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President John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Wall

"There are some who say that Communism is the wave of the future.
Let them come to Berlin."
--President John F. Kennedy, Berlin, Germany, June 26, 1963

The cold war is the term for the rivalry between the two blocs of contending states that emerged following World War II. It was a series of confrontations and tests of wills between the non-Communist states, led by the United States and Great Britain, and the Communist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, that lasted 45 years and, at one point, drew the world to the brink of nuclear war.

In August 1961 the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall to stop the mass exodus of people fleeing Soviet East Berlin for West Berlin and the non-Communist world. The wall was a mass of concrete, barbed wire, and stone that cut into the heart of the city, separating families and friends. For 28 years, it stood as a grim symbol of the gulf between the Communist East and the non-Communist West. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, signalling the end of the cold war.

National Archives,
John F. Kennedy Library

On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech that electrified an adoring crowd gathered in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. As he paid tribute to the spirit of Berliners and to their quest for freedom, the crowd roared with approval upon hearing the the President's dramatic pronouncement, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner).

You can hear a selection from John F. Kennedy's speech:

One of President Kennedy's speech card from his remarks in Berlin
The speech was peppered with German and one sentence in Latin, written phonetically on one of the speech cards here.
National Archives, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts

Twenty-four years after President John F. Kennedy's visit to Berlin, as tensions between the two superpowers eased, President Ronald Reagan made a historic appearance at the Berlin Wall. He spoke passionately about the advance of human liberty and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" the ultimate symbol of Communist suppression and thus demonstrate a commitment to profound change.

President Reagan's speech card from his remarks in Berlin, June 12, 1987
National Archives, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California

This document has been reproduced from the National Archives and Records Administration for use by educators and students. Generally, material produced by the Federal agencies are in the public domain. To find out more about John F. Kennedy and on American history in general, we invite you to browse the large collection of data available at NARA.

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