Newly Declassified Documents Show American Perspective on Cold War Berlin

Jan 17, 2014

Booklet accompanying the document release Enlarge image "A City Divided: Life and Death in the Shadow of the Berlin Wall" – The booklet outlines and highlights some of the nearly 2,400 newly declassified documents (© In 2014 Germany is marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This week in Washington, DC, the National Archives released a trove of nearly 2,400 newly declassified US documents from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and numerous other agencies dating from 1961 to 1987. The documents, totaling some 11,000 pages capture the US perspective during this time and show the resilience of the human spirit demonstrated by Berliners in East and West living in the shadow of Berlin Wall.

US agencies aren’t the only ones who have begun to declassify and publish their records from the Cold War. In Germany, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, federal intelligence agency, released 5,000 pages of records chronicling the years around the construction of the Berlin Wall covering the years 1952 to 1962.

Symposium at National Archives Enlarge image From left, Christian F. Ostermann of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Hope M. Harrison, history professor at George Washington University; Joseph W. Lambert of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Neil C. Carmichael of the National Declassification Center (© Officials with the National Archives, the National Declassification Center and the Central Intelligence Agency, along with US and German historians, talked about the significance of the release at a symposium at the National Archives building in Washington, DC, on January 14. In his introduction to the booklet accompanying the document release, Neil C. Carmichael Jr., director of the Indexing and Declassification Review Division within the National Declassification Center describes the historical context for this era in the Cold War. “The publication covers the period between two of the most famous speeches by the visiting American Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. With his iconic speech on June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy united the citizens of Berlin with the United States by his statement that ‘he too was a Berliner.’ Twenty-four years later when visiting Berlin, President Ronald Reagan declared in his speech that ‘… Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.’ The newly published and released declassified documents reveal the struggle for life and death in the shadow of the wall, focusing on the resolve of the human spirit for freedom and equality.”

Some examples of documents contained in the release

  • A 1962 intelligence memo reports on a tunnel and escape plan orchestrated by wholesale butchers and students in West Berlin and a plan by CBS News to release a film on the effort.
  • A day before the visit of US President John F. Kennedy to Berlin in 1963, a State Department telegram reports on the plan by a construction workers union to smuggle a bouquet from East German construction workers for presentation to the American president.
  • A 1964 State Department telegram reports on the release of balloons in West Berlin carrying anti-communist propaganda over the wall into East Berlin. A US military report on the fatal shooting of a member of the US Military Liaison Mission patrol by Soviet forces in East Berlin in 1985.

How to access the documents

The conference publication, a NATO photo essay from the era, a multimedia presentation showcasing the documents are online at:

A City Divided: Life and Death in the Shadow of the Wall

Selected Records Relating to Divided Berlin at the National Archives, a finding aid


Cold War Documents

National Archives in Washington, DC