August 01, 2011

The Berlin Wall Opened November 9, 1989: A Personal Recollection with Photographs

Construction of the infamous Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961; it would stand until November 9, 1989, when it "fell." Scores of books and articles have been published giving details of the Berlin Wall, and there will be many moments of personal recollection and public commemoration in Berlin over the next weeks. 

Readers of this blog can find a wealth of information about construction and eventual destruction of the Berlin Wall, so there is no need to go into details here. But, what I would like to do is share below representative and personal photographs of the Berlin Wall in 1984, when the Wall seemed to have reached its technical peak. 

I first saw the Berlin Wall in August 1967,when I arrived on assignment as a Russian linguist with the U.S. Air Force. I stayed until November 1968 but, unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me. I borrowed one before leaving and took this shot of the Wall in the south-west part of West Berlin facing into the DDR. I lived not far from this part of the Wall and one could often hear the sounds of sirens and guns at night--training or possibly unsuccessful escape attempts.
1972 Transit Visa

I saw the Wall again in 1972, when I was a graduate student living in Munich and took the train or hitch-hiked there a few timex, but again, I did not have a camera with me.

In 1984, I traveled to the West Berlin to do a security-risk review of the RFE/RL monitoring station, which was located in one of Berlin's outlying districts. The monitoring stations was primarily there to monitor and record the strength of the Radio Free Europe broadcast signal to Poland. 

While I was there this time, I did have a camera, and below are some of the photographs I took of the Berlin Wall. 

I would like to share these photos that I took, because many of the readers of this blog did not experience the Berlin Wall in the Cold War. I hope that my small display of photographs will give them a feeling of what it was like in 1984 to stand in front of the wall that divided Berlin into West and East:

Click on image to enlarge photos

Here is a short excerpt from the 1964 film about Radio Free Europe that shows then RFE Berlin Bureau Chief Bill Mahoney standing in front of the "Berlin Wall of Shame" the day before President John F. Kennedy made his famous speech:


For an interesting new background study of the Berlin Wall,  see e-Dossier No. 23, - New Evidence on the Building of the Berlin Wall, by Hope M. Harrison,  Cold War International History Project.

Former RFE News Director Gene Mater was in Munich when the Wall was built and flew to Berlin during the construction phase. He recently gave a very interesting interview about the Wall to the Voice of American that was shown on the VOA television channel and can be viewed here: 


  1. Thank you very much, Rich, for the memorable photos of the Wall, lest we forget, and to inform the many folks today who were not around then.

  2. Another excellent post and I can only second Lynn's comments.


  3. Thank you very much for your nice comments.

  4. I have an interesting story. I was stationed at Templehof Central Airport in West Berlin from 1986 - 1991. I closed that site, Marienfelde and Teusfelsberg. An additional duty of mine was as the Commander's driver to functions in West Germany. On 9 Nov 89 we were on our way back to Berlin and crossed through Checkpoint Alpha and all was good. When we reached Bravo it was a sight to see. The arm was up, no Russian guard was there and the little building that you brought your documents to was empty. We proceeded to the Army checkpoint to process the Flag Orders and was informed that the Wall had came down. In a mere 3 hours, they bugged out. After dropping the CO off I made my way to Checkpoint Charlie to party like there was no tomorrow. Several months later our section was asked by Hq AIA in San Antonio if there was a chance of getting a large piece of the Wall for Display at HQ. MSgt Steve Ford (Ret), A1C Brian Ault (Now Retired Major/F-16 pilot), A1C Evan Morgan (Now Retired Major/Comm) and myself got a 4'x 8' piece just down the road from the Marienfelde Site and shipped it back to HQ. It now stands in front of building 2000 on what used to be Security Hill, Kelly AFB which is now part of Lackland AFB. Berlin was by far my best assignment in a great 20 year career.

  5. First saw the wall August 15th, 1961. Only a few cinder blocks and barb wire at Checkpoint Charlie. Stayed in Berlin on assignment until March 1963 and returned Nov 1967 - Jun 1972. Have lots of photos of the early wall and during the periods I was there. Oh yes, In the 61-63 years the East Germans broadcast a nightly 30 minute program from East Berlin in English and dedicated it to the American troops in West Berlin. It was on just after curfew and my men got lots of laughs at the Communist tactics etc. Lots of memories.

  6. The DJ back in 1961-63 was probably the American Oliver (Ollie) Harrington, who lived in East Berlin from about 1960 to 1990. A very interesting story in itself.