Wednesday, June 11, 2014

27 Years Later: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Ronald Reagan's speech is famous. He said, “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!” 

After World War II, the control of Germany and its capitol Berlin was split between four countries: the Soviet Union, the U. K., France, and the United States. Eventually, the latter three sections combined to create “West Germany” and the Soviet controlled section was labeled “East Germany.” West Germany flourished and had a great economy with many personal freedoms for its citizens. East Germany on the other hand, had an increasingly poor economy and gave little political power to its citizens. The young professionals of East Germany wanted more. To stop its citizens from immigrating en masse to the west, East Berlin erected a wall, overnight and without warning, between the two countries in August 1961. There would be no more immigration. Those on the east side of the wall were trapped. The wall became a No Man’s land, complete with landmines, dogs, and soldiers ready to shoot anyone who attempted to cross.

Construction of the wall between East and West Germany.

President Ronald Reagan gave his speech asking the Soviet government to tear down the wall on June 12, 1987 in West Berlin, 100 feet away from the concrete abomination which had separated families and loved ones for decades. White House wordsmiths and the State Department had disliked the controversial tone of the speech for weeks, but Reagan decided, almost at the last minute, to keep it in. At the time, the reaction to the speech was mixed. The Soviets declared it as warmongering while others, like the worried State Department officials, thought it too controversial. Nevertheless, the speech became a landmark symbol for the fall of the Soviet Union and the emancipation of East Berlin. It bolstered pro-democracy sentiments and movements in East Germany and is considered one reason why the Berlin Wall was destroyed only two years later. The wall was broken down by the citizens of Germany, East and West, and is now contained in fragments in homes and museums, such as the Museum of World Treasures.

Ronald Reagan gave his speech only 100 feet away from the wall.

President Reagan said in his speech, “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." Click here to watch the full speech.

This piece of the wall is on display at the Museum of World Treasures.

The Museum has a piece of the wall on loan from the American Overseas Schools Historical Society. This piece is located on the first floor due to its height and weight.  It is too tall and too heavy to sit on the second floor near a more relevant exhibit. The piece has some remarkable graffiti, illustrating West Berlin’s dream that friends and family from the East would someday break through or send a message using a kite. For more information about the Berlin Wall, please visit the Museum or contact us at 316.263.1311.

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