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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 September

      In the night from August 31 to September 1, a 17-year-old youth hides for many hours in the reeds on the Havel in the north of Berlin before daring to escape to West Berlin. Even though border guards spot him and pursue him into West Berlin territory, he makes it to the western part of the city unharmed. In a RIAS interview, he talks about the pressure put on young men to join the army and about measures to prevent the reception of Western television stations.


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    • 1961

      1 September

      In East Berlin, the Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov is awarded the "Karl Marx Medal" by SED leader Walter Ulbricht. At a mass rally, his space flight is celebrated as a new proof of the global supremacy of the Soviet Union and socialism.
    • 1961

      1 September

      While the GDR media are still broadcasting the Soviet announcement of the resumption of atomic weapons tests, the Soviet Union already sets off a hydrogen bomb above ground. The United States reacts by resuming its underground atomic tests.
    • 1961

      4 September

      Berlin residents at the barbed wire, September 1961
      A report by the GDR People’s Police states that, in the first three weeks following the sealing-off of the border, 6,041 people have been arrested for making critical comments on the building of the Wall.
    • 1961

      4 September

      With its action "Blitz on NATO Broadcasters" ("Action Ox-Head"), the Free German Youth (FDJ) calls for people to fight against the reception of Western television: "Are you ready for the big blitz on ox-heads and mental border-crossing?" It notes that the direction in which radio and TV antennas on roofs are pointing reveals where "mental border-crossers" are living. People who do not voluntarily give up Western television in the next few weeks are to have their antennas sawn off or turned by force "towards socialism and peace".
    • 1961

      5 September

      CPSU leader Nikita Khrushchev informally conveys his interest in resolving the Berlin crisis to US President Kennedy.
    • 1961

      9 September

      Tear gas used on West Berliners watching workers building the Wall higher, 17 September 1961
      Many West Berlin businesses and factories are in difficulties owing to the loss of around 60,000 employees from East Berlin and the environs of Berlin, the so-called "Grenzgänger" ("cross-border commuters"). In addition, 1,700 West Berliners are leaving the divided city every week, fearing further harassment by the GDR and the Soviet Union. more
    • 1961

      12 September

      In an evaluation of its operations on 13 August 1961, the People’s Police Inspectorate of Berlin’s Mitte district expressly praises the support given to the construction of the Wall by GDR authors and artists: more
    • 1961

      12 September

      The board of the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB) promotes the so-called production commitment: all "working people" should commit themselves "to produce more in the same time for the same money". “The unions take over the leadership of production,” Tribüne, 12 September 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      13 September

      US President Kennedy announces that the American Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, will speak with the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, about Germany, Berlin and other problems at the 16th United Nations Assembly held at the end of September in New York.
    • 1961

      13 September

      Leading British politicians and intellectuals, moved by "passionate concern about the future of liberty in Berlin", tell the people of West Berlin "that we support your civil rights and democratic institutions as well as your endeavours not to become the victims of aggressive power politics and of attempts to implement reforms that curtail freedom." Declaration of solidarity with the people of West Berlin signed by 95 British politicians, authors, journalists and academics, September 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      13 September

      Failed escape in Treptow, 13 September 1961: the West Berlin fire brigade is standing ready with a life net, but the East Berlin border soldiers prevent the attempt at Harzer Straße 117 (Photo: Polizeihistorische Sammlung des Polizeipräsidenten in Berlin)
      At around 2 pm, two women try to escape from an apartment situated at Harzer Straße 117. Their attempt fails when East Berlin border police use water cannon and tear gas.
    • 1961

      14 September

      Two Bundeswehr fighter-bombers enter GDR airspace during a training flight. The planes land at Tegel Airport in West Berlin. The incident is blamed on human and technical error, but it exacerbates an already tense situation.
    • 1961

      14 September

      The commander-in-chief of the Group of Soviet Forces in the GDR, Marshal Konev, makes suggestions to the minister for national defence, Army General Hoffmann, for strengthening security on the inner-German border. These suggestions include plans to lay mines along the border. The order 85/61 of 19.10.61 issued by the defence minister implements the measures suggested by Konev. Letter from the commander-in-chief of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, Marshal Konev, to the Minister for National Defence of the GDR, Army General Hoffman, 14 September 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      15 September

      The around 40,000-strong units of the German Border Police that have until now answered to the GDR Interior Ministry are integrated into the GDR Defence Ministry as "Border Troops of the GDR". This means the border troops are de facto a part of the armed forces of the National People’s Army (NVA). more
    • 1961

      16 September

      SED leader Walter Ulbricht reports to Nikita Khrushchev on the construction of the Wall: "The implementation of the resolution to close the border around West Berlin has been carried out according to plan. Now work is under way on securing the border further. The tactic of carrying out the measures step by step has made it hard for the enemy to assess the extent of our measures." more
    • 1961

      17 September

      Election campaign event with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, September 1961
      In the elections for the 4th German Bundestag, the CDU misses out on the absolute majority, winning 45.3 percent of the vote. The SPD improves its position, gaining 4.4 percent to reach 36.2 percent. The election winner is the FDP, which sees gains of 5.1 percent, bringing it to 12.8 percent. After weeks of laborious negotiations, CDU, CSU and FDP join to form a governing coalition. more
    • 1961

      19 September

      In the GDR, local elections take place; they have been prepared by weeks of massive propaganda announcing a "peace election". The "Candidates of the National Front" are elected with 99.96 percent.


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    • 1961

      19 September

      The special envoy of US President Kennedy, General Lucius Clay, lands at Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin in the late afternoon. A hundred thousand West Berliners cheer his arrival. The US diplomats and high-ranking officers view his mission with some scepticism, however, as his status does not accord with the rules of diplomatic and military hierarchies.


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    • 1961

      20 September

      Bernauer Strasse: First the windows were walled up, then came the evictions, September 1961
      Since 13 August 1961, the GDR authorities have recorded 216 forced breakthroughs at the border, involving altogether 417 people. more
    • 1961

      20 September

      Along the Berlin sector border, residents are evicted from houses that are directly next to the border and offer good chances for escape. On this day alone, for example, around 250 families are evicted from twenty rented houses on Harzer Strasse between the Berlin districts of Treptow and Neukölln.


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    • 1961

      20 September

      The GDR Volkskammer (parliament) passes a "law on the defence of the GDR" (Defence Law). With this law, the SED leadership gives itself almost unlimited emergency powers: more
    • 1961

      22 September

      The Leipzig philosopher Ernst Bloch, who has already been living in West Germany before the construction of the Wall, announces that he wants to stay in West Germany: "After the events of 13 August, which lead one to expect that there is absolutely no room for independent thinkers to live or work, I no longer have the desire to expose my work and myself to unworthy conditions and the threat that alone maintains these conditions. At the age of 76 I have decided not to return to Leipzig." Letter from Ernst Bloch to the President of the German Academy of the Sciences [of the GDR], 22 September 1961 (in German)
    • 1961

      25 September

    • 1961

      26 September

      In a speech to the United Nations, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Gromyko, praises the GDR and condemns West Germany. The history of the GDR, he says, has been "a history of the struggle to promote the victory of the ideas of friendship and cooperation between states". more
    • 1961

      28 September

      East Berlin child behind barbed wire – Berlin, September 1961
      During a council meeting in the district of Wedding, Mayor Matthes reads out a letter written to a classmate by an East Berlin schoolgirl, who had attended a West Berlin school up to 13 August 1961. The girl calls on her classmates not to simply accept the situation created by the construction of the Wall.


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    • 1961

      28 September

      Border policeman at the Berlin sector border between Pankow and Wedding – reaction after he has trampled on the cigarettes and chocolate thrown to him by West Berliners, 24 September 1961
      Several hundred border police and Pioneers level out a 100-metre-wide strip in an allotment area on the Berlin sector border in the district of Johannisthal. Even the winterproof summer houses have to make way for the "death strip" and are razed to the ground.
    • 1961

      29 September

      For days, residents in houses on the German-German border have been evicted in the same way as has been done on the sector border of West Berlin in order to broaden the "death strip". But the really big operation is still to come for thousands of GDR residents on the border to West Germany; this will take place on 3 October 1961. RIAS reports on the demolition of houses in the village of Rottenbach in the Thuringian municipality of Judenbach, and speaks with eyewitnesses.


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    • An East Berlin woman escapes to the West with the help of relatives, Neukölln, Berlin, 22 September 1961

      September 1961

      In the first month following the construction of the Wall, 14,821 refugees from the GDR are registered in West Berlin and West Germany (August 1961: 47,433 refugees). more
    • Eastern press comments

      In the East Berlin newspaper "Sonntag" of 17.9.1961, Bernt F. Kügelken writes that "a whole people has worked on building the Wall". "Along Bernauer Strasse – to give one example – it is the joint work of historians, philologists, economists and doctors from the Academy of Sciences, of filmmaker from DEFA and pavers from a state-owned road-building company, of journalists and export merchants. As members of the Combat Groups, they learnt in a kind of crash course how to use stone and lime and placed the ashlars one on the other. Even the journalists at 'Sonntag’ helped build the Wall there." more
    • Western Press Comments

      In the "New York Herald Tribune" of 19.9.1961, the American journalist Walter Lippmann calls for "new decisions" in the face of the physical division of Germany, which, he says, has become accomplished fact through the building of the Wall - which has been accepted by the entire NATO alliance. He writes that the fact of division, which the West has not yet admitted, must be recognised. "The decision confronting the West Germans is whether they wholeheartedly hold to the West – to NATO, to the Common Market, to the United Nations and to the network of political and cultural ties that make up Western society. Or whether they remain with the West, but with some mental reservations, such as wanting to negotiate a reunification with the Soviets. I don’t mean the Germans can or should abandon the idea of reunification. But they will have to wait a long time for it, and a lot will have to happen to make it finally possible." more
    • September 1961

      "The border barriers in the Soviet Occupied Sector and in the Soviet Occupied Zone were reinforced by the construction of walls and barbed-wire fences, as well as the excavation of trenches. In addition, in the districts of Treptow (Neukölln) and Mitte (Wedding), doors and windows in houses directly on the border were walled up – in some cases up to the 4th storey," the West Berlin police write in their monthly report for September. Progress report by the West Berlin police for the month of September 1961 (in German)
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