Built at the height of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall has stood for nearly three decades as a grim symbol of division and repression in Eastern Europe and as a flash point in U.S.-Soviet relations.
The wall -- originally a barbed wire barricade -- was built literally overnight, Aug. 12-13, 1961, as East Germany's communist leaders tried to stem the flow of thousands of skilled East German workers to the West.
Months later, it became the focal point of the first great nuclear confrontation between former President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev.
It came crashing down in a single day -- symbolically, at least - with East Germany's announcement Thursday that its citizens were free to travel directly to the West. The announcement followed weeks of unprecedented pro-democracy demonstrations and the exodus of more 110,000 East German refugees to West Germany.
Until 1961 there were few restrictions on travel between the two Germanys, and an estimated 2 million East Germans emigrated to the West. Desperate to halt this hemorrhaging, Erich Honecker, the state security chief who later became East German leader, secretly planned construction of the 102-mile barrier.
The original barbed-wire barricade but was quickly replaced by a 6-foot concrete structure topped with barbed wire and guarded by armed sentinels in watch towers. In 1970, despite improved relations between the Germanys, the wall's height was raised to 10 feet to discourage near-daily -- and often fatal -- escape attempts.
By the early 1980s there were more than 800 miles of wall, electrified fence and fortifications along the barrier's 102-mile course.
Since the initial appearance of this most visible manifestation of the Iron Curtain, several U.S. presidents and other Western leaders have stood by the bleak, grafitti-covered structure to denounce the repression it has come to symbolize.
Kennedy, after succesfully facing down the Soviets in the 1963 Berlin airlift, traveled to the divided city to declare, ''Ich bin ein Berliner.''
In June 1987 President Ronald Reagan stood by the Wall's Brandenburg Gate and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ''tear down'' the wall.
French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac told Honecker during the East German's visit to Paris Jan. 8, 1988, that the Wall should be toppled like the ''useless and ridiculous'' fortifications that once surrounded Europe's medieval cities.
''We do not want a Europe bristling with barbed wire, we do not want a Europe closed off into compartments,'' Chirac said.