall.

The following Monday, they will be 120,000 demonstrators.

Two weeks later, 320,000 citizens demand the freedom to travel and chant: “

Wir sind das Volk

” (“We are the people”).

October 18, 1989:

 under pressure from the streets, Erich Honecker resigns.

Egon Krenz replaces him.

Demonstration against the East German communist regime, for freedom of press and opinion, free elections and democracy, November 4, 1989 in East Berlin.

© Mehner / Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

November 4, 1989: 

in the heart of East Berlin, on Alexanderplatz, more than

a million people demonstrate

against the communist regime.

It is the biggest protest rally the GDR has ever seen.

November 9, 1989: 

Günter Schabowski, the party's new propaganda official, stammers at a press conference and announces that a new regulation will allow those who wish to leave the country for the West: “ 

The police have received instructions to issue visas for permanent departures without delay.

 When a journalist asks him from when this measure will come into force, he answers, in a hesitant tone: "

As far as I know, as of now.


The 8 pm newspaper announces that " 

the GDR is opening its border


The rush for the wall begins: for the first time in twenty-eight years, Berliners move freely from East to West.

The "wall of shame", symbol of the cold war, will fall with the hammer blows in the days that follow.

October 3, 1990:

 the two Germanies reunite.

This article was originally published on 11/2/2009.

Our selection on the subject:

  • To read :

→ From the summer of 1989, the East Germans moved to the West

→ 25 years later, is the Cold War really over?

→ Docu-fiction: “

Walled in Berlin

”, life around the Wall in 30 posts

→ Berlin Wall: the defense of Hans Modrow, the last East German head of government (France 24)

  • To listen :

→ The gains and the wounds of German reunification

→ 30 years after the fall, two Germans still coexist

→ Ostalgia!

Life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall

→ Germany: towards limiting access to Stasi archives?

→ Germany: the “stolen” children of the GDR

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