The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic (AKA East Germany), at the direction of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, starting on August 13, 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin. The barrier included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area that contained anti-vehicle trenches and other defenses.

East German Combat Groups of the Working Class close the border on 13 August 1961 in preparation of the Berlin Wall construction.

The Eastern Bloc claimed that the wall was erected to protect its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany. In practice, the Wall served to prevent the massive emigration and defection that marked Germany and the communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.

Berlin Wall in 1986

In a West Berlin speech on June 26, 1963 President Kennedy uttered his legendary phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” – “I am a Berliner” to a crowd of over one hundred thousand. His words were a reference to “all free men, wherever they may live” and underscored support for West Berliners, living in a democratic citadel surrounded by the Soviet’s Berlin Wall – a barrier that divided them from the communism of Soviet-occupied East Germany, and the rest of the world.

Tragically, Kennedy would be assassinated several months later, as he rode through Dealey Plaza, Dallas on November 22, 1963.

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