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"Tear Down This Wall!" - President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate


On Friday, June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered what has come to be remembered as his “Berlin Wall” Speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Germany. Standing nearly a dozen feet tall and completely encircling West Berlin, the Berlin Wall was erected by the communist government of the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union in 1961. Principally built to prevent East Germans from escaping the communist system by fleeing to West Berlin, the Berlin Wall had divided the historic German city for nearly 26 years at the time of President Reagan’s speech. In the midst of the Cold War, it served as one of the most visible symbols of the worldwide struggle between communism and democracy.

Standing roughly 100 yards from the wall and protected by two panes of bulletproof glass, Reagan famously called the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to action. As President Reagan put it, “Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. . . . Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar. . . . As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. . . . 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!”

President Ronald Reagan's "Berlin Wall" Speech on June 12, 1987. Skip to around 11:15 to watch the president's most famous lines from the speech. (Video Credit: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

Roughly two-and-a-half years after President Reagan’s stirring words at the Brandenburg Gate, the barrier that had long separated East and West Berlin finally opened up after the head of the East German Communist party announced that its citizens could freely cross the border. On November 8, 1989, East and West Germans joyously met hand in hand at the wall. With hammers and picks, some began the process of erasing this painful “scar" of division. Less than a year later, East and West Germany officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Sources

Encyclopædia Britannica: "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!" - Reagan's Berlin Speech.

History.com: Berlin Wall.

History.com: President Reagan to Gorbachev: "Tear down this wall."

History.com: The Myth that Reagan Ended the Cold War With a Single Speech.

National Archives: "Tear Down This Wall."

The New York Times: A Look Back at Reagan's Berlin Wall Speech, 30 Years Later.

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