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Ronald Reagan visits West Berlin

In the ideological struggle that was the Cold War, East Germans voted the only way they could: with their feet. By the thousands each month, they escaped communist rule by slipping into the West through Berlin. In 1961, the East German government built a wall to keep them in. The Berlin Wall became both a barrier and a symbol of the differences between West and East, between democracy and communism. On Nov. 9, 1989, after floods of East Germans had left via third countries, the Berlin Wall came down, paving the way to German reunification.

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To U.S. president Ronald Reagan, the Berlin Wall is an "ugly scar" symbolizing the lack of freedom not just for East Berliners, but for all of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Reagan has come to the Brandenburg Gate to address thousands of cheering West Berliners. As seen in this CBC-TV clip, some of Reagan's words are directed squarely at Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev - words that will later be credited with changing history.
  "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."

• In a column for the Wall Street Journal 20 years after Reagan's Berlin speech, his daughter, Patti Davis, wrote that both the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council vehemently opposed Reagan's entreaty to Gorbachev. "They called it crude, unduly provocative, even unkind," wrote Davis. "They argued that to speak about tearing down the wall would give Berliners false hope."

• Reagan's own diaries made no mention of the line from the speech or its inspiration. His diary entry for June 12, 1987 notes: "I addressed tens and tens of thousands of people stretching as far as I could see. I got a tremendous reception - interrupted 28 times by cheers."

• In 2007 the American ambassador in West Germany at the time, John Kornblum, wrote: "In the days and weeks following the event, neither the American nor the European press treated the speech as an especially noteworthy event. Neither, of course, did the Soviets. It was only after November 1989, when the Soviet Empire began to crumble, that the world began to honour President Reagan's challenge as a harbinger of change... Almost overnight, the 1987 speech was resurrected as proof of the American spirit that had made reunification possible."

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1987
Reporter: Joe Schlesinger
Duration: 2:38

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

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