Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall's Fall
“There are some who say that Communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.”
—President John F. Kennedy, Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
—President Ronald Reagan, address at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987
Beginning with its hasty construction on August 13, 1961, and for 28 years thereafter, the Berlin Wall stood as a grim symbol of the Iron Curtain that divided Western Bloc nations from the Eastern Bloc.
The decision to build the heavily fortified wall emerged from the Soviet Union’s desperate attempt to stanch the flow of thousands of refugees from East Germany to West Germany, with many escaping through West Berlin. The overnight construction of the wall cut an immediate divide between neighbors, families, and friends—many of whom would not see each other again for many years.
Yet the Berlin Wall’s provenance in desperation foretold the equal, but opposite, nature of its demise.
Thirty years ago, on November 9, 1989, the government of East Germany released a press statement that was incorrectly interpreted to mean that it would finally grant exit visas from East Germany to West Germany without exception.
The ensuing flood of thousands of East Germans yearning to escape from behind the Iron Curtain overwhelmed the border guards at the Bornholmer Strasse crossing point in Berlin. The guards’ increasingly desperate pleas to their superiors for orders gave way to a bloodless decision to let them go.
After nearly 30 years, the Berlin Wall finally came down, and its destruction was followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.
As the nation’s recordkeeper, the National Archives holds thousands of records documenting the history of the Berlin Wall, from the crisis surrounding its construction on August 13, 1961, through the beginning of its destruction on November 9, 1989. Additional records documenting the Berlin Wall can be found in the National Archives Catalog.
- “Tear Down This Wall”: How Top Advisers Opposed Reagan's Challenge to Gorbachev—But Lost (Summer 2007)
- The 1961 Berlin Crisis: Some New Insights (Fall 2011)
Pieces of History: The Berlin Wall, now a vital piece of history
Today’s Document: Fall of the Berlin Wall
Rediscovering Black History Blog: “…there is no East, no West..:” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Visits Cold War Berlin
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
National Declassification Center Conferences
- The Berlin Crisis of 1961: Documents at the National Archives (2011 conference)
- A City Divided: Life and Death in the Shadow of the Wall (2014 conference)
- U.S. National Archives Releases 11,000 Newly Declassified Documents Relating to Berlin, 1962–1986 (January 14, 2014)
- National Declassification Center and CIA Host Berlin Symposium at National Archives January 14 (January 14, 2014)
- National Declassification Center and Central Intelligence Agency Host Berlin Symposium at the National Archives Oct. 16 (September 17, 2013)
- NDC and CIA Mark 50th Anniversary of Berlin Crisis of 1961 with National Archives program October 27 (October 5, 2011)
In a final attempt to halt a flood of refugees escaping from East Germany through West Berlin, the Communist government of the Soviet Zone blocked off East Berlin with troops, roadblocks, and barbed wire. August 1961. (National Archives Identifier 6003294)
East German police burn rubble left after razing a row of houses near the Berlin Wall to provide a clear field of fire against any possible escapees to the West. (National Archives Identifier 6003305)
A young couple In West Berlin looks across the dividing line at family and friends left behind in the eastern sector. October 1961. (National Archives Identifier 6003275)
President John F. Kennedy mounts a platform overlooking the Berlin Wall, June 26, 1963. (National Archives Identifier 194226)
A crowd of West German citizens gathers at the newly created opening in the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz,November 14, 1989 (National Archives Identifier 6460115)
A nun studies the graffiti on a section of the Berlin Wall, December 21, 1989. (National Archives Identifier 6460723)