The Wall chronicles life in East Berlin and the many, desperate escape attempts.

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."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. Transportation

    With Trains Like Schwebebahn, No Wonder Germans Love Public Transit

    Infrastructure like this makes it clear why Germany continues to produce enthusiasm for public transit, generation after generation.

  3. A photo of a new car dealership
    Transportation

    Subprime Auto Loans Are Turning Car Ownership Into a Trap

    A record 7 million Americans are three months late on their car payments, revealing what could be cracks in the U.S. economy.

  4. A man sleeps in his car.
    Equity

    Finding Home in a Parking Lot

    The number of unsheltered homeless living in their cars is growing. Safe Parking programs from San Diego to King County are here to help them.

  5. Amazon HQ2

    New York’s Ejection of Amazon Is the Start of a Movement

    NYC lawmakers who led a resistance campaign against HQ2 are declaring victory. And already, they have plans to escalate their opposition to tax incentives.