The Berlin Wall: 30 Years After The Fall

A crowd of West German citizens gathers at the newly created opening in the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz. 11/14/1989 Local Identifier: 330-CFD-DF-ST-91-01380

This Saturday, November 9th, marks 30 years since the government of East Germany lifted restrictions regarding travel between East and West Germany. Since 1961, the Berlin Wall had cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin, and its opening reflected the weakening state of the Soviet Union. The following film clips document major moments involving the Berlin Wall: escalating post-World War II tensions, the Berlin Airlift, building of the wall, and President Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

Post-War Berlin

The history of the Berlin Wall is complex and can not be understood without studying post-war Germany and Berlin. The following clip from The West Berlin Struggle,   discusses the city of Berlin before and during Wold War II and explains how the city and country were divided by the Allied Powers.


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Clip from 111-TV-628 The West Berlin Struggle

After the 1946 Berlin City Council election, the only city wide election to take place between the end of World War II and the reunification of Germany, tensions grew between the Allied Powers. While travel between each country’s sector remained open, the boundaries became more defined. The clips below, also taken from The West Berlin Struggledescribe the post-war election as well as the tension that followed.

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Clip from 111-TV-628 The West Berlin Struggle

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Clip from 111-TV-628 The West Berlin Struggle

The Berlin Blockade

Tensions continued to rise after the 1946 elections, eventually leading to the first major international crisis of the Cold War, the Berlin Blockade. From June 1948 until May 1949, the Soviet Union blocked all ground access to the sectors of Berlin under Western Control. With roadways, canals, and railways blocked, the Western Allies relied on airplanes to deliver supplies. For the entirety of the blockade, planes flew constantly to supply the city of Berlin in what is known as the Berlin Airlift or Operation Vittles. The clips below, taken from the U.S. military film Operation Vittlesdiscuss the operation.

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Clip from 111-ADC-10314 Operation Vittles

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Clip from 111-ADC-10314 Operation Vittles

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Clip from 111-ADC-10314 Operation Vittles

Construction of the Berlin Wall

The German Democratic Republic began construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. On August 12, 1961 Walter Ulbricht, the first Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and acting East German head of state, signed an order closing the border and erecting a wall. At midnight, the police and East German army began to close the border and by August 13, the border with West Berlin was closed. East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Berlin went from being the easiest place to make an unauthorized crossing between East and West Germany to being the most difficult. Families were split and East Berliners employed in the West were cut off from their jobs.

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Clip from 111-TV-628 The West Berlin Struggle

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Clip from 111-TV-628 The West Berlin Struggle

Where East and West Meet

During its 30 years of existence, the Berlin Wall served as a physical reminder of the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. It also served as a place for various heads of state to make anti-communist statements. President Kennedy gave his “I am a Berliner” speech from a location near the wall. And in June 1987, President Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate to give a speech now known for the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” A clip of this speech can be viewed below. The speech in its entirety can be found here: President Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate.

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Clip from 306.9636

Today, the Berlin Wall’s existence is remembered in various ways around the world. Stretches of the wall remain in Berlin and are also displayed in museums and public areas in several countries. Memorials honor those who were killed trying to cross the border and plaques have been placed in the ground in several locations to serve as a reminder of where the wall once stood.

Additional records documenting the Berlin Wall can be found in NARA’s holdings here: Berlin Wall Catalog Search






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