List of deaths at the Berlin Wall

One of many memorials to those who died at the Berlin Wall

There were numerous deaths at the Berlin Wall, which stood as a barrier between West Berlin and East Germany from 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989. Before the rise of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions, 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.[1]

The state-funded Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam has confirmed at least 140 deaths, including people attempting to escape, border guards, and innocent parties. However, researchers at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and some others had estimated the death toll to be significantly higher.[2]

The escape attempts claimed the lives of a wide variety of people, from a child as young as one to an 80-year-old woman, and many died because of the accidental or illegal actions of the guards. In numerous legal cases throughout the 1990s, several border guards, along with political officials responsible for the defence policies, were found guilty of manslaughter and served probation or were jailed for their role in the Berlin Wall deaths. Out of an estimated number of 5,000 escapees, a total of 239 people died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall.[dubious ][citation needed]

Historical background

Wreath laying at the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall in 1986.
Wreaths at the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall in 1986.

After World War II, Berlin had been divided into four sectors controlled by the Allies: the US, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. The sector borders inside the city could in general be used freely for passage out of the German Democratic Republic, even after the border between the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR had been continually closed off, starting in 1952. The outer border of West Berlin, which was also the border between West-Berlin and the GDR, had also been closed down in 1952. During the night of 12 to 13 August 1961 the National People's Army, the German Border Police, the Volkspolizei and the Combat Groups of the Working Class locked down all passages between the Soviet sector and the three West sectors; construction of border protection facilities began.

During the first years border fortifications inside the city mostly consisted of brick walls with a top made of barbed wire. Clay bricks and concrete slabs were used for construction. Further obstacles of barbed wire and upstate walls delimitated the East and at some places, like Bernauer Straße, bricked-up buildings formed the boundary line. The buildings were situated on East-Berlin territory, whereas the pavement in front of the houses belonged to West-Berlin. In many places safety installations of West-Berlin's outer ring consisted of metal fences and barbed wire barriers. Technologically advanced upgrading took place later on and only in 1975 L-shaped concrete segments that were known from the fall of the Wall were added.