The division of post-war Berlin by the ‘Berlin Wall’ became a potent symbol of Cold War international tensions and human suffering. The wall was constructed to isolate ‘West Berlin’, occupied by the western Allied powers at the end of WW2, from ‘East Berlin’ and the surrounding East Germany occupied by the USSR. Stretching over 140 km, the Berlin Wall consisted of high concrete walls, guard towers, barbed wire and other obstacles including a wide open area exposed to gunfire from the sentries in the guard towers. Between the construction of the wall in 1961 and the effective opening of the wall in 1990, many people were killed attempting to flee to West Berlin. Estimates range from 78 to over 248 deaths.
At the end of WW2, the former German Third Reich was divided and broken up. Some territory was broken away to assist with the reconstruction of neighbouring countries (e.g. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland etc.). The remaining territory was divided between the four leading Allied Powers – France, United Kingdom, United States and USSR. Berlin, the former capital of both the German Second Reich (1871-1918) and Third Reich (1933-1945), was similarly divided amongst the four powers. The division was intended to be temporary. However, as the relations amongst the Allied Powers degenerated into the Cold War, this division were formalised into two new countries. In 1949, the Soviet sectors in eastern Germany and Berlin became the communist controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany), whilst the American, British, and French sectors became the liberal democratic Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).
During the Cold War, ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ (one of three crossing points between West Berlin and East Germany) was popularised as the location for spy swaps in fictional Cold War spy stories.
In the late 1980s, growing political discontent in East Germany culminated in mass political demonstrations and mass defections to West Germany. In a bid to calm the crisis, on 9 November 1989 the East German government announced that it would permit private travel by East Germans into West Germany. Immediately following the announcement, thousands of East Germans began gathering at the crossing points. Confronted by the growing crowds, and the indecision of the East German government, at 10.45pm the border guards simply opened the gates. The Berlin Wall ceased to be barrier between East Germany and West Berlin. Additional crossing points were constructed and the wall was progressively demolished over the following 12 months. The unification of Germany in July 1990 formalised the abolition of the wall.
The following films are listed here to provide an overview of the history of the wall and some of key historical milestones.
|‘Sinews of Peace’ [Iron Curtin speech]||Type||Speech|
|Date||5 March 1946|
|Historical Context||Shortly after the end of WW2, Winston Churchill (now in Opposition) gave a speech outlines the challenges and perils confronting the world in the post-war period. The speech is particularly notable for the coining of the ‘iron curtin’ to describe the Soviet domination of eastern Europe.‘…From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent…’|
|Sources||Text of speechVideo of speech|
|Berlin Wall: Deconstructed and related media||Type||Film|
|Historical Context||Historical overview of the Berlin Wall|
|Sources||Film (2.27 min)|
|President John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” Speech||Type||Film|
|Date||26 June 1963|
|Historical Context||While visiting West Berlin (26 June, 1963), President Kennedy delivered a speech attacking the building of the Berlin Wall. The speech is famous for several reasons, including Kennedy’s statement (in German) ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (I am a Berliner) intended to assert American solidarity with West Germany following the construction of the wall.|
|Sources||Discussion [external]Footage (9.53 min)|
|President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” Speech||Type||Film|
|Date||12 June 1987|
|Historical Context||While speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate at the 750th Anniversary of Berlin (12 June, 1987), President Ronald Reagan issued a challenge to Soviet General-Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev: ‘Tear Down this Wall!’.|
|Sources||Film (26.43 mins)|
|Rise and Fall of the Berlin wall||Type||Documentary film|
|Historical Context||Short film about the construction and the later fall of the Berlin wall ending with the united Germany’s new year celebrations in Berlin 1990.|
|Sources||Film (2.25 min)|