Study Guide

Tear Down This Wall Timeline

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The building of Berlin begins

Albert the Bear, who, despite his moniker, was not actually a bear, begins building what would later be known as the city of Berlin.


Berlin is born

Albert the Bear's grandson officially founds Berlin while his bro founds Cölln next door. These villages eventually merge into what we now know as Berlin.


Berlin becomes a capital city

Brandenburg-Prussia happens, and Berlin is its capital city.


Wall #1

King Frederick William I builds the Berlin Customs Wall in his city. Its purpose was to defend Berlin against its enemies, monitor and tax stuff coming into the city, and prevent soldiers from deserting the King's army.

Just like its 20th-century counterpart, this wall has towers, armed guards, and a nasty reputation for violence.


Brandenburg Gate construction completed

After three years, construction on the neoclassical monument known as the Brandenburg Gate is complete. King Frederick William II, who commissioned the gate, is stoked. The Brandenburg Gate was one of the original eighteen gates in King FW I's Customs Wall, but it had never looked this awesome back then. It's fancy now.

October 27, 1806

War of the Fourth Coalition reaches Berlin

Napoleon and his troops ride into Berlin after soundly defeating Prussian troops elsewhere in the country. He and his men rode their horses right through the Brandenburg Gate, which his troops looted soon after.

March 1848

March revolutions

The people of Berlin get their uprise on, eventually getting King Frederick William IV to agree to cool democratic stuff like parliamentary elections, free press, and a constitution. He also promised that Prussia and Germany would become one, which made many Berliners all kinds of happy.

They'd had it with this whole Prussian monarchy thing; they'd been putting up with it for, like, a century.

November 1848

Just kidding, democracy

King FW IV dissolves the elected assembly and calls his troops back to Berlin. He'd had it with this whole democracy-and-freedom thing; he'd been putting up with it for, like, nine months.


Wall be gone

The last of that pesky Berlin Customs Wall is taken down, and Berlin is a walled city no more.

January 18, 1871

Germany becomes Germany

Germany officially unifies into one country (or empire, depending on who's telling the story) and immediately begins practicing for its upcoming role as the world's Big Bad.

February 6, 1911

Reagan born

Future POTUS Ronald Wilson Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois.

June 28, 1914

Franz Ferdinand assassinated

Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are gunned down by Serbian radicals. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany's neurotic leader, gives Austria the okay to get their war on with Serbia, and thus begins World War I.

August 1914

Blockade of Germany begins

The Allies, led by Britain (the U.S. wasn't involved in the war yet), begin what is known as the Blockade of Germany. Basically, no food and no supplies were allowed into Germany. This blockade lasted until the end of the war, and it's estimated that upwards of 400,000 Germans died from starvation and disease.

It wasn't pretty, but it definitely helped the Allies win the war.

November 11, 1918


World War I is officially in the books, and Germany and its buddies are the losers. But this doesn't stop them from starting another war less than twenty years later.

March 2, 1931

Gorbachev born

Mikhail Gorbachev is born into hard times in Stavrapol Krai in the Soviet Union.

January 30, 1933

Hitler elected

Adolf Hitler is elected as Germany's new chancellor. Good move, Germany.

Shortly thereafter, all heck breaks loose all over the world. Not just in Germany, but also in Italy, Japan, and…well, pretty much everywhere.

March 15, 1939

Germany goes on a rampage

Hitler's troops invade Czechoslovakia, the first of many military maneuvers that eventually lead to World War II.

September 3, 1939

It's official—we're having a war

Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand officially declare war on Germany after its latest invasion, this time of Poland.

December 7, 1941

It's on now…

The U.S. officially joins the war after Japan bombs the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

April 30, 1945

Hitler commits suicide

World War II didn't really work out for the Germans, and Hitler probably knew he was going to be in bi-i-i-ig trouble once the Allies got hold of him. Hitler commits suicide in his bunker by swallowing some cyanide and then shooting himself in the head.

May 8, 1945

V-E Day

Germany is defeated. The Allies break up the country into occupation zones, with American, French, and British zones on the western side of the country and Soviet zones on the east side. Berlin was similarly divided into four sectors.

August 15, 1945

V-J Day

Japan officially surrenders after having not one, but two atomic bombs dropped on it, courtesy of the United States. Stick a fork in this war; it's done.

June 30, 1946

But wait, there's more…

The Soviet military moves in to "safeguard" the demarcation line between the Eastern and Western parts of Germany.

October 29, 1946

Interzonenpass becomes a thing

A thirty-day Interzonenpass is now required to travel between the different sectors of Germany.

June 5, 1947

The Marshall Plan is born

George Marshall delivers European Recovery Act address at Harvard. Read the speech here.

June 23, 1948

Berlin's currency split

The city of Berlin is divided into two different currency zones: the Deutschmark in the West and the Reichsmark in the East.

June 24, 1948

Berlin blockade begins

The Soviet Union blocks all rail, road, and water access to West Berlin in protest of the whole Deutschmark thing.

June 25, 1948

Berlin Airlift begins

The West wastes no time responding to the blockade. They begin airlifting supplies into the beleaguered city in what's known as the Berlin Airlift.

May 12, 1949

Berlin blockade ends

The Soviets finally admit their whole "blockade" thing isn't really working out, so they call it quits.

May 24, 1949

FRG founded

The Federal Republic of Germany, otherwise known as West Germany, officially comes into existence.

September 30, 1949

Berlin airlift ends

Though the blockade has been over for a while, the West continues to airlift supplies into Berlin for several more months.

October 7, 1949

GDR founded

Not to be outdone by the West Germans, the German Democratic Republic, otherwise known as East Germany, officially comes into existence.

April 1, 1952

Travel restrictions get re-stricter

The idea of requiring passes for travel between Eastern and Western zones is floated at a meeting in Moscow.

May 26, 1952

Border closings

The border between East and West Germany is officially closed. Only the border crossing between East and West Berlin remains open.

November 14, 1953

More Interzonenpass fun

The West waives the need for an Interzonenpass to travel to the East…but the Soviets do no such thing for those wishing to travel to the West.

December 11, 1957

Travel to West forbidden

East Germans are officially forbidden from traveling to West Germany and a prison sentence of up to three years is established for violators.

June 15, 1961

Wall denial

GDR bigwig Walter Ulbricht assures peeps that no one is planning on building any sort of wall anywhere.

August 13, 1961


In English, that translates to "Barbed-Wire Sunday," the day construction of the Berlin Wall begins. So much for Ulbricht's assurances, eh?

August 14, 1961

Brandenburg Gate closes

The Brandenburg Gate officially closes, thus eliminating the last crossing point between East and West Germany.

June 26, 1963

JFK weighs in

President Kennedy visits West Berlin and gives his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, condemning communism and the Berlin Wall, which is still being expanded and fortified.

December 17, 1963

Family visits allowed

An agreement is reached between East and West that allows people from the West to visit their families in East Germany…but only on a very limited basis and for short periods of time.

September 3, 1971

Four Power Agreement

The Four Power Agreement is reached, detailing how East and West Germans—and their international sponsors—can interact with each other, and how Berlin is going to be managed.

January 20, 1981

Reagan becomes the POTUS

Ronald Reagan is officially sworn in as the 40th President of the United States.

March 11, 1985

Gorbachev becomes the GenSec

Mikhail Gorbachev is elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party and the leader of the Soviet Union. He is the youngest person to be sworn into that office.

February-March 1986

27th CPSU Congress

Gorbachev reveals his glasnost and perestroika reforms—among others—at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party in Moscow. His plans are met with mixed reviews.

June 12, 1987

Tear down this wall

President Reagan visits West Berlin, stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall, and urges General Secretary Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

January 20, 1989

Reagan's term ends

Reagan hands the POTUS baton to his veep, George H.W. Bush.

August 23, 1989

Hungary-Austria border reopens

Communist Hungary opens its previously-closed border with non-communist Austria. This is the beginning of the end for walls and closed borders everywhere.

September 10, 1989

East Germans run away to Austria

Hungary allows East Germans to cross through their country en route to Austria, and more than 13,000 East Germans go ahead and take advantage of that opportunity.

November 4, 1989

East Germany throws in the towel

More than a million peeps gather to protest East Germany in the name of democracy…and the GDR government resigns.

November 9, 1989

Travel restrictions lifted

An announcement is made that travel between East and West Germany will be allowed once more…and people immediately begin pouring over the wall and tearing it down as they go.

December 22, 1989

Brandenburg Gate reopens

The Brandenburg Gate is officially reopened. Crowds cheer. Bratwurst is no doubt consumed in great quantities.

October 3, 1990

Germany reunited

Germany is officially reunified into one country.

October 15, 1990

Nobel Peace Prize

Gorbachev is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War.

December 25, 1991

Gorbachev resigns

Gorbachev officially resigns his post as President of the Soviet Union.

December 26, 1991

U.S.S.R. No More

The Soviet Union is officially dissolved.

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