On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a formal address to the people of West Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a once proud symbol of German unity. At the time, a wall surrounding West Berlin separated the city from East Berlin and other areas of East Germany. The barrier, known as the Berlin Wall, was heavily guarded and East Germany’s Communist government did not allow its people access to West Berlin. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the tyranny that restrained freedom and individual liberty throughout the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe.
Because of the gate’s proximity to East Berlin, Reagan’s speech could be heard on the Eastern side of the wall as well. In his remarks, he spoke of the increasing divide between the freedom and prosperity of the West and the political slavery of Communist Eastern Europe, dominated at the time by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Reagan imagined a world in which East and West were united in freedom rather than oppression. He believed that ultimately totalitarianism and oppression could not suppress the freedoms that are entitled to all individuals. Reagan’s direct challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, saying “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization…Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” is considered by many to have affirmed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist stronghold over Eastern Europe.
…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. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same—still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. 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….
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!