On November 10, 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech in which he demanded that the Western powers of the United States, Great Britain, and France pull their forces out of West Berlin within six months. This ultimatum sparked a three-year crisis over the future of the city of Berlin that culminated in 1961 with the Berlin Wall building.
The division of Germany and its capital city of Berlin among the four victors of the Second World War was frozen in time by the Cold War’s onset despite the postwar agreements to unify the zones.
West Berlin remained under western control, but it was located deep inside East German territory, and that made its protection from communist takeover a constant challenge for the western powers. In 1948, the Soviet Union sparked a city crisis by cutting off land access between West Germany and West Berlin, necessitating a year-long airlift of supplies to the stranded citizens before the Soviets reopened the passageways. By 1958, however, a similar situation would have doomed the city; it was already too populous and too prosperous to be supplied via air.