(W)Archives: Why the Berlin Wall Had to Fall


Twenty five years ago on Sunday, the Berlin Wall fell. The Warsaw Pact lasted another year and a half and the Soviet Union struggled on until the end of 1991. However, the fall (really the opening) of the Wall has come to symbolize the end of the Cold War.

On this anniversary, it is worth remembering why we fought the Cold War, a global struggle that could have ended in a nuclear holocaust. CIA’s Flickr stream has a remarkable collection of photographs from the building of the Wall in August and September 1961 that are a useful reminder. The East Germans, who built the Wall, officially called it the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.” But three photographs in particular from this collection belie that obscene claim, show the reality of the Wall, and encapsulate the meaning of the Cold War.

In late August, 1961 when portions of the “Wall” were still just barbed wire, a woman in East Berlin, handed her young son over the wire to her husband cut off from her in West Berlin.

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She cried as it was time to say goodbye.

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And then, unable to kiss or hug across the wire, the two of them shook hands goodbye as their son stood awkwardly nearby.

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We do not know if they ever saw each other again.

View the full gallery here.


Mark Stout is a Senior Editor at War on the Rocks. He is the Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies and the Graduate Certificate Program in Intelligence at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C.