Reagan dares Gorbachev: Tear down the Berlin Wall
Stars and Stripes June 13, 1987
BERLIN — President Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate Friday and issued a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
"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," Reagan said to cheers and applause.
"Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
His speech came during a five-hour visit following the economic summit in Venice, Italy.
Before Reagan spoke in front of a bullet-proof glass shield only yards from the graffiti-covered wall, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl addressed the crowd, saying it was a shame Berliners were celebrating Berlin's 750th anniversary in a divided city.
"The wall, barbed wire and orders to shoot display their inhumanity in this birthday year," Kohl said. "We never came to terms with it in the past, we won't do it today, nor tomorrow."
Kohl and Reagan spoke to a flag waving crowd estimated by police at between 15,000 and 20,000 people, most of whom were standing on the 17th of June Street. The boulevard is named in memory of the East German uprising that began on June 17, 1953, in Berlin. June 17 is now a West German holiday known as the Day of German Unity.
Reagan called for more involvement between the two sides of the city and suggested that Berlin — both East and West — host a future Olympics. The president also suggested using Berlin as a center for international conferences and gatherings under auspices of organizations such as the United Nations.
"We look forward to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in Central Europe," Reagan said in expressing his desire to open up strictly regulated airspace over West Berlin.
Reagan sent a special message to those listening by radio or television from East Berlin. Like John Kennedy in 1963, Reagan spoke briefly in German as he embraced "this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin." There is only one Berlin.
"Today I say: 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," Reagan said of the concrete and barbed wire barrier that has divided East and West Berlin for 26 years.
"Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith. It cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."
Anti-Reagan demonstrators ran through downtown West Berlin and Kreuzberg on a night before the president's visit. Police reported 77 people were arrested and 67 police injured, one with a concussion.
Several stores were looted and at least one automobile was torched by demonstrators who erected barricades on some streets.
Reagan addressed the demonstrators at the conclusion of his speech.
"To those who demonstrate so, I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they're doing again."
Referring to his visit here five years ago and the demonstrations accompanying it, Reagan said the firm position taken by the United States and its European allies toward recalcitrant Russian attempts at an arms settlement was the main reason the Soviets were ready to return to the arms negotiation table.
"East and West do not mistrust each other because we're armed, we're armed because we mistrust each other," Reagan said.
"I invite those who protested then — I invite those who protest today — to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating for the first time an entire class of nuclear weapons."
The Soviet Union and the United States are discussing the elimination of short-range and medium-range missiles from Europe.
The president spoke for about 25 minutes under tight security that included halting subway traffic underneath where he was speaking and closing off streets through the Tiergarten section of the city.
Many Americans were in the invitation-only crowd, and for most of them, it meant a three-hour wait.
Judy Brown, a 27-year-old native of Dallas whose husband is stationed with the U.S. Army in Berlin, waited on crutches. She twisted her ankle getting on a subway the previous night but said, "I just determined I wanted to come see the president. I had everything planned."
Army Sgt Larry Reese said he was pleased by Reagan's remarks and called the challenge to the wall the tear down speech's highlight. "He said some pretty strong words," said Reese, who is with Hq Co, Berlin Brigade.
Susanne Pofahl, a 25-year-old Berliner, said, "I think it's super that (Reagan), along with us Berliners, would ask that the wall be removed."