To better understand the reasons why the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, it’s important to learn about the events that happened after World War II. Specifically it involved the growing rift between the US and the USSR under Stalin.
The Potsdam Agreement
After Nazi Germany surrendered in 1945, the country was divided into four groups. One belonged to Russia. The other three were shared by the United States, Britain and France. The four parties made the Potsdam Agreement which defined the borders for each.
The Cold War
The division of territories marked the points where US and Russian influence could extend. As the 1950s approached, the Western side became influenced by the United States’ way of life. The Eastern side would be marked by Communist rule. So part of the reason why the Berlin Wall was built was to make the separation formal.
The East Brain Drain
But a more important reason was the brain drain. Education was provided free in East Germany but more work was available in the West. What the Easterners did was to study there but after graduation, head over to the West. From 1954 to 1960, over 5,700 doctors and over 30,000 teachers and engineers left the East.
There were also over 11,000 students that headed for the West. This exodus affected the East German economy. As it was heavily damaged during the war, it needed all the help from its citizens it could get.
Another possible reason why the Berlin Wall was built was to limit US spying. It was well known that during the Cold War (from the 50s to the 60s) both sides employed spies on each other. One of the places were the US and her allies would send their spies over was Berlin.
To Prevent War
Some historians have suggested that whether it was intended to or not, the construction of the wall helped prevent open warfare. The rules prevailing at the time was that the wall would serve as a state border. Individuals who violated the established rules would be issued warning shots.
While it was potentially a dangerous place, it helped define limitations. If there hadn’t been a wall, some argued the two German countries could have gotten in a war.
Because it was in the midst of Europe, the US and USSR would have been involved. The results would have been horrific. War prevention probably wasn’t part of the reason why the Berlin Wall was built, but unwittingly it served that purpose.
Also not to be discounted were issues of economics. The rate was 1 DM West for every 4 DM East. The disparity meant those in the West could purchase products in the East at a lower cost. The reverse was true in the East where people could buy less. This issue compounded the already severe economic problems in the East.
The factors that led to its construction were a combination of political and economic issues. All of these elements plus the threat of war, help explain why the Berlin Wall was built.