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Did West Germany Build the Berlin Wall?

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Cold War Tour Berlin

When discussing the Berlin Wall, it’s important to clarify that it was not West Germany that built the wall, but rather East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The construction of this iconic symbol of the Cold War began on August 13, 1961, and remained standing until November 9, 1989. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the GDR’s decision to build the Berlin Wall and the impact it had on Germany and the world.

Background and Causes

The division of Germany after World War II led to the establishment of two separate states: West Germany, also known as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), and East Germany (GDR). Berlin, as the capital city, was also divided into West Berlin, governed by West Germany, and East Berlin, controlled by the GDR. The GDR faced many challenges, including a significant loss of professionals and skilled workers who migrated to West Germany seeking better opportunities and political freedom.

To address this issue, the GDR decided to erect a physical barrier to prevent further population loss. The Berlin Wall was not only a physical barrier but also a symbol of the ideological differences between the communist East and the capitalist West.

The Construction and Features of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall was not built overnight but rather evolved from the temporary barbed wire fences and concrete barriers that were put up in 1961. The final wall structure consisted of a concrete wall that was reinforced with steel mesh and included a “death strip” in the middle, filled with sand, gravel, and other obstacles to deter escape attempts.

Guard towers were strategically placed along the wall, housing armed border guards with shoot-to-kill orders. The wall also incorporated various security measures, such as anti-vehicle trenches and dog runs, to prevent unauthorized crossings.

The Impact and Significance

The Berlin Wall had far-reaching effects, both for the people of Germany and the international community. Initially, the wall succeeded in its objective of stemming the flow of East Germans to the West. However, it also reinforced the division between the two German states, separating families, friends, and cutting off access to resources and opportunities.

The wall became a powerful symbol of the Cold War and the struggle between communism and capitalism. It represented the failure of the Soviet Union and the GDR to win the hearts and minds of their citizens, who yearned for freedom and a better life. Notably, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 became an iconic moment in history, signifying the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany.


Although often mistakenly attributed to West Germany, it was indeed the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, that built the Berlin Wall. The construction of the wall achieved its short-term goal of preventing the exodus of East Germans but at a significant cost to human lives and the division of families. Ultimately, the Berlin Wall became a symbol of oppression and failed ideology. Its fall marked a turning point in history, bringing hope for reunification and a brighter future for Germany and Europe as a whole.

Did West Germany Build the Berlin Wall?