During the Cold War, on numerous occasions, the divided city of Berlin became symbolic of the larger diplomatic and cultural struggle of the United States and Western Europe versus the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. When the Berlin Wall was constructed, it also stood as a symbol of the Iron Curtain that separated the free people of the West and the Soviet-dominated people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
At the close of World War II at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the opponents of Germany worked out that the city of Berlin would be divided into four occupied zones administered by Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. However, the situation between the Soviet Union and the other occupying powers quickly deteriorated. The Allied governments sought to help Germany rebuild, but the Soviets were intent on inflicting punishment in the form of heavy reparation payments as well as the acquisition of German industrial technology.
When the Soviets learned of Allied plans to create a single unified West German state and a unified West Berlin, they created a blockade of all land routes to Berlin, including railways, canals, and roads. This unified the western powers in resolve and brought about the Berlin Airlift, a massive effort to supply the 2.5 million people living in West Berlin with essentials such as coal, food, and other supplies. In history's greatest air relief operation, British and American pilots flew 277,500 missions and delivered 2.3 tons of supplies to the besieged city. The Soviet leader, Stalin, was finally forced to stop the blockage of West Berlin, and land convoys resumed. Shortly after, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Western military alliance, was created.
Over time, living standards in West Berlin and the rest of West Germany improved, while East Berlin and East Germany remained in poverty. As a result, many East Germans defected to the west. To counter this mass emigration, in August 1961, the Berlin Wall was abruptly erected. It was a stark reminder of the Cold War that completely circled West Berlin. Only those with permission were allowed to cross through checkpoints. Many who attempted unauthorized crossings were shot and killed.
Ultimately, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall became symbolic of the end of the Cold War. On the evening of November 9, 1989, an announcement was made that people could cross freely between east and west. Some brought hammers and chisels and began chipping away at the wall. Many celebrated by posing on top of the wall for photos. It was an effective reminder that the Cold War was over.