Looking Back at the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall in 1990. © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image The Berlin Wall in 1990. (© picture-alliance/dpa) On November 9, 1989, the world watched in amazement as jubilant crowds gathered on both sides of the Berlin Wall around midnight to celebrate the opening of the border crossings between the eastern and western parts of the city. A peaceful revolution in East Germany had finally cracked this grim symbol of Cold War and political oppression. It signaled the beginning of the end of Germany's postwar division and national unity came less than a year later on October 3, 1990.

Erected on August 13, 1961 by the communist regime in East Germany, the Wall divided Berlin for 28 years. It cut right through the heart of the city, amputating vital traffic links and separating families and friends. Minefields and border police with shoot-to-kill orders thwarted any further attempts by East Germans to look for a better future in the West. While the communists tightened their grip on people's lives in East Berlin, the western part of the city became a walled-in outpost of freedom and democracy.

Today, Berlin is once again Germany's vibrant capital. The wounds of history have healed. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, its vestiges remind us that freedom is precious. Freedom would not have prevailed and reunification would not have been achieved, in Berlin and in Germany as a whole, without the steadfast and unfaltering support of our American friends. We celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in a spirit of deep gratitude and with a desire to share our experience - the vision of hope, of unity, and of Freedeom Without Walls.

US President John F. Kennedy gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (I am a Berliner!) speech on June 26, 1963. © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image US President John F. Kennedy gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (I am a Berliner!) speech on June 26, 1963. (© picture-alliance/dpa)


1945 – World War II ends: The Allied Powers split Germany into four occupation zones, and its capital Berlin into four sectors.

1949 – Cold War: The Federal Republic of Germany emerges out of the US, British and French zones in the West. The Soviet Union establishes the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) in their eastern zone, but cannot push the three Western powers out of Berlin.

1950s: Economic success of West Germany, fueled by the US Marshall Plan, and increased political repression at home swell the numbers of East Germans looking for a better life in the West. The GDR seals off the inner German border, leaving Berlin as the last loophole to the West.

1961 – August 13: All crossing points between the East and West Berlin are closed by GDR forces. Construction of the Berlin Walls begins.

1961 – August 22: The Wall claims its first of several hundred victims, when Ida Siekman falls to her death while trying to escape to the West by jumping out of her appartment at Bernauer Strasse. The exact number of Wall victims remains unknown.

US President Ronald Reagan visited Berlin on its 750th anniversary in 1987, when he a rousing speech. © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image US President Ronald Reagan visited Berlin on its 750th anniversary in 1987, where he delivered a rousing speech. He is flanked by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (r) and Bundestagspräsident Philipp Jenninger (l). (© picture-alliance/dpa) 1963 – June 26: President John F. Kennedy visits Berlin, reaffirming US support for this outpost of freedom with his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner!" ("I am a Berliner!") speech.

1987 – June 12: President Ronald Reagan delivers a speech in front of Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate in which he memorably demands: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

1989: Amidst increasing economic failure of the communist regime, the first protesters gather in Leipzig with calls for democratic reforms and individual rights. Their movement quickly spreads to all major cities in the GDR.

1989 – November 9: Unable to suppress this peaceful revolution and hoping to buy time, the GDR leadership lifts all previous travel restrictions to the West. Shortly before midnight, tens of thousands flock to the Berlin Wall. The border guards cannot hold them back. On the other side, jubilant crowds greet the first arrivals. 

1990 - October 3: After the Wall fell, it was to be another 11 months before Germany was reunited. In the first (and last) free elections to East Germany's Volkskammer (parliament) on March 18, 1990 the East German electorate voted by an overwhelming majority for those parties that demanded swift accession to West Germany. In summer 1990 a treaty to this effect was negotiated by the two Germanies. East Germany acceded to West Germany on October 3, 1990, which has since been celebrated as the Day of German Unity and is an official holiday in Germany.

Berlin Wall Timeline

25 Years Fall of the Wall

Berlin Wall at the Newseum

Berlin Wall Online Exhibit

The Berlin Wall was strong enough to stop a tank, but it couldn't stop news from getting into East Germany by word of mouth, smuggled messages or radio and television. This online exhibit tells the story of how news and information helped topple a closed and oppressive society.

The physical exhibit contains the largest display of portions of the original wall outside of Germany. It features eight 12-foot-high concrete sections of wall, each weighing about three tons. A three-story East German guard tower that loomed near Checkpoint Charlie — Berlin's best-known East-West crossing — stands nearby. 

Historic Image Gallery

Children at play atop the Wall in the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg in March 1972. The white graffiti lettering says "Unity and Freedom for Berlin." © picture-alliance/dpa

The Berlin Wall went up on August 13, 1961 - a symbol for a divided city and a divided Germany, and the Cold War. It finally fell 28 years later, on November 9, 1989, when the whole world watched in wonder and erupted in celebration along with all Berliners as they met once again without armed guards and barbed wire artificially keeping them apart.

Cold War History in the US

US soldiers at the famous Checkpoint Charlie crossing point in 1961. © picture-alliance/dpa

You can find out more about the history of the Berlin Wall at several locations in the United States, including: 

Wende Museum (Los Angeles)

Newseum (Washington, DC)

German Historical Institute (DC)

The Cold War Museum (DC)

The Truman Library (MO)

DEFA Film Library (MA)

Goethe-Institut USA (five cities)


Following the peaceful overthrow of the East German regime in 1989, in the summer of 1990 negotiations about the reunification treaty commenced in Berlin. Eventually, on October 3, 1990, East Germany acceded to the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany