Story of the Wall
"Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic to the south, those barriers cut across Germany,.."
Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987
Germany and Berlin at the End of World War II
At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, it was decided by the four victorious powers of World Warr II - Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America - that the territory of the former German Empire as defined by the borders of 1937 (i.e., not including Austria) was to be divided into four zones of occupation. The regions of East Prussia and Upper Silesia were detached and placed under Polish and Soviet administration. The strictly confidential political map of Germany prepared by the National Geographic Society in Washington for military and naval personnel of the United States in July 1944 shows the initial situation for the rearrangement of Germany.
The zonal division ultimately led to the founding of two German states. The Federal Republic of Germany, based on democratic principles, emerged from the three western zones in May 1949. In October 1949 the Soviet zone of occupation was transformed with the assistance of the Red Army into the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a communist, centralized state based on the Soviet model and led by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Western states, including the Federal Republic, refused to recognize the GDR because it lacked democratic legitimacy. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany even contained the formal call "to complete the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination."
Berlin, the former capital of the German Empire, was likewise divided into four zones - along the district lines dating from 1920. Each of the four powers was responsible for its respective zone. In addition, the four-Power status granted the Allies equal rights throughout the city. Strictly speaking, there were thus no genuine borders between the East sector and the western zones of the city. The "open border," as Berlin was known at that time, thereby became the escape hatch for East German citizens disillusioned by the desolate living conditions in the first "state of workers and peasants" on German soil. They fled to the West in search of individual political freedom and economic well-being. By 1961, when the barriers were erected along the sector boundary, almost three million people had left the GDR, almost 20% of its total population of approximately 16 million. The GDR stood on the brink of economic ruin.
The communist leaders thought that the erection of the "iron cortain" would prevent that outcome. A little less than thirty years later, their calculations proved wrong.