The status of Berlin continued to be a bone of contention between the U.S. and the USSR. President Kennedy took a hardline on the issue. He was determined that the U.S. would do everything it could to maintain the freedom of the people of West Berlin and the free access to the city from West Germany. (van Rijn, Kennedy, p. 28.) Khrushchev was just as determined that Berlin should be unified under the control of the communists of East Germany. (Id.)

Russia reacted by having East Germany build the Berlin Wall, which separated West Berlin from East Berlin and prohibited the citizens of one sector from travelling to the other sector. As a result tensions increased; troop levels in Europe were built up and draft calls were raised.

On June 26, 1963, Kennedy visited West Berlin and, in the shadows of the Wall, gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” (translation: “I am a Berliner”) speech. To the consternation of the Russians, the speech confirmed the U.S. dedication to Berlin’s freedom and raised the morale of Berliners. It is considered a highlight of Kennedy’s presidency. In a few months, Kennedy would be dead. During the wall’s existence, at least 138 people were killed trying to escape to West Berlin and many who were captured ended up in jail. The Wall remained until it was torn down as part of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

“The Wall,by Steppenwolf describes how the wall impacted the lives of the people of Berlin. It was written in 1990 in celebration of the wall’s destruction. (

Crossing the line in the dead of night
Five years old and on the run
This ain’t no game, boy, don’t make a sound
And watch that man with the gun
Say a prayer for the ones we leave behind, say a prayer for us all
Come take my hand now and hold on tight
Take one last look at that wall

Think of the shattered lives, think of the broken hearts
Think of the battered dreams, of families still torn apart
Wall of bitter tears, wall of crying pain
Wall of chilling fear, you will never keep me here
For I, I shall crawl right down through that wall
I will crawl right on through that wall

That fateful night I was one that got away,
A young and restless renegade
Chasing my dreams, still on the run,
I had some moments in the sun
Years flew by like a speeding bullet train, I sang my songs to one and all
Then came the day when I had a chance to pay
My respects to the names on that wall

I saw the wooden crosses, saw the bloody stains
Saw the gruesome pictures of all the ones that died in vain
Wall of countless victims, wall of endless shame
Had just one thing gone wrong I might have joined that list of names
And I cried for all who died there at the wall
I recall weeping at the wall

“Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy
is not perfect,
But we’ve never had to put a wall up to keep
our people in…
While the wall is the most obvious
demonstration of the failures of communism,
We take no pride in it…for it is an offense
against humanity, separating families,
Dividing husbands and wives, brothers and
sisters and
People who wish to be joined together…
All free men, wherever they may live, are
citizens of Berlin
And therefore, as a free man I take pride in the
words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”

(These lyrics are excerpts from John F. Kennedy speech at the Berlin wall June 26, 1963)
Turned on the news in November ’89
I could not move, I could not speak
Something was burning up in my eyes,
Something wet ran down my cheek
All those laughing faces, all those tears of joy
All those warm embraces of men and women, girls and boys
Sisters and brothers dancing, all singing freedom’s song
God, if only I could be there to shake your hands and sing along
Oh I, I would climb right up on that wall
And join you all dancing on the wall
Standing tall walking on the wall
Tear it down, right down to the ground
Tear it down, right down to the ground