Wall in Berlin

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  The story of the wall begins as World War II ends. When the Nazis surrendered in 1945, Berlin, the capital of Germany, was a ruined city.

World War II victors the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union divided Germany into four zones, each controlled by one of the four countries. Berlin also was divided into four zones, the same way the rest of Germany was.

At first, Berlin's citizens could move freely between the zones to work or visit family and friends. The U.S., British and French zones became capitalist and democratic. The Soviet zone became a communist dictatorship.

By 1948 the democratic Allies and the communist Soviet Union argued over how to govern Berlin. Berlin was in the Soviet part of Germany, an island surrounded by capitalism. Western nations assumed they would have free access to the city. But on April 1, 1948 the Soviet Union blockaded routes in and out of East Germany, trapping 2 million West Berliners with little food or fuel. The Allies countered with the Berlin Airlift, flying planes with food and supplies into West Berlin for 462 straight days. The Soviets lifted the blockade in 1949.

Also in 1949, Western and Eastern Germany formed separate governments. In the 1950s, the West-East gap continued to widen. In West Berlin and West Germany, rebuilding boomed. In the East, food and housing were scarce. People began "voting with their feet" fleeing to the West. "I no longer had any reason to stay on in what I had considered my homeland," said Walter Kocher, after his East Berlin business had been seized by the government.

More than 3 million people left East Germany for a better life in the West. By 1961, the communist government knew it had to stop the exodus.

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