Little Bits of History

June 12

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 12, 2017

1987: US President Ronald Reagan gives a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. Between 1961 and 1989, a barrier wall was part of the Berlin landscape. Construction began on August 13, 1961 by the German Democratic Republic. The Berlin Wall separated West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and East Berlin. The wall grew with time until it stretched 96 miles and was 11.8 feet high at the concrete segments. Guard towers were included and looked over the “death strip” – an area patrolled to keep anyone from exiting from the Eastern Bloc into the free west. Before the Wall went up, 3.5 million East Germans escaped across the border between Eastern and Western Germany.

Reagan, President from 1981 to 1989, addressed the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and later President of the Soviet Union on this day. But this was not Reagan’s first request to bring down the wall. In June 1982 while visiting West Berlin, he first posed the question as to why the wall was even needed. In 1986, after the Wall had stood for a quarter of a century, a West German newspaper posed a question to the President and asked for a timeline for dismantling the Wall. Reagan answered, “I call upon those responsible to dismantle it [today]”.

On June 11, 1987, about 50,000 people had demonstrated against Reagan and his presence, once again, in Berlin. While he was there, large portions of the city were closed off to prevent more anti-Reagan rallies. But it wasn’t just Germans upset with the outspoken President. Within his own administration, there were several senior staff members who were against his bringing up the Wall issue again as it might worsen already tense East-West relations. It was thought Reagan might offend
Gorbachev after years of attempting to create a better relationship between both the leaders and the countries they led. Speechwriters were told to leave the now iconic phrase in the speech.

Reagan arrived in Berlin earlier in the day. He and Nancy Reagan were taken to the Reichstag where they could see the wall from the balcony. At 2 PM, while standing in front of two panes of bulletproof glass, Reagan challenged his Soviet opponent to tear down the wall. The speech also called for an end to the arms race between the two nations. While it received little press at the time and was considered to be “absurd” or “openly provocative, war-mongering speech”, the Wall did eventually fall. Little if any credit goes to Reagan or this speech, but rather it was a series of political changes which allowed for the dismantling of the wall as well as what it stood for.

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’

Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. – all from Ronald Reagan

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