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What Happened to the Berlin Wall During the Cold War

by | Oct 17, 2023 | World War Tour Berlin

The Berlin Wall, one of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War era, played a significant role in the geopolitical dynamics of East and West Germany. Built in 1961, the wall separated the city of Berlin into two distinct zones, symbolizing the ideological divide between communism and democracy during the Cold War. In this blog post, we will explore the history of the Berlin Wall, its purpose, the events leading up to its fall, and its impact on the world.

1. Construction of the Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall began on the night of August 12, 1961. The Soviet Union, which controlled East Germany, erected the wall to prevent the mass emigration of East Germans to West Germany and West Berlin. The wall was made of concrete, barbed wire, and guard towers, effectively sealing off the two parts of the city.

2. Purpose and Structure

The primary purpose of the Berlin Wall was to prevent East Germans from escaping to West Germany. The wall acted as a physical and symbolic barrier, designed to stop any attempts to cross the border. Along its 96-mile length, there were guard dogs, watchtowers, and armed soldiers, creating a heavily fortified zone.

Over time, the structure of the wall evolved, becoming more sophisticated and harder to breach. It consisted of two parallel walls with a “Death Strip” in between, which was filled with sand, anti-vehicle trenches, and tripwires connected to alarm systems. The wall stood at an average height of 12 feet and became an imposing symbol of the Iron Curtain.

3. Life with the Berlin Wall

The existence of the Berlin Wall had a profound impact on the lives of the people living on both sides. Families and friends were separated, and people lost their jobs and possessions. The wall resulted in a divided city, with stark differences in terms of political systems, economies, and living conditions.

In East Berlin, the communist regime controlled every aspect of people’s lives. Surveillance and censorship were widespread, and any dissent against the government was met with severe consequences. In contrast, West Berlin enjoyed the benefits of a democratic society, with greater personal freedom and economic opportunities.

4. Events Leading to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall did not happen overnight. It was the result of years of political changes, protests, and a shift in global dynamics.

4.1. The Ostpolitik Policy

In the early 1970s, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt introduced a policy known as Ostpolitik. This policy aimed to normalize relations with East Germany and other Eastern European countries. It marked a significant step towards reducing tensions between East and West and improving cooperation.

4.2. Soviet Policies and Leadership Changes

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union underwent leadership changes with Mikhail Gorbachev coming to power. Gorbachev implemented a series of reforms known as glasnost and perestroika, which aimed to promote openness and economic restructuring. These policies led to a thaw in Cold War tensions and increased pressure on the East German government to make changes.

4.3. Peaceful Protests and Internal Pressure

In the late 1980s, widespread protests erupted throughout East Germany, demanding political reforms, freedom of speech, and an end to the repressive regime. The government’s inability to quell the protests, coupled with the growing desire for change, increased the internal pressure on the East German leadership.

5. The Fall of the Berlin Wall

On November 9, 1989, after weeks of mounting pressure, the East German government announced that citizens were free to cross the border. Thousands of East Germans flocked to the wall, and to the world’s astonishment, border guards opened the checkpoints, allowing people to pass freely between East and West Berlin.

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked a turning point not only in German history but also in world history. It symbolized the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany. It was a moment of great celebration and sparked hope for a more peaceful and united future.

6. Legacy and Impact

The fall of the Berlin Wall had a profound impact on Germany and the world. It led to the reunification of East and West Germany, ending decades of division and creating a robust and prosperous nation.

The collapse of the wall also had broader consequences. It signified a shift in global dynamics, with the Soviet Union losing its grip on Eastern Europe and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. It marked the triumph of democracy over communism and the beginning of a new era in international relations.


The Berlin Wall was a physical and symbolic barrier that divided a city and represented the ideological divide of the Cold War era. Its construction and fall are significant chapters in history, highlighting the struggle between communism and democracy. The fall of the Berlin Wall not only reunited a nation but also transformed the world, ushering in a new era of hope and progress.

What Happened to the Berlin Wall During the Cold War