Reagan challenges Gorbachev to break the Berlin Wall (June 12, 1987) - History Key

Reagan challenges Gorbachev to break the Berlin Wall (June 12, 1987)

This day in history in 1987 the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, held a speech in Berlin, on the occasion of the city’s 750th birthday. During the speech, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to “tear down the wall” that divided Germany into two parts, a democratic Germany and a communist Germany.

The Berlin Wall Map
The Berlin Wall Map © CC BY-SA 3.0 / Image Source: Wikipedia

We don’t need no education

Part of the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall has been a barrier of separation between West Berlin and the German Democratic Republic for more than 27 years. The existence of the wall has led to significant decrease in emigration, from 2.5 million between 1949 and 1962 to only 5,000 between 1962 and 1989.

This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir
This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir © Image Source: galerie-noir.de

The Wall was a propaganda disaster for East Germany and the whole Communist bloc. It gained the symbol of the communist tyranny, insistently displayed on the western world especially after the shooting of escaped persons or simply of the persons who tried to get on the other side.

A memorial to those who could not cross the Berlin Wall alive stood for ten months in 2004 and 2005 near Checkpoint Charlie
A memorial to those who could not cross the Berlin Wall alive stood for ten months in 2004 and 2005 near Checkpoint Charlie © Image Source: Wikipedia

Political liberalization at the end of the 80s, coupled with the decline of the Soviet Union, led to the relaxation of restrictions for the crossing of the Eastern German border. The liberalization led also to mass demonstrations and finally the fall of the Communist government.  By the end of 1989, the Wall was eventually completely destroyed which was the first step towards the reunification of Germany. It was formally concluded on October 3, 1990.

Third time’s a charm

Ronald Reagan had addressed the issue of Berlin Wall several times. In 1982 he stated “Why is the wall there?” and in 1986 said “I call upon those responsible to dismantle it today!” Probably he thought, the third time’s a charm. As many discussions are related if Reagan really had a critical role into unification of Germany, many historians sustain that with or without Reagan, the wall’s destiny was finally the same.

Ronald Reagan speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987
Ronald Reagan speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 © Image Source: Wikipedia

The speech was also considered a bad move within the Reagan administration, considering that might cause further tensions. Reagan and Gorbachev had built a good relationship during those years and this speech was a risky one. However, Reagan made what he thought was right and held the speech

“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!”

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