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August 13, 1961 The Berlin Wall began as a stretch of barbed wire and became a twentieth century symbol of a divided world. Here’s the story of its beginnings, in photos.

Source: Meduza

The Berlin Crisis was already underway in the summer of 1961. This escalation of the Cold War began with the Soviet Union demanding the withdrawal of British, French, and U.S. forces from Berlin. These Western troops, as well as their Soviet counterparts, had been in Germany as occupying forces since 1945. But Berlin’s status wasn’t settled: both soldiers and civilians had the right to move between the city’s western and eastern (Soviet) sectors. The Western allies rejected Moscow’s ultimatum. In response, the East German authorities closed the border between the city’s eastern and western sectors and began building the Berlin Wall — at first, it was primarily barbed wire entanglements and fences. After August 13, 1961, the city was divided in two for nearly 30 years. The wall became a barrier preventing Eastern Berliners from trying to flee to the West. And its fall in 1989 became the main symbol of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist regimes in Europe.

A German family attempting to flee East Berlin, which was unexpectedly cut off from West Berlin on August 13, 1961
dpa / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Refugees from East Berlin arriving at a refugee camp in West Berlin on August 2, 1961. Until August 13 of that year, East Germans had the opportunity to leave the Soviet sector of the city.
AP / Scanpix / LETA
Two young residents of East Berlin who managed to leave their sector of the city on August 13, just before the border closed. They ran across in just their bathing suits; residents of West Berlin gave them blankets and cigarettes.
Peter Hillebrecht / AP / Scanpix / LETA
East German soldiers setting up the original barbed wire barrier on a Berlin street. August 13, 1961.
AP / Scanpix / LETA
East German troops occupying positions along the border between the two sectors of Berlin. August 13, 1961.
dpa / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
British officers observing a Soviet checkpoint on the border between the two sectors. Before August 13, 1961, they were allowed to move all around the city.
Konrad Giehr / dpa / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Residents of West Berlin watching the start of construction on the wall that would divide their city for nearly 30 years
Konrad Giehr / dpa / AFP / Scanpix / LETA
Construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Lightweight barbed wire barriers were quickly replaced with a concrete wall, which was refined up until its fall in November 1989.
Hilde / ullstein bild / Getty Images
Residents of West Berlin waving to people on the other side of the border in August 1961 
Franz Hubmann / Imagno / APA-PictureDesk / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

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