Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free

Why Were People Unable to Go Around the Berlin Wall?

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Walking Tour

The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, was a physical barrier that divided the city of Berlin into two sectors: the East and the West. It stood as a symbol of the Cold War and the ideological division between the capitalist West and the communist East. Its construction aimed to prevent the mass emigration of East Germans to the more prosperous West. This blog post explores the reasons why individuals could not simply go around the Berlin Wall and escape East Germany.

The Physical Barrier

The Berlin Wall was not just a simple fence; it was a complex network of heavily fortified obstacles designed to prevent unauthorized crossings. The wall consisted of two parallel concrete walls with a “death strip” in between, which included various obstacles such as barbed wire, trenches, and watchtowers. The inner wall faced East Germany, and the outer wall faced West Berlin. It was nearly impossible to breach this formidable barrier.

Guard Towers and Patrols

Guard towers were strategically positioned along the wall, enabling armed border guards to monitor any attempts to cross. These guards had shoot-to-kill orders, meaning they were authorized to use deadly force if necessary. Additionally, border patrols continuously monitored the wall, making it extremely difficult for anyone to escape undetected. Their presence created a constant threat of apprehension and deterred people from attempting to go around the wall.

Anti-Vehicle Ditch

In addition to the physical wall, there was a wide anti-vehicle ditch or “Hinterlandmauer” running parallel to it. This ditch made it extremely challenging for vehicles to approach or cross the wall. It was designed to prevent large-scale efforts to break through the barrier using vehicles. The combination of the wall, the ditch, and the heavily patrolled area made it nearly impossible to circumvent the Berlin Wall.

Implicit Threats and Consequences

While the physical barrier and its fortifications posed significant challenges, the Berlin Wall also relied on psychological tactics to dissuade people from attempting to go around it.

Shoot-to-Kill Policy

Going beyond the physical deterrents, East German authorities employed a shoot-to-kill policy to prevent escapes. This policy meant that anyone attempting to cross the wall would be met with lethal force. The fear of being shot and killed was a powerful deterrent for many individuals, as it represented a significant personal risk.

Family Reprisals

Individuals considering escape were not just risking their own lives; they were also jeopardizing the safety and well-being of their families. The East German regime often imposed severe consequences on the relatives of those who attempted to flee. This included loss of employment, imprisonment, or even relocation within East Germany. The fear of placing loved ones in danger further discouraged people from trying to go around the Berlin Wall.

International Diplomatic Challenges

Apart from the physical barriers and the implicit threats, the Berlin Wall also posed diplomatic challenges for those seeking an escape route.

Perimeter Control

The East German government maintained strict control over the perimeter around the Berlin Wall. This meant that any attempts to breach the wall from the outside, including digging tunnels or constructing makeshift bridges, were unlikely to succeed. The constant surveillance by authorities and international attention on the divided city made it tough to execute large-scale operations without detection.

Political Complications

Politically, the construction of the Berlin Wall was a contentious issue. It represented the division between two major political ideologies and served as an embarrassment to those involved. Any significant efforts to dismantle or go around the wall risked political conflicts and potential military actions. Consequently, international pressure limited the options available for circumventing the wall.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall stood as a physical and ideological symbol of division for almost three decades. It wasn’t until November 9, 1989, that the wall finally fell. The efforts of peaceful protests, international diplomacy, and changing political landscapes contributed to the eventual reunification of East and West Germany. The fall of the Berlin Wall represented a significant turning point in history, signaling the end of the Cold War.

In conclusion, the Berlin Wall was an imposing physical barrier that presented numerous challenges for those attempting to escape East Germany. The combination of fortified obstacles, shoot-to-kill policies, diplomatic constraints, and personal consequences effectively prevented individuals from simply going around the wall. Its history serves as a reminder of the immense difficulties faced by those seeking freedom during a time of ideological conflict and division.

Thank you for reading. If you're inspired by the stories of Berlin and want to delve deeper, why not join us on our Free Berlin Walking Tour? It's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the city's rich history and vibrant culture. We look forward to welcoming you soon.


  • 3.5 hours walking tour
  • Berlin’s major highlights
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Reichstag and Berlin Wall
  • Historical sites

Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free