Students from East Berlin and the region around Berlin were part of life at Freie Universität from the very beginning. Special collections of textbooks and clothing were organized for "Eastern Students," and grant funds were set up. For a time, students from the Soviet occupation zone were even able to exchange its weak currency for Deutschmarks at a rate of one-to-one. In spite of massive propaganda attacks by the Socialist Unity Party (SED) on the "West Berlin NATO University" and its "reactionary political character," the Dahlem campus was an attractive place for young citizens of the GDR to study.
This came to a dramatic halt on August 13th, 1961, when the building of the Berlin Wall cut these students off from their place of learning. Hundreds of their fellow students from the Western part of the city were involved in attempts to help them to escape in the years after the Berlin Wall was built. Many of them were betrayed by informants of the GDR's State Security Service. The SED ensured that they were sentenced to heavy prison sentences.
When government policy shifted toward easing tensions between East and West, Freie Universität took the opportunity to forge relations with Eastern European universities. As early as 1968, it formed a partnership with what was then the Shdanov University in Leningrad.