The Berlin Wall

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the wall at the Brandenburg gate
The Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate

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In May 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was created. In September the Soviet-supported Republic of Germany was established in the East. This resolved the issue of Berlin for the moment. The establishment of NATO and The Warsaw Pact (military organization) in the same year gave teeth to this formal division. Europe was now two armed camps.

In 1961 East Germany built a wall to separate East Berlin from West Berlin, isolating West Berlin within East Germany. This wall which divided east and west became the symbol of the tensions dividing the world during the cold war

John F. Kennedy went to Berlin on June 26, 1963 to show support for the West Berliners.

"Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."

...There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the Free World and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it's true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. "Laßt sie nach Berlin kommen." Let them come to Berlin!"

Kennedy's notes from the speech (Kennedy Library)
  • Side note: There has been some controversy over Kennedy's use of the phrase - was the use of the article "ein" incorrect? Was Kennedy saying he was a pastry? This is a story that just won't die. But it is not true. There is a grammatical rule in German which prohibits the use of the article when speaking of origin. However, that is only a general rule. What Kennedy did is to use a subtlety of the German language to say what he meant. In fact Linguist Jürgen Eichhoff, writing in the academic journal Monatshefte confirms that using the article is the only was he could say what he wanted to say, to express a metaphorical identification with the people of Berlin. In fact if he had said "Ich bin Berliner" he would have been incorrect, because he would have been saying that he was a resident of Berlin. Kennedy went over the phrasing and pronunciation with a German journalist and even practiced with the mayor of Berlin before giving the speech. The citizens of Berlin cheered his speech, clearly understanding his rather expert use of the language.

The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall

"In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards... Even today, the Soviet Union cannot feed itself. The inescapable conclusion is that freedom is the victor. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" (Ronald Reagan, Speech at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987)
  • Side note: The famous "tear down this wall" coming from Reagan's speech writer, actually originated with someone who was not a part of the White House, not even an American. It seemed a simple and obvious statement to Ingeborg Elz, when she suggested it to the speech writer. Too simple for politics, perhaps. The President's advisors thought it was too direct an attack on Gorbachev, who was trying to liberalize the Soviet Union. But Reagan wanted to keep it in the speech.

Not long afterward, a surprise to nearly everyone, the wall came down. On the 9th of November, 1989, East Germany was open to West Germany. Events moved swiftly. Communism rapidly fell in Eastern Europe, and finally in the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain was lifted.

The Berlin Wall
The day the wall came down

Part of M.A.D: The Cold War exhibit

The Cold War

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