49-years since the Berlin Wall went up

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It is exactly 49-years tomorrow since the Berlin Wall was constructed by the German Democratic Republic, drawing Soviet-occupied East Berlin away from the half of the city occupied by America, Britain and France, and firmly behind the iron curtain.

High stone walls with barbed wire, anti-vehicle trenches, troops and look-out towers divided streets, parks, roads, sometimes even buildings. Families were separated and lives ruined, in part to prevent the circumvention of emigration restrictions- to keep Germans and those in other Soviet states out of the democratised West – and in part to keep Western influences out.

A reported 3.5 million left the Eastern bloc in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet occupation of East Germany, prior to the Berlin Wall’s resurrection. But in the 28 years that the wall stood, only an estimated 5,000 attempted to breach it. Escape carried a serious risk of death, with as many as 200 lives lost overall.

Two months before the wall was built Walter Ulbricht, the First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, famously said ‘Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!’ or ‘No one has the intention of erecting a wall!’ at an international press conference.

His statement was false, and on August 13th 1961 the border with West Berlin was closed by Soviet troops. They began installing 97 miles of temporary fences and barbed wire around an area stretching for 27 miles, only to replace them with concrete blocks within days.

The Independent Online has taken a look through the photo archives to bring you a look at news photography from the initial aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s resurrection. It shows relatives straining to speak to each other across the divide, soldiers standing guard and rebels smuggling their girlfriends across in oil barrels.

Click here or on the image for pictures the Berlin Wall 1961-1965