Facts and figures

"Walled In"

"Walled In" is a project of the German international broadcast Deutsche Welle.The computeranimation shows Germany's inner border how it was.

Walled In! Germany's inner border


Layout of the border fortifications

The “Berlin Wall” pictured in the media all over the world was the outer wall that was closest to the West Berlin side. It stood on the border of the Soviet sector along the original boundaries of the affected boroughs, as laid out in 1921 for Greater Berlin. Only along rivers, canals, and railway installations did the position of the outer wall deviate significantly from the actual political border. In addition, there was an exchange of territory in several areas along the border after 1961.

After 13 August 1961, the barriers – starting with those on the political border to West Berlin – underwent a process of constant expansion and reinforcement on the East Berlin side to create what gradually became a multi-layered “security” system. Many sections of what the world knew as the “Berlin Wall” went through four different versions between 1961 and 1989. The outer wall on the West Berlin side was 3.60 meters high in places. Outside the city boundaries, the outer wall sometimes consisted of a wire mesh fence.

1 Concrete slab wall, with or without piping
2 Wire mesh fence
3 Control strip
4 Floodlights
5 Anti-vehicle trench
6 Outermost boundary of manned area
7 Border patrol road
8 Wire guiding dog patrols
9 Signal device
10 Observation tower
11 Electrified signal fence

The Wall in numbers

Total length of the border to West Berlin 155 km
Inner-city border between East and West Berlin 43 km
Border between West Berlin and the GDR (“outer ring”) 112 km
Border crossings between East and West Berlin (roads/railway) 8
Border crossings between the GDR and West Berlin (roads/railway) 6
Observation towers 302
Bunkers 20
Dog runs 259
Anti-vehicle trenches 105,5 km
Contact or signal fences 127,5 km
Border patrol roads 124,3 km
(As of 31.07.1989, Lapp/Ritter, Die Grenze, 1997)

Border regime

The construction and expansion of the border installations had one purpose: they were to prevent people from East Berlin and the GDR from crossing the border to West Berlin. The controls were thus directed inward, against the country’s own population. That distinguished this border security system from others.

Floodlights hung high illuminated the strip of sand that was supposed to reveal the footprints of would-be fugitives. The light poles were painted to mark them as the outermost boundary of the manned area; any border guards crossing this line without advance notice would themselves be suspected of an escape attempt. In front of this “control strip” was a border patrol road for patrol and supply vehicles. Vehicles reached this paved road though gates built into the inner wall. The observation towers that rose behind the border patrol road were another element of the barrier system; these were organized into groups coordinated by one command post. Dog runs or other obstacles were often set up in front of the line formed by the observation towers. In front of the towers and other obstacles was the electrified signal fence that would set off an alarm on contact.

Self-firing devices and mines, used in large sections of the inner-German border between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany, were not installed in Berlin.

The first barrier one would encounter on the East Berlin side was the inner wall, into which buildings, firewalls, and factory walls were sometimes integrated. As a result, it was not perceived in East Berlin as a single, uniform structure, despite marking the boundary of a border strip that was between five and several hundred meters wide.

Often other “perimeter defenses” had been installed before this first barrier; then came the “border area,” accessible only with special permission.

Victims of the Wall

Well over 100,000 citizens of the GDR tried to escape across the inner-German border or the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1988. More than 600 of them were shot and killed by GDR border guards or died in other ways during their escape attempt. They drowned, suffered fatal accidents, or killed themselves when they were caught.

Between 1961 and 1989 along the Berlin Wall alone, at least 136 people were killed or died in other ways directly connected to the GDR border regime, including 98 people who were shot, accidentally killed, or killed themselves when they were caught trying to make it over the Wall; 30 people from both East and West who were not trying to flee but were shot or died in an accident; 8 GDR border guards who were killed while on duty by deserters, fellow border guards, fugitives, or a West Berlin police officer; and at least 251 travelers from East and West who died before, during, or after inspections at checkpoints in Berlin. These figures do not include the people who died of grief and despair over the Wall's impact on their personal lives.



The “shoot-to-kill” order

Laws, regulations, and orders governed the use of firearms on the external borders of the GDR. In an order issued by the GDR’s Ministry of Defense in October 1961, for instance, border troops were permitted to shoot in order to “arrest persons who ignore the border guards’ order to stop or who keep running after a warning shot is fired and are obviously attempting to violate the GDR frontier” and if “there was no other way to make an arrest.”

There was no legal requirement to shoot to kill. However, for troops deployed on the border, commendations and bonuses for guards who had shot and killed escaping fugitives, ideological indoctrination of young draftees and soldiers, and laws that under certain circumstances criminalized escape attempts all tended to transform the “permission” to use weapons into a kind of obligation to use them.

It was not until 3 April 1989 that an announcement made by SED General Secretary Erich Honecker led to GDR border guards being instructed to stop using “firearms” to “prevent border violations.”


Governing Mayor of Berlin
- Senate Chancellery-
Jüdenstr. 1
10178 Berlin

Division II A
Online Communication
+49 30 9026-2435
+49 30 9026-2285

Smartphone app

Find traces of the Wall with a smartphone app

Multi media guide

Discovery Tours

under "Chronicle of the Wall"

Logo Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung
Logo Deutschlandradio
Logo Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam e.V.