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Chronicle 1961

In the night of the 12 to the 13 of August, Walter Ulbricht, as SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Ger.: Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands)) party leader and Chairman of the National Defence Council of the GDR, (German Democratic Republic [East Germany]. (Ger.: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR)) gave the order to seal off the sector border in Berlin. Having obtained the agreement of the Soviet Union a few days previously, and with the support of the Soviet troops in the GDR, the regime closed off the last route for escape from the Party dictatorship: in the early morning of August 13, border police started ripping up streets in the middle of Berlin, pieces of asphalt and paving stones were piled up to form barricades, concrete posts were driven into the ground and barbed-wire barriers erected. more
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    • 1961

      1 November

      The "Zentrale Erfassungsstelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Registrierung sowjetzonaler Gewaltakte" (Eng.: "Central Agency of the State Justice Administration Departments for the Registration of Violent Acts in the Soviet Zone"), which was set up in October 1961 in West Germany, starts work during November. Its task is to collect all available material on acts of violence and injustices on the German-German border, at the Wall and in the GDR and to register it for later preferments of charges. more
    • 1961

      7 November

      Final inauguration of Konrad Adenauer as West German chancellor in the German Bundestag, 7 November 1961. CDU Economy Minister Ludwig Erhard (left) succeeds him in 1964.
      Konrad Adenauer is re-elected as West German Chancellor in the German Bundestag with a slight majority. The FDP, which during the election campaign had agreed to a coalition with the CDU/CSU only if Adenauer withdrew, manages to ensure that Adenauer hands over the position to the FDP’s preferred candidate, Ludwig Erhard, during the legislative period.
    • 1961

      9 November

      In a conversation with the West German ambassador to Moscow, Hans Kroll, Soviet Prime Minister and CPSU leader Nikita Khrushchev admits his responsibility for the building of the Berlin Wall: more
    • 1961

      11 November

      On RIAS, a transport policeman who has fled to West Germany talks about the existence of a special border unit set up as part of the transport police department of the Deutsche Reichsbahn (East German railways), which is under the orders of the GDR Interior Ministry,. He says that regulations on shooting escapees have been made more stringent in this unit and that orders have been given not to allow any escapee to reach West Berlin alive.


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    • 1961

      13 November

      At the order of the SED Politburo, the East Berlin City Council decides to rename Stalinallee and the state-owned electrical-appliances factory J. W. Stalin, and to take sown the Stalin memorial. The cities Stalinstadt and Fürstenberg (Oder) are merged and renamed Eisenhüttenstadt. The renamings are a response by the SED leadership to resolutions taken at the 22nd CPSU conference to dismantle the personality cult surrounding Stalin.


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    • 1961

      14 November

      After claims are published in the press that Bonn’s ambassador to Moscow, Hans Kroll, expressed ideas on the German question and Berlin amounting to an acceptance of Soviet demands in a conversation with Khrushchev, the ambassador is summoned to Bonn to give a report.


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    • 1961

      14 November

      The windscreen of the Opel used as an escape vehicle is protected by steel plating, 14 November 1961
      Five East Berliners manage to escape to West Berlin over the Chausseestrasse border crossing in an armoured pre-war Opel.

      Border police fire some 100 shots at the vehicle, which has its windscreen protected by steel plates and its side and back panels filled with concrete, but cannot prevent the breakthrough.
    • 1961

      18 November

      According to General Lucius Clay, the special representative of US President Kennedy in West Berlin, no war would have broken out if Allied tanks had been deployed in Berlin on 13 August 1961 and military engineers had removed the barbed-wire barricades on the sector border. more
    • 1961

      19 November

      In East Berlin, a north-south suburban railway line connecting Oranienburg with the centre of the city is opened. It was made necessary by the building of the Wall. Some days previously, RIAS broadcasts a report on the history and background of the railway ring around Berlin.


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    • 1961

      19-21 November

      Within three days, a semicircular, tank-proof wall, two metres thick and about two metres high, is built at the Brandenburg Gate, while the existing wall on Bernauer Strasse and from Potsdam Square to Lindenstrasse is reinforced with anti-tank obstacles made of old rails. The new barriers are intended to make it harder for tanks of the Western Allies to break through into East Berlin.


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    • 1961

      19-22 November

      Accompanied by Foreign Minister Gerhard Schröder and Defence Minister Franz-Josef Strauss, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer meets with US President John F. Kennedy in Washington. more
    • 1961

      20 November

      After a silent march by thousands of West Berlin young people and students to mark the hundredth day of the Wall’s existence, there are confrontations on Wilhelmstrasse on the sector border in the evening. The West Berlin police deals harshly with the demonstrators, who try again and again to charge the Wall.
    • 1961

      22 November

      During a performance of Beethoven’s opera "Fidelio" at the East Berlin State Opera, the audience applauds spontaneously during the chorus of the prisoners who are taken up into sunlight from the dungeon. The applause is repeated during Florestan’s aria "I boldly dared to tell the truth, and chains are my reward." The bulletin issued by the press office of the West German government reports that the orchestra was forced to stop and start again several times owing to the thunderous clapping.
    • 1961

      23 November

      Behind closed doors, Walter Ulbricht announces to the SED Central Committee that the German-German border has been mined: "Yes, landmines are being laid on the western border of the GDR; proper minefields are being created. People who want to break their necks can make such attempts. That’s their business. more
    • 1961

      24-26 November

      After meeting with French President General Charles de Gaulle in Sussex, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan records that de Gaulle does not at present see any basis upon which the West could hold satisfactory negotiations with the Soviet Union. He says de Gaulle is of the opinion that the minimum demands of the Soviets are bigger than the maximum concessions that the West is prepared to make. more
    • 1961

      24 November

      In a memorandum, the head of the chancellery of the Berlin Senate and later Ruling Mayor of Berlin, Heinrich Albertz, records that he had received no information on the impending construction of the Wall from the intelligence service before August 13. He writes, however, that his experiences led him to believe that the Allies were possibly "informed about the plan for August 13, if not about the exact timing." Memorandum by Heinrich Albertz, head of the Chancellery of the Berlin Senate, 24 November 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      24 November

      With the agreement of the three Western Powers, the Berlin Senate makes a first attempt to make the Wall passable: via the Red Cross, it suggests setting up joint checkpoints to issue day passes at five places on the Berlin sector border. The GDR rejects this proposal on 14 December through the East Berlin head of police, saying that issues involving travel and traffic could not be regulated through the Red Cross, but only in official negotiations between the Senate and the GDR government.
    • 1961

      26 November

      East Berliners visiting St. Hedwig’s Cemetery on Liesenstrasse are checked and observed by border police, 26 November 1961
      The extensions to the border barriers do not even stop at cemeteries. The "Invalidenfriedhof", established in 1784 on Scharnhorststrasse, is the worst affected. The cemetery is ruthlessly destroyed. Whole fields of graves are levelled off. After the Wall comes down, barely more than 200 of the around 3,000 graves still exist. more
    • 1961

      26 November

      Lothar Lehmann: born on Jan. 28, 1942, drowned in the Berlin border waters on Nov. 26, 1961 while trying to escape (photo: April 1961)
      In autumn 1961, as part of his military service, the 19-year-old Lothar Lehmann is a member of the Gross Glienicke riot squad. Its tasks include guarding the border on the Outer Ring to West Berlin. In the evening, near Sacrow, he enters the Havel River, whose water is very cold at this time of year, with the intention of escaping to West Berlin. But he does not reach the West Berlin side. Post-mortem results show that he died of indirect drowning, hypothermia and circulatory failure. Lothar Lehmann, drowned in the Berlin border waters on Nov. 26, 1961 while trying to escape
    • 1961

      27 November

      The West German cabinet decides to extend by three months the compulsory military service for some 26,500 conscripts who would have finished their term on 31 December. Moreover, soldiers serving for a set period of time whose discharge is scheduled between the 1 and 31 January 1962 have their terms extended to 31 March.

      The GDR government has already announced in October that the term of service for particular special duties in the army will be extended for up to six months for soldiers and officers due to be discharged in autumn 1961. As a reason, it cites alleged war preparations by West Germany. Terms of military service are also similarly extended at this time in Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union.


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    • 1961

      29 November

      In the West German Bundestag, Vice Chancellor Ludwig Erhard reads out the statement issued by the newly formed CDU/FDP Cabinet on behalf of the sick Chancellor. more
    • 1961

      29 November

      Meeting of the National Defence Council of the GDR: since 25 October 1961, Soviet-made tripwire-activated landmines have been laid along 74 kilometres of the altogether 1,382-kilometre-long German-German border – 4,526 in all, painted green as camouflage. Their deadly blast radius is eight to ten metres. more
    • November 1961

      In November 1961, 3,412 refugees from the GDR are registered in West Berlin and West Germany.
    • Eastern press comments

      The GDR press celebrates the reinforcement of the barriers in the centre of Berlin as an "unprecedented achievement by the engineers in the armed forces and the construction workers". It says they had accomplished a feat in three days that equalled "the normal work of 11,000 construction workers in a whole week". The SED’s main mouthpiece, “Neues Deutschland”, writes, "The beneficial effect that the anti-fascist defence wall had on our state border during the past few months alone will be even greater from now on. The situation, the inviolability of the GDR and the insuperability of its peace wall is now even clearer than before."
    • Western press comments

      In the "Welt" of 14 November 1961, Sebastian Haffner argues against signing a special peace treaty with the Soviet Union: "By accepting August 13, the West has made its real position in Berlin much worse. By accepting a special peace, it would also undermine its legal and political position in Berlin in a similar way." more
    • November 1961

      "The reinforcement of the border barriers and fortifications in the Soviet sector of Berlin and the Soviet Occupied Zone was continued with the construction of additional fences, the installation of new wire obstacles (including on the roofs of houses at the border), the erection of screens, the excavation of trenches and the setting up of searchlights," the West Berlin police write in their monthly report about developments on the sector and zone border in November. Progress report by the West Berlin police for the month of November 1961 (in German)
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