The Wall and border fortifications were not enough to hinder fugitives from escaping. They also had to be guarded by armed soldiers who had the order to shoot at fugitives if they were otherwise unable to hinder their escape. The use of firearms on the western borders to East Germany were regulated by internal directives and commands. An official law, the GDR border law, was not passed until 1982. But independent of the changing standard situation, beginning in 1952 a verbally dictated command status existed that obligated the border policemen and border soldiers to shoot at fugitives if they were unable to prevent their escape in another way. The use of weapons caused many people to lose their lives at the border to East Germany. In Berlin alone, 90 people, most of them trying to flee, were shot and killed by East German border soldiers between 1961 and 1989. The order to shoot was not revoked until April 1989 and in November, when the border opened, it lost its significance entirely.

Grenzsoldat bewacht den Neubau der Mauer, 1985

Border soldier monitoring the construction of the new wall on the grounds of the Nordbahnhof station, 1985, photo: H. P. Stiebing