From its establishment as a state in 1949 through to the fall of East German communism in 1989, West Germany automatically granted citizenship to East Germans who moved to the West, which encouraged a flood of migration from the poorer East. The drain of East Germany's population into West Germany was hugely damaging for the East German economy and society; one Western economist calculated that by 1957, the westward migration had cost East Germany over 22.5 billion marks in lost educational investment.
Until 1952 the border existed only on paper, with free movement between the Western and Soviet occupation zones. The fortification of the border was presaged by Soviet concerns about Western "infiltration" and East German alarm at the continuing exodus of skilled workers to the West. On 1 April, 1952, East German leaders met the Soviet leader Stalin in Moscow; during the discussions Stalin's foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov proposed that the East Germans should "introduce a system of passes for visits of West Berlin residents to the territory of East Berlin Stalin agreed, calling the situation "intolerable". He advised the East Germans to build up their border defences, telling them that "The demarcation line between East and West Germany should be considered a border – and not just any border, but a dangerous one ... The Germans will guard the first line of defence, and we will put Russian troops on the second line."
A few weeks later, on 26 May 1952, the GDR began fortifying the inner German border. A barbed-wire fence 1.2 m (4 ft) high was constructed along the length of the border. As in Berlin, it was not built directly on the border line itself, but was situated a short distance inside East German territory.
In addition, a series of zones was established to control access to the East German side of the boundary.