Walling People In and Freedom Out

Walling People In

When the Berlin Wall went up on August 13, 1961, U.S. diplomats watched human tragedies unfold as family members wept across barbed wire.  Many wondered if the next war would start because of Berlin.  Despite the Wall’s imposing presence, President Kennedy John F. Kennedy commented to Kenny O’Donnell, his appointments secretary: “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” After the wall fell, Assistant Secretary Thomas Niles spoke for many when he recalled, “Once the Wall was built, it created a sort of stability. It imprisoned 17 million people in East Germany, but it did guarantee, in its perverse and obnoxious way, a stability in a potentially unstable area.”

Walling People In

When the Berlin Wall went up on August 13, 1961, U.S. diplomats watched human tragedies unfold as family members wept across barbed wire.  Many wondered if the next war would start because of Berlin.  Despite the Wall’s imposing presence, President Kennedy John F. Kennedy commented to Kenny O’Donnell, his appointments secretary: “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” After the wall fell, Assistant Secretary Thomas Niles spoke for many when he recalled, “Once the Wall was built, it created a sort of stability. It imprisoned 17 million people in East Germany, but it did guarantee, in its perverse and obnoxious way, a stability in a potentially unstable area.”

Walling People In

“They were losing huge numbers of East Germans…” – Bruce Flatin

“They were losing huge numbers of East Germans…” – Bruce Flatin

In 1961, Soviet Premier Khrushchev, emboldened after a meeting in Vienna with the new and unseasoned President John F. Kennedy, threatened to sign a separate peace treaty with the harsh East German regime.
Hearing this, the number of refugees fleeing East Germany tripled. Director of Radio in the American Sector Robert Lochner later observed, “It became increasingly apparent that the Soviets had to stop the depopulation of East Germany if they were not to lose total control.”
Refugees from the East, are pictured in the Karlsbad refugee camp in West Berlin, Germany, January 20, 1953, in their quarter that's beeing used for sleeping cooking and washing. With a daily average of about 700 East German refugees arriving in West Berlin, the city administration faces growing accomodation problems. (AP Photo/Werner Kreusch)

East German refugees at a camp in West Berlin

Photograph

East German refugees at a camp in West Berlin

Refugees from East Germany improvised housekeeping in this West Berlin refugee camp in January 1953. They used their quarters for sleeping cooking and washing. A daily average of about 700 refugees arriving in West Berlin taxed the city's resources to accommodate them.

The Wall Goes Up

The Wall Goes Up

When workers divided Berlin on Aug. 13, 1961, American diplomats discovered construction of the barrier underway during the night. U.S. radio, broadcasting live news segments, warned listeners who might want to escape. Allied protest against the Wall was delayed more than 48 hours, due in part to President Kennedy’s reluctance to provoke confrontation. This delay especially angered West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. In response, Kennedy sent Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and General Clay to Berlin and mobilized U.S. troops. In October 1961, U.S. and Soviet tanks faced each other over a border crossing incident involving U.S. diplomats. The confrontation took place at Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. crossing point, but both sides withdrew.
Photograph of U.S. Diplomat Robert Lochner

Robert Lochner, Director Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), Berlin

Oral History

Robert Lochner, Director Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), Berlin

U.S. diplomat Robert Lochner, seen here, recalled the way he reacted to the building of the Wall in the early hours of its construction in 1961.
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AP

East German soldiers set up barbed wire barricades August , 13, 1961 at the border separating Berlin, Germany, to restrict the travel between the eastern and western part of the German city. West Berlin citizens watch the work.

Construction of the Berlin Wall

Photograph

Construction of the Berlin Wall

East German soldiers, left, set up barbed wire barricades August 13, 1961, at the border separating Berlin, Germany, to restrict the travel between the eastern and western part of the German city. West Berlin citizens, right, watch the work.
An East Berlin soldier secures a steel bar to hold the barbed wire atop the Berlin Wall on sector border in Berlin near Friedrichstrasse in Germany on Sept. 30, 1961. The Communists are tightening border security as a result of repeated escapes in this area to the West by East Germans.

Berlin Wall security

Photograph

Berlin Wall security

An East Berlin soldier secures a steel bar to hold the barbed wire atop the Berlin Wall. The communists continually tightened border security at the Wall.
U.S. Army tanks, foreground, face off against Soviet tanks across the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse, in a tense standoff on Oct. 27 and 28, 1961.

Face off at Checkpoint Charlie

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Face off at Checkpoint Charlie

U.S. Army tanks, foreground, face off against Soviet tanks across the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie in a tense standoff, Oct. 27-28, 1961.

Consequences of the Wall

Consequences of the Wall

When completed, the Wall ran 26.8 miles across Berlin (96.3 miles total across Germany) evolving from barbed wire into over 13 foot high parallel walls with a “dead man’s zone” in between. Marksmen in towers had orders to shoot to kill escapees. Some daring West Berliners wrote “KZ,” meaning “concentration camp,” on the West side of the Wall.

Fleeing a repressive regime, many East Germans—at least 100 and likely more—died violently attempting to leave between 1961 and 1989. More fortunate escapees relied on tunnels, retrofitted cars, balloons and water craft. Throughout its existence, the hideous Wall disheartened and angered German people.
West Berlin woman waves to friends on the other side of the concrete wall dividing west and east Berlin.

West Berliner waves across the Wall

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West Berliner waves across the Wall

A West Berlin woman waves to people on the other side of the concrete wall dividing West and East Berlin.
West Berlin woman waters her plants in an apartment at Wall's edge.

West Berlin apartment at Wall’s edge

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West Berlin apartment at Wall’s edge

West Berlin woman waters her plants in an apartment at Wall's edge.
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Department of State, Office of the Historian

Brandon Grove, Jr., U.S. Liaison Officer, Berlin, 1965-1969

Brandon Grove, Jr., U.S. Liaison Officer, Berlin

Oral History

Brandon Grove, Jr., U.S. Liaison Officer, Berlin

Brandon Grove, Jr., a U.S. diplomat portrayed in this photo, remarked how crisis management was an important aspect of conducting day-to-day diplomacy in West Berlin in the late 1960s. Grove served first in West, then later in East Berlin.
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National Archives and Records Administration

Photograph of the Berlin Wall, including a watchtower

Berlin Wall with watch tower

Photograph

Berlin Wall with watch tower

Arial view of the Berlin Wall. Marksmen in the towers had "shoot to kill" orders to stop escapees.
Photograph of graffiti on the Western side of the Berlin Wall that suggests the other side is a concentration camp

Berlin Wall graffiti

Photograph

Berlin Wall graffiti

On the western side of the Berlin Wall, the graffiti letters "KZ" stand for "Konzentrationslager" or "Concentration Camp," indicating the graffiti artist's disdain for the Wall.
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National Archives and Records Administration

Image of a plaque awarded to U.S. Minister and Deputy Commandant in West Berlin Harold J. Gilmore

William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs

Oral History

William R. Tyler, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs

The inscription on this plaque states the Association of the U.S. Army makes this award to U.S. Minister and Deputy Commandant in West Berlin Harold J. Gilmore. The flags on the map emphasize the close proximity of the Allied sectors in West Berlin to the Soviet held East Berlin. U.S. diplomat William Tyler in the mid-1960s reflected on the tight grip each Ally held on its sector.
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Loan to the National Museum of American Diplomacy from Harry J. Gilmore (Photo by Alex Jamison)

“Ich bin ein Berliner.” – President John F. Kennedy

“Ich bin ein Berliner.” – President John F. Kennedy

When John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963, Ambassador's Staff Assistant Paul Cleveland described the President’s approach as a “‘political campaign’ to try to bolster German morale.” Speaking in a plaza named for him later after his death, Kennedy gained immense popular solidarity with the city uttering: Ich bin ein Berliner. Intelligence officer Thomas Hughes recalled how Kennedy turned from relative disinterest in Germany to making it a focus of his foreign policy. Kennedy’s successor, however, President Lyndon B. Johnson, pursued other diplomatic interests.
Photograph of U.S. President, John F. Kennedy making his I Am a Berliner speech

Magazine: Berliner Illustrierte President Kennedy in Deutschland, Sonderndruck

Museum Artifact

Magazine: Berliner Illustrierte President Kennedy in Deutschland, Sonderndruck

Title translation: Berlin Illustrated President Kennedy in Germany, Special Edition. Visit of President John F. Kennedy to Berlin.
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Collections of the National Museum of American Diplomacy (Photo by Alex Jamison)

Photograph of U.S. President John F. Kennedy during a visit to West Berlin on June 26, 1963

U.S. President John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin

Photograph

U.S. President John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin

President Kennedy, left, seated in car with Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, center, and German Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, right, visiting West Berlin in 1963. On the occasion of Kennedy’s visit, East German border guards suspended large panels of red cloth from the Brandenburg Gate and mounted an English-language propaganda poster directly in front of it. The poster maintained that the denazification and demilitarization of Germany that had been called for in Potsdam had only occurred in East Germany.
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Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY

Photograph of U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivering his I Am a Berliner speech

President Kennedy in 1963 delivering his acclaimed Ich bin ein Berliner speech in Berlin

Photograph

President Kennedy in 1963 delivering his acclaimed Ich bin ein Berliner speech in Berlin

U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivers his famous "I am a Berliner" ("Ich bin ein Berliner") speech in front of the city hall in West Berlin. On the far right of the image is West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt.
Image of modifications made to President John Kennedy's famous I Am a Berliner speech by U.S. Diplomat, Robert Lochner

Robert Lochner, Director, Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), Berlin

Oral History

Robert Lochner, Director, Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), Berlin

This photo of the speech that President Kennedy delivered in Berlin in 1963 shows how his translator, U.S. diplomat Robert Lochner, added a famous sentence to it at Kennedy’s request.
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AP

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