The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later known as the "death strip") that contained anti-vehicle trenches, "fakir beds" and other defenses. The Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc officially claimed that the wall was erected to protect itspopulation from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a Socialist State in East Germany. However, in practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.
The Berlin Wall was officially referred to as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall" (German:Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) by GDR authorities, implying that neighboring West Germany had not been fully de-Nazified. The West Berlin city government sometimes referred to it as the "Wall of Shame" – a term coined by mayor Willy Brandt – while condemning the wall's restriction on freedom of movement. Along with the separate and much longer Inner German border (IGB) that demarcated the border between Eastand West Germany, both borders came to symbolize the "Iron Curtain" between Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc.
Before the Wall's erection, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions and defected from the GDR, many by crossing over the border from East Berlin into West Berlin, from where they could then travel to West Germany and other Western European countries.Between 1961 and 1989, the wall prevented almost all such emigration. During this period, around 5,000 people attempted to escape over the wall, with estimates of the resulting death toll varying between 100 and 200.
In 1989, a radical series of Eastern Bloc political changes occurred, associated with the liberalization of the Eastern Bloc's authoritarian systems and the erosion of political powerin the pro-Soviet governments in nearby Poland and Hungary. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on November 9, 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto the wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, a euphoric public andsouvenir hunters chipped away parts of the wall; the governments later used industrial equipment to remove most of the rest. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on October 3, 1990.
After the end of World War II in Europe, what remained of pre-war Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line was divided into four occupation zones (per the PotsdamAgreement), each one controlled by one of the four occupying Allied powers: the United States, 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 deep inside the Soviet zone. Within two years, political divisions increased between the Soviets and the other occupying powers.These included the Soviets' refusal to agree to reconstruction plans making post-war Germany self-sufficient and to a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, goods and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. Britain, France, the United States and the Benelux countries later met to combine the non-Soviet zones of the country into one zone for reconstruction and approve theextension of the Marshall Plan.
The Eastern Bloc and the Berlin airlift
Further information: Eastern Bloc and Berlin Blockade
Following World War II, Soviet leader Josef Stalin built up a protective belt of Soviet-controlled nations on his Western border, the Eastern bloc, that then included Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which he wished to maintain alongside a weakened Soviet-controlled...
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