It was the height of the Cold War, and the comrades believed that the conflict between socialism and capitalism would be decided in Germany. For that reason, they wanted to make sure that East Germany would economically outpace its West German rival. But Ulbricht's planned economy failed to gain momentum, and in 1960 alone, roughly 200,000 East Germans fled from empty supermarket shelves -- and the Stasi secret police -- to West Germany. At the Aug. 1 meeting, a furious Khrushchev told Ulbricht: "When I attended your party convention two years ago, everything was fine. What happened? You wanted to pull ahead of West Germany by 1961/62."
East German border guards had a standard procedure to follow if they detected unauthorised individuals in the border zone. (Though the West Germans referred to the control strip as a "death strip", deadly force could be used at any location along the border – it did not depend on an individual's being in, or crossing, the control strip.) If the individual was less than 100 metres (330 ft) away, the border guard would first order: "Stop! Border sentry! Hands up!" ( "Halt! Grenzposten! Hände hoch!" ) or "Stop, stand still, or I will shoot!" ( "Halt! Stehenbleiben, oder ich schieße!" ). If the individual was further away or on the Western side of the border fence the guard was authorised to shoot without warning. If the escapee was a fellow border guard, he could be shot immediately from any distance without prior warning. Border guards were instructed not to shoot if innocent bystanders might be hit or if the escapee had made it into West German territory, or if the line of fire was into West Germany. In practice, though, shots fired from East Germany often landed in West German territory.