The Berlin Wall was erected on August 13, 1961. Though it was clearly intended to prevent a mass exodus into West Berlin, its builders (the German Democratic Republic) claimed the opposite -- they said it was designed to protect from western aggression.
East Berlin was established by the Soviet Union in 1949. By the time the wall was started, it had lost over 3 million residents through defections. The border started as a barbed wire fence, and morphed into a concrete wall by 1965.
In a 1962 film The Wall, we're given a powerful look at the first year of the dangerous border, with actual footage of escape attempts and everyday life in Berlin.
Narrated by famed American voice actor Alexander Scourby, The Wall shows initial escape attempts including East Berliners running through cut open barbed wire fencing and jumping out of buildings that faced West Berlin, sometimes while being pulled back by GDR police.
While many of the escape attempts seen are successful, some are not. The film shows a GDR soldier carrying away the corpse of one man who failed to cross the border, shot and killed by an East German solider during his attempted escape. Makeshift memorials were put up around West Berlin's side of the wall in memory of the individuals who died in their attempts to leave the GDR.
With Germany reunified, it's easy to forget just how bad things were in Berlin, as families and friends were separated from each other for decades while the city was left scarred by the imposing barrier that separated east from west. In 1962, West Berlin hosted a three minute moment of silence on the one year anniversary of the wall's construction.
Speaking from the perspective of a West Berlin resident separated from his loved ones on the other side of the wall, Scourby ends the film on a far from optimistic note, saying, "We still wave to our families in East Berlin and they still dare to wave back. We cannot be together."