How Many People Died Trying to Cross the Berlin Wall?

February 15, 2024

In the years before the erection of the Berlin Wall, 3.5 million East Germans circumvented Eastern Bloc emigration restrictions by defecting to West Germany via Berlin. During the 28 years that the Wall ruled over Berlin, it prevented almost all such escapes. Around 140 people died directly as a result of the border controls and preventative measures along the inner German border, and this number does not include those who committed suicide after unsuccessful attempts at escape or were killed in other incidents linked to the wall regime. Most of these deaths occurred in the first decade of the wall’s existence, while the number began to decrease after 1967, as new security measures and improved technology were implemented.

Desperation drove some of the most daring attempts to get across the border. Hartmut Richter swam across the cold Teltow Canal; Rudolf Urban and his wife climbed out of windows of apartment buildings that were located right alongside the wall; Siegfried Noffke dug a tunnel under it; and many others used bicycles, car trunks and ultralight planes to reach the west.

During regular prayer services held in the Chapel of Reconciliation on the memorial grounds, biographies of the victims are read out loud. To date, the research project “140” (names and identities of the victims) has identified 140 people who lost their lives trying to cross the berlin wall between 1961 and 1989. The names and stories of all the victims can also be found in a book published by the Berlin Wall Foundation as well as on the website Chronicle of the Berlin Wall.

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