During the Cold War, Berlin was a divided city but before 1961, the borders were open - people could cross freely.
There was a growing contrast between life in the West and the East.
In West Berlin and West Germany, the economy recovered well. Rebuilding and economic aid from the USA (Marshall Aid) created many jobs and decent wages. New businesses appeared and the people had freedom of speech and the right to choose their own government.
In East Berlin and East Germany, the economic situation was drastically worse than in the West. Food and housing were scarce, jobs were fewer and less well paid. Freedoms were also restricted and the Communist Party was in control.
West Berlin was a ‘Window to the West’. This meant people living in East Berlin could see how life was in the West. People began fleeing in search of a better life - 2,000 per day from 1949.
The easiest route was into West Berlin. Many of those who escaped were young, skilled workers or educated professionals. The fact that the economy and standard of living was worse in the East seemed to prove to the world that communism was a weaker political system.
The Soviet and East German leaders were determined to stop the flow of refugees to the West. In 1958, the East German government closed the border between East and West. This approach failed and many continued to leave. By 1961, the number of people leaving reached 3 million, up to 3,000 each day.