The Berlin Wall: Timeline

Key points in the history of the best known symbol of Communist siege mentality.

Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall split families, separating mothers and children [GALLO/GETTY]

THE SCENE IS SET: 1945- 1961

May 1945: The final major offensive of the Second World War sees the Soviet Army capture Berlin. With the end of the War on May 8th, Berlin is split into four sectors; The British, American and French in the West of the city and the Soviet in the East.

October 29, 1946: Travel restrictions are introduced for movement between the Soviet and Western administered sectors in Germany. A travel document known as an Interzonenpass is required to cross between them.

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June 24, 1948: The Soviets block rail and road access to Berlin in an effort to force the Allies to use supplies from the Russian held sector of the city, which would give them de-facto control over the whole of Berlin. In response the Allies begin the Berlin Airlift to keep the city supplied with food and fuel.

May 12, 1949: By the following spring, more supplies are reaching Berlin than when the traditional routes were open, and the Soviets end the blockade as it becomes clear that their strategy is failing. The airlift ends almost five months later.

October 7, 1949: The German Democratic Republic (GDR) is declared in East Berlin, formalising the separation that had been established in the aftermath of the war.

May 26, 1952: The border between East and West Germany is closed every where apart from Berlin, where a crossing remains open.

Berlin was divided into sectors after WWII [GALLO/GETTY]

June 17, 1953: Construction workers in East Berlin riot against their employment conditions. The protests are suppressed by the Soviet Army, but reveal the growing disparities in conditions between East and West.

December 11, 1957: The GDR introduces rules that make leaving East Germany without permission illegal. Those who make the forbidden crossing are punished with up to three years in prison.   

June 15, 1961: The First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of the GDR, Walter Ulbricht, states categorically that “No one has the intention to erect a wall,” between East and West Germany.

July 25, 1961: US President John F Kennedy gives a speech before the border between East and West Germany is closed saying any Soviet attack on Berlin would be seen as an attack on Nato. This riles his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev, who hits back a fortnight later with his own speech saying that he will “not declare war, but we will not withdraw either.”


August 13, 1961: The border between East and West Berlin is closed and a long-planned Soviet operation to divide the city swings into action. The day begins with the border being sealed by Communist troops. Meanwhile, “shock workers” are deployed to construct a barbed wire barrier across the border. 24 hours later, their task is complete, and what will become the Berlin Wall is in place.

August 14, 1961: The Brandenburg Gate is closed and is not reopened for 28 years.

August 15, 1961: Concrete blocks are moved into place, beginning the construction of a more permanent structure. As the intentions of the authorities become clear, the first escape to the West takes place when East German border guard Conrad Schumann jumps the barbed wire.

August 16, 1961: The use of concrete blocks is extended, creating a wall two metres high that splits families and couples across East and West. Meanwhile, the temporary barbed wire barriers are removed. The wall is here to stay.

August 26, 1961: West German citizens are banned from crossing the barrier. The division is complete, and Berlin is split.

June 1962: A second wall is built to prevent escapes, and the first wall is improved, making illegal crossings more difficult.

August 17, 1962: The brutality with which the border is policed is brought into stark focus when 18-year-old Peter Fechter is shot and left to bleed to death in full view of Western media while trying to cross the wall. Their efforts to help him were prevented by East German border guards and he died after an hour of suffering at the foot of the wall.

President John F Kennedy makes a visit the Berlin Wall in 1963 [GALLO/GETTY]

June 26 1963: Kennedy visits Berlin and famously declares “Ich bin ein Berliner“. Over the coming years, the wall is improved and enhanced, making it even more difficult and dangerous to climb over. This fails to deter escape attempts, however.

December 1972: A treaty is signed in which both German states commit themselves to establishing normal relations as two equal entities. The treaty recognises each others territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty.

May 1973: Formal diplomatic ties are established between East and West Germany.

1975-1976: Construction begins on the “Grenzmauer 75” wall, an enhanced barrier made from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 m high and 1.5m wide, and topped with a smooth pipe to deter climbers. The Grenzmauer was reinforced by anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire and over 300 watchtowers. Escape attempts continued despite its erection.

June 12, 1987: US President Ronald Reagan visits Berlin and calls on Soviet leader Gorbachev to “tear down” the Wall.

February 6, 1989: Chris Geuffroy becomes the last person killed trying to cross the wall in an escape to the West.

August 23, 1989: Communist Hungary removes its border restrictions with Austria, opening a chink in what the late Winston Churchill called the ‘Iron Curtain’ across Europe.

September 10, 1989: The Hungarian government allows East Germans into the country as refugees. An estimated 13,000 flood across the border into Austria, realising their long held dream to reach the West. Discontent in East Germany  continues to grow. 

November 4, 1989: Between 500,000 and 1 million people rally at Alexander Square in East Berlin. East German TV broadcasts the event live. Within days, the East German government resigns.

November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall is breached after a Politburo member says at a press conference that new travel laws are to take immediate effect. Thousands of East Berliners head to the wall. Shortly before midnight the first barriers at the wall are opened.

After 28 years dividing the city, the Berlin Wall falls.  


November 10, 1989: As the world digests the extraordinary images coming from Berlin, Todor Zhivkov is ousted in a party coup in Bulgaria. A few days later, his successor, Petar Mladenov, announces an effective end to the totalitarian regime. 

Memorials to those who died at the wall [GALLO/ GETTY] 

November 17, 1989: Czechoslovakia is rocked when riot police crack down on a peaceful student protest in Prague, kicking off the Velvet Revolution.

November 24, 1989: After days of protest, the Czechoslovak Communist Party leadership resigns.

December 1, 1989: The East German parliament removes the right of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) to rule exclusively.

December 2, 1989: In a show of support, Austria lifts visa restriction for Czechoslovakian citizens. More than 100,000 Czechs use the opportunity for short visits to Vienna.

December 3, 1989: The East German Politburo and the Central Committee, led by Egon Krenz, step down.

December 7, 1989: The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) is formed as the first openly anti-communist movement in Bulgaria, further undermining communism in Eastern Europe.  

December 10, 1989: Czechoslovakia’s President Gustav Husak, makes way for the first non-communist government since the 1948 Communist putsch.

December 16, 1989: Romanian Security forces crack down on anti-Ceausescu demonstrations in Timisoara.

December 17, 1989: Austrian and Czechoslovakian Foreign Ministers Alois Mock and Jiri Dienstbier symbolically cut through the border fence.

December 22, 1989: Romania’s Ceausescu is visibly shaken at the presence of chanting crowds during what turns out to be his last official speech. He flees by helicopter.

December 22, 1989: A hugely symbolic moment in Berlin as the Brandenburg Gate is reopened, though initially only for pedestrian traffic.

December 23, 1989: Romania’s army turns against Ceausescu.

December 25, 1989: Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu are executed. Their bullet-riddled bodies are shown on national TV.

December 29, 1989: Dissident playwright Vaclav Havel is elected the then-Czechoslovakia’s first democratic president since 1948.

October 3, 1990: Germany is formally reunited. Almost half a century of division is over, and the country looks forward to a new future.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies