Infographic / Text: Innerdeutsche Grenze / The GDR’s border in Numbers

On the day of German reunification (October 3rd), let’s take a moment to remember the reason that at least 872 people died and many more committed suicide. The Innerdeutsche Grenze, the GDR’s border to West Germany, and the Berlin Wall between the east and west sectors of Berlin were built mainly for one purpose: to imprison an entire country of over 16,000,000 people.


Along the border between east and west Germany, which was 1,378km long (the Berlin wall was 167.8km), a total of 1,400,000 mines were distributed within 900km. Added to that were 3,000 guard dogs, which would immediately attack anyone who came close, as well as 55,000 spring guns that automatically shot a burst of iron scraps at a possible escapee. 5,500 citizens of the GDR tried escaping the country by swimming through the Baltic Sea, 174 drowned, and 4,522 were arrested or shot while trying to flee. In the end, only 913 managed to escape by swimming. 110 people tried escaping in the air; the east German secret police registered 58 instances in which planes were hijacked.

West Germany paid a total of 3,440,000,000 D Mark in order to buy political prisoners (31,755) and children (2,000) of escapees from the East and get them into freedom in the west. In total, around 200,000 people were arrested for political reasons in the German Democratic Republic.

221 people were sentenced to death, of which 167 were killed before the GDR abandoned the death penalty in 1987. The command to shoot at fleeing citizens at the border persisted, though.

136 people were shot alone at the Berlin Wall, and further 251 (mainly old people) died during border controls in Berlin.

The suicide rate in the east was one of the highest in the world, with around 6,000 people taking their own lives annually. The Central Committee of the Socialist Union Party of Germany, the GDR’s ruling party, put a ban on publishing the numbers and made them unavailable even to scientists.

The MfS, known as the “Stasi”, which was the East German secret police, had around 180,000 full-time jobs, with a further 600,000 “Unofficial Members” (IM) during its existence. Everyone was required to report on any actions that may “threaten the state” and the secret service was present in every single aspect of everyday life. The Stasi kidnapped around 400 people from west Germany and brought them into the GDR. The agency had an archive with a total length of 112km, including 1,300,000 photos, 164,000 sound recordings, 20,000 disks and magnetic tapes, and 5,000 videos. Around 42,000 documents were created about happenings at the border and related topics. Even today, 17,223 former members of the Stasi are still in public service in east Germany.

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