11/10/2014 12:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Berlin Wall: Haunting Photos From the Birth of a Brutal Divide

In its Sept. 8, 1961 issue, LIFE magazine wrote that the newly constructed Berlin Wall, "up to 20 feet high and tipped with cruel glass splinters, is now an all but permanent barrier between the hapless people in both sectors [of divided Berlin] . . . Communist inhumanity has seldom showed itself more baldly or more brutally than in its Berlin wall--and the anguish and indignity it is now working upon the people of Berlin, young and old, East and West."

[See rare photos chronicling the tensions around the building of the Berlin Wall]


(Paul Schutzer--The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Soviets and East Germans constructed the Wall, of course, in order to stop the flight of Eastern Bloc citizens who frequently fled to the West via Berlin. (By the time the Wall was built, an estimated 20 percent of the East German population had left their homeland for the West.)

With the crude bulwark in place, the ideological divide between Eastern and Western superpowers grew sharper, more frightening and (seemingly) even more intractable. In the midst of it all, LIFE photographer Paul Schutzer chronicled the building of the Wall and the effect it had on men, women and children living in its literal and figurative shadow--photos that, all these years later, offer a glimpse into an era that feels at once profoundly alien, and wretchedly familiar.

[See more of Schutzer's beautiful, and chilling, photographs from Berlin]


(Paul Schutzer--The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)


(Paul Schutzer--The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)