The German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), was officially formed in 1949 in the Soviet-occupied zone of post-Nazi Germany. Leipzig was the second-largest city in the newly born East Germany.
From the beginning, life in the GDR was extremely difficult. Limited resources and freedoms created a deep sense of unease and dissatisfaction among the people. On June 17, 1953, a spontaneous protest broke out in East Berlin against the government and its imposed living standards. This uprising of some 50,000 people was forcefully stopped by Russian soldiers, killing at least 125. Because more East Germans were flocking to the West, the government began construction of the Berlin Wall on August 12, 1961.
Fast forward to 1989, the fortieth anniversary of East Germany. Mikhail Gorbachev’s young policies of economic perestroika (restructuring) and public glasnost (openness) had relaxed the once hard-line government, but were not enough to prevent an imminent collapse of the Soviet system. In May, Hungary broke with Warsaw Pact protocol and tore down its barriers along the Austrian border, inciting 661 East Germans to escape across.