Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the go-ahead for the construction of the infamous border structure, reports German news magazine Der Spiegel, citing a newly discovered Russian document.
Irritated by the constant exodus of East Germans into the western, Allied-occupied part of the country, Khrushchev in 1961 told East German authorities to "lay an iron ring around Berlin."
The order is documented by a protocol of a telephone conversation Khrushchev had with Walter Ulbricht, head of the East German Politburo, less than two weeks before the Wall was built. Der Spiegel writes in its latest issue a German scientist recently discovered the protocol in Moscow.
Khrushchev in the conversation has no trouble convincing Ulbricht of the necessity to close off East Germany. Ulbricht had already prepared measures to quickly fortify the border in Berlin.
"We'll give you one, two weeks to prepare yourselves economically," Khrushchev told Ulbricht. "Then call in the Parliament and announce the following communique: 'From tomorrow, checkpoints will be erected and through-traffic forbidden. Whoever wants to pass can do so only with the permission of certain authorities of East Germany.'"
The Soviet leader then told Ulbricht not to inform anybody of those plans.
Twelve days later, on Aug. 13, 1961, construction of the wall that would divide a city in two began; at least 136 people died trying to break through it.