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Tag: 1961

The Berlin Wall, now a vital piece of history

President Bush is presented with a piece of the Berlin Wall by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in the Oval Office, 11/21/1989 (Bush Library, ARC 186404)

Americans often associate the month of August with family vacations and the summer heat, but that was not the case in 1961. Fifty years ago this month, a Cold War chill filled the air as construction began on the Berlin Wall.

After the end of World War II, the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union each occupied a piece of postwar Germany. The four powers intended to jointly govern through the Allied Control Council until the country could be reunified under one government. But as relations between the West and the Soviet Union deteriorated in the late 1940s, Germany became a central part of the Cold War.

In 1949, the the three western zones merged to form the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet Union responded by establishing the German Democratic Republic. Although the capital city of Berlin was located within Soviet-controlled East Germany, it remained divided as a multinational area.

Between 1949 and 1961, millions of East Germans defected from the German Democratic Republic by crossing into West Berlin. The mass exodus of young, well-educated individuals—which led to both economic stagnation and political turmoil—compelled Communist leaders to refortify East Germany’s borders.

On August 21,

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