East Berlin: Walled Up in Your Own Home

The rapid construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 (fifty years ago this month) ended freedom of movement for thousands of citizens of Soviet-controlled East Berlin to other sections of the city. But nowhere would the restriction have been felt more acutely than for one group of people suddenly and irreversibly denied the right to walk out of their own front door.

The border between the Soviet zone and a French-controlled district ran down the middle of a street called Bernauer Strasse; people living on the Soviet side crossed into West Berlin as soon as they walked out of the front door and onto the footpath.

Ida Siekmann memorial

Memorial to Ida Siekmann. Copyright Ralf Skiba (Creative Commons)

However, from August 13 onwards the terrace buildings on the Soviet side of Bernauer Strasse were treated as part of the new Berlin Wall and occupants were banned from leaving by their front entrances. Some did anyway, and made their escape to West Berlin on foot, but this ended after a few days when front doors were nailed shut. Residents began jumping out of windows and were caught by firefighting teams from the West. One person who tried this method of escape was Ida Siekmann, who attempted to jump from her third floor apartment very early on the morning of August 22 (the day before her 59th birthday). She was gravely injured and became the first person to lose their life attempting to escape across the Berlin Wall.

More than 100 people lost their lives in efforts to escape over the Berlin Wall between August 1961 and November 1989 when the border reopened.

Archived under History.

Like this post? Share it with a friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *