Primary Source

Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin


On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a major speech on the Cold War with the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall as a back drop. In staging this speech, President Reagan hoped to draw a parallel with the historic speech delivered in Berlin by President John F. Kennedy in July 1963. It was in this speech that President Kennedy spoke the famous phrase: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner "I am a Berliner]." In Reagan's 1987 talk, he recalled this famous speech and added his own historic phrase: "Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

This source is a part of the Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate teaching module.


Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin
June 12, 1987

Thank you very much. Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and
gentlemen: Twenty four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to
the people of this city and the world at the city hall. Well, since then two other presidents
have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your

We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it's our duty to speak, in this place,
of freedom. But I must confess, we're drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling
of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of
the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination.
Perhaps the composer, Paul Lincke, understood something about American Presidents.
You see, like so many Presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go,
whatever I do: "Ich hab noch einen koffer in Berlin." [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I
understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening
throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the
American people. To those listening in East Berlin, a special word: Although I cannot be
with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me.
For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable
belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

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 guardtowers.
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

President von Weizsacker has said: "The German question is open as long as the
Brandenburg Gate is closed." 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. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find
in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of (Pg. 635)

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air raid shelters
to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out
to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State--as you've been told-George Marshall announced
the creation of what would become known as the Marshall plan. Speaking precisely 40
years ago this month, he said: "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine,
but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos."

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th
anniversary of the Marshall plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure
that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember
seeing signs like it dotted throughout the Western sectors of the city. The sign read
simply: "The Marshall plan is helping here to strengthen the free world." A strong, free
world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic
giant. Italy, France, Belgium--virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and
economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the
Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical
importance of liberty--that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given
freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman
enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade,
lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and
Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest
industrial output of any city in Germany-busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments,
proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of park land. Where a city's culture seemed to
have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera,
countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there's abundance--food,
clothing, automobiles-the wonderful goods of the Ku'damm. From devastation, from utter
ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the
greatest on Earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But, my friends, there were a
few things the Soviets didn't count on Berliner herz, Berliner humor, ja, und Berliner
schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner schnauze.] [Laughter]

In the 1950's, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a
free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all
human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness,
declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even
today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there
stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to
prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and
peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the
importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and
openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts
are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate
with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in
the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or
to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness;
for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty
can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance
dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. 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!

I understand the fear of war and the pain (Pg. 636) of division that afflict this continent--
and I pledge to you my country's efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we
in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable
strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides. Beginning
10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat,
hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of-striking every
capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a
counterdeployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the
elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to
bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its
counterdeployment, there were difficult days--days of protests like those during my 1982
visit to this city--and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then--I invite
those who protest today--to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came
back to the table. And 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 from the face of the Earth. As I speak, NATO
ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating
these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic
offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to
reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity
to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with
many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative-research
to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly
defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these
means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember
a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are
armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but
about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago,
freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon
this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth.
Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic
growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place--a
revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom.
Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet
Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete.
Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with
the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a
safer, freer world.

And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to
make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the
strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of
1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to
seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and
develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is
permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the
city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that
come with life in one of the great cities of the world. To open Berlin still further to (Pg.
637) all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways
of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and
more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief
aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring
international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of
United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other
issues that call for international cooperation. There is no better way to establish hope for
the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer
youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East.
Our French and British friends, I'm certain, will do the same. And it's my hope that an
authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and
ennoblement, and you many have noted that the Republic of Korea--South Korea-has
offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North.
International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city.
And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in
some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West?

In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You've done so
in spite of threats--the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the
city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What
keeps you here? Certainly there's a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your
defiant courage. But I believe there's something deeper, something that involves Berlin's
whole look and feel and way of life--not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin
without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the
difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and
proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human
energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that
says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that
what keeps you in Berlin is love--love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all
between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does
such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship.
The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago,
before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure:
the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been
working to correct what they view as the tower's one major flaw, treating the glass sphere
at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the Sun strikes
that sphere--that sphere that towers over all Berlin--the light makes the sign of the cross.
There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I
noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, "This
wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it
cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned
since I've been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to
say just one thing, and 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.

Thank you and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. at the Brandenburg Gate. In his opening
remarks (Pg. 638) , he referred to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Prior to his
remarks, President Reagan met with West German President Richard von Weizsacker and
the Governing Mayor of West Berlin Eberhard Diepgen at Schloss Bellevue, President
Weizsacker's official residence in West Berlin. Following the meeting, President Reagan
went to the Reichstag, where he viewed the Berlin Wall from the East Balcony.


Ronald Reagan, “Remarks on East-West Relations,” speech, Bradenburg Gate, West Berlin, June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan Library, Speeches, Reagan Library (accessed February 12, 2008).

How to Cite This Source

"Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin," in World History Commons, [accessed February 22, 2024]