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1 - The shared sky

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  Escape to West Germany

After November 1953, Berliners in the western sectors wishing to enter the eastern sector were required to obtain a pass issued by the East German authorities. Despite East Germany’s introduction of the offence of " fleeing the Republic ", with a penalty of 16 months to 4 years imprisonment, the queues of " people voting with their feet ", as the Mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, described them, only got longer. By now there was only a single way out to the West – Berlin, where each day 500 000 inhabitants (border residents, students and stowaways) crossed over to the other side.

Out of 2 700 000 East Germans (including 3 400 doctors, 17 000 teachers and 17 000 engineers) who escaped to West Germany between 1949 and 1961, over 1 600 000, i.e. the equivalent of the entire population of East Berlin, passed through West Berlin.

During the first seven months of 1961, 160 000 left East Germany. Despite claiming on 15th June 1961 that " nobody has any intention of building a wall ", Walter Ulbricht was intent on stopping this haemorrhage which endangered the long-term survival of the communist regime.

 

The people of Berlin
The people of Berlin

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