7 May 1945

Following the signing of Germany's unconditional surrender on 7 May, the Second World War came to an end in Western Europe on the 8 May 1945. Whilst Japan didn’t formally surrender until the 2 September 1945, the Allied powers began the process of dividing Germany and the city of Berlin in July 1945 during the Potsdam conference. Britain, America, France and The Soviet Union divided the country into four military occupied zones.

© IWM (NAT 2038)

“This was the city thirty years ago. A city, then one of the greatest in the world. In size and stature, ranking with London, Paris, Rome, New York. Alive and a unity, this was Berlin in the 1930s. No barriers at the Brandenburger Tor, no guards at the Potsdamer Platz. But this was Berlin before Hitler came to power. 


1945, and this was Berlin. A city in name only, a geographical location.”

This short clip from the NATO collection shows the stark contrast of the city of Berlin before and after the Second World War © IWM (NAT 2038) 

© IWM (NAT 2038)

“For Berlin, it was to be each power with its sector. But a city opened to all the powers until Berlin could again assume her role as the capital of a new German state. Berlin lay 100 miles deep in the Soviet occupation zone but was not part of it. Access to the city for the other powers was agreed over certain roads, railways and three air corridors. Makeshift, perhaps, but then it was never meant to be permanent.” 


Using animated maps, this clip describes how Germany and Berlin were divided by the Allied powers. © IWM (NAT 2038) 

24 June 1948

This division was designed to be temporary, however the Soviet Union didn’t agree with the policies implemented by the Western Powers in their respective occupied zones. On 24 June 1948 the Soviets began what became known as 'The Berlin Blockade', blocking access by land to the Western parts of the city, cutting off vital food and supply routes.

© IWM (COI 177)

“They were soon winging their way daily over the port of Hamburg. Destination…Berlin.”


“Past the Olympic Stadium and presently over the only power station left working in the western sector.”


“Immediately on landing, unloading commences and the machines are prepared for the return journey.” 

This clip demonstrates the role of the RAF during the Berlin Airlift © IWM (COI 177)

September 1949

The Allied powers continued to deliver goods to Berlin via the airlift until September 1949. Although the Soviets lifted the blockade in May, there were fears it would be reinstated again. During this time, Britain, America and France combined their military occupied zones, and created the Federal Republic of Germany in May 1949. Whilst the occupied zones of Berlin were politically under control of, and aligned with the Western powers, Berlin was not legally part of the Federal Republic.

Over the next decade tensions between the Soviet Union and the West continued to mount. As life in the East became more difficult, a steady tide of refugees came to West Berlin seeking escape from Soviet rule. By 1961 the Soviet Union could no longer ignore this.

13 August 1961

East Germany closed the border between East and West Berlin on the 13th of August 1961.

“On the 13th of August 1961, a wall of East German police stands at the Brandenburg Gate. All communication between the eastern sector and those of the west has been cut as though by a knife. Before it, west Berliners stand stunned.” 

This clip shows Soviet troops in front of the Brandenburg gate on 13 August 1961 refusing to allow anyone to pass. © IWM (NAT 2038) 

© IWM (NAT 2038)

“Soviet attacks on the rights of the Western powers in Berlin showed that the wall was meant to be a step towards control of the whole city, towards forcing out the Western powers. As the last escape routes were cut one after the other, final scrambles, so as not to be left behind in the prison. And this was an exodus not confined merely to the civilians. Even among the East German police, guarding and maintaining the new barrier, there were some who decided that they, too, had reached the end of their tether. And there was nothing left for it but to cut and run.” 

This clip shows the earliest iteration of the Berlin Wall - barbed wire and guards. People attempting to make a last ditch attempt to escape including an East German solider are also shown. © IWM (NAT 2038) 

Although at first it was only constructed from fence posts and barbed wire, Eastern Berlin was effectively cut off from the rest of the city almost over night. Over the next few years, the wire would be replaced by a complex series of walls and fortifications, guarded day and night. The Berlin Wall would stand for the next 28 years.

© IWM (NAT 3022)

Please note: This video contains no sound.

This clip shows the Allied crossing point known as 'Check Point Charlie' in 1967. © IWM (NAT 3022)

© IWM (NAT 3022)

Please note: This video contains no sound.

As troops from the GDR reposition their defences,on the other side of the wall children can be seen playing. © IWM (NAT 3022) 

9 November 1989

By 1989, the East German government was facing increased pressure to loosen some of its regulations on travel to West Germany. At a press conference on 9 November, East German spokesman Günter Schabowski announced that East Germans would be free to travel into West Germany, starting immediately. He failed to clarify that some regulations would remain in place. Western media inaccurately reported that the border had opened and crowds quickly gathered at checkpoints on both sides of the Wall. Passport checks were eventually abandoned and people crossed the border unrestricted. East and West Berliners came together in celebration.

© IWM (BFL 111)

[Sound of crowds celebrating and cheering]. 

“But they're all the way along. Modern house. 

“Do you want me to tell the LC what's happening?” 

“Yeah, you can do.”  

Footage shot by British Military Police on 10 November shows people celebrating on the western side of the wall whilst GDR border guards are seen maintaining the crossing underneath the Brandenburg gate. © IWM (BFL 111)

© IWM (BFL 111)

Please note - this video contains background sound only. 

This clip shows the Brandenburg gate at sunrise on the morning of 11 November, as people continue to chip away at the wall, and celebrate. © IWM (BFL 111)

© IWM (BFL 111)

Please note - this video contains background noise and sounds of applause and cheering. 

This clip shows West Berliners giving flowers to GDR soliders in front of the Brandenburg Gate. © IWM (BFL 111)

© IWM (BFL 111)

Please note - this video contains sounds of cheering and applause. 

This clip shows a section of the Berlin Wall being removed on 22 December 1989. © IWM (BFL 111)

© IWM (NAT 3544)

Please note: This video has no sound.

A man celebrates as he crosses from East to West Berlin. November 1989 © IWM (NAT 3544) 

© IWM (NAT 3544)

Please note: This video contains no sound.

A man chips away at a part of the Berlin Wall. The people chipping at the Wall were known as 'Mauerspechte', literally meaning Wall woodpeckers. Graffiti above him reads 'Build Doors Not Walls.' © IWM (NAT 3544)

© IWM (NAT 3544)

Please note: This video contains no sound.

Loved ones reconnect at a newly formed crossing. November 1989 © IWM (NAT 3544) 

East German guards struggle to restrain a crowd during the opening of the Berlin Wall, November 1989.
East German guards struggle to restrain a crowd during the opening of the Berlin Wall, November 1989. © Crown copyright. IWM (CT 1494)
Night time scene showing a bombed building on fire in London during the Blitz, 1940.
© IWM (HU 67287)
A bombed building on fire in London during the Blitz, 1940.

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