Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate

By President Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was an American actor and politician who served as the 40th President of the
United States (1981-1989). On June 12, 1987, Reagan delivered this famous speech in Berlin, praising the
resilience of the people of Berlin and advocating for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, which had divided the
capital since 1961. The Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of the Cold War, separating families and forcing a
comparison between socialist and capitalist ideals. The wall did ultimately come down two years after the
speech in 1989. As you read, take notes on the audience that Reagan speaks to and the points he makes to
justify his argument.

Thank you. Thank you, very much.
Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies
and gentlemen: Twenty-four years ago, President
John F. Kennedy1
visited Berlin, and 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 city.
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 Linke, 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.2
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

  1. John F. Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in
  2. His administration coincided with a number of significant Cold War events, such as the building of
    the Berlin Wall.
  3. Referring to East Berlin, which is currently still Communist.
    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 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 totalitarian3
    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.
    President Von Weizsäcker has said, “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.”
    Well today — 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.4
    For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a
    message of triumph.
    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
    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 a sign — 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.6
    Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty — that just as truth can
  4. A system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and gives complete control to the state.
  5. Lament (verb) to express grief, regret, or sorrow
  6. The Marshall Plan was an American initiative designed to support and foster economic growth in war-torn,
    devastated Europe following WWII.
  7. Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) is a term that describes the rapid reconstruction and development
    of the post-war economies of West Germany and Austria. It is also referred to as The Miracle on the Rhine.
    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 — the German leaders reduced
    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
    parkland. 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. Now 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.]
    In the 1950s — In the 1950s Khrushchev8
    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
    and peace. Freedom is the victor.
    And now — 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
    enterprises10 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 — 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.
  8. Tariff (noun) a tax to be paid on a particular class of imports or exports
  9. Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964. He led the de￾Stalinization of the Soviet Union and was generally responsible for many (relatively) liberal reforms Soviet
    domestic policy.
  10. courtesy and considerate behavior towards others; an association of nations for their mutual benefit (i.e.
  11. Enterprise (noun) a project or undertaking, typically one that is difficult or requires effort; a business or
    General Secretary Gorbachev,11 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 — Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
    I understand the fear of war and the pain 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 unassailable12 strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both
    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 counter-deployment (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 counter-deployment, 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. 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, NATO13 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 deterrence14 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.15 And today, despite
  12. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (b. 1931) was a former Soviet statesman and former General Secretary of
    the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, when said party and union was dissolved.
  13. Unassailable (adjective) unable to be attacked, questioned, or defeated
  14. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of North American and European countries to provide
    a collective defense and promote peace.
  15. Deterrence (noun) the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the
    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
    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.16
    [30] 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
    To open Berlin still further to 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 — With our French — 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
    [35] 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 sectors.
    One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you
    may have noted that the Republic of Korea — South Korea — has offered to permit certain events of the 1988
  16. Siege (noun) a military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential
  17. Obsolete (adjective) no longer used; out of date
    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,17 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.18
    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
    [40] Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular19 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 suppressed.
    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 (quote):
    “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.
  18. Fortitude (noun) courage in pain or adversity; resilience
  19. Abiding (adjective) enduring
  20. Secular (adjective) having no religious or spiritual basis
    [45] Thank you and God bless you all. Thank you.
    “President Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate” from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library by President
    Ronald Reagan (1987) is in the public domain.
    Unless otherwise noted, this content is licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
    Discussion Questions
    Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to share
    your original ideas in a class discussion.
  21. In your own words, what did the Berlin Wall represent to the United States? Why were they so
    invested in this structure that existed in the middle of one city in Germany?
  22. What might have happened if the wall didn’t come down? Consider American history involving postwar Germany and the Soviet Union, as well as general American values, in your answer.
  23. How did the German people likely respond to Reagan’s speech? How did the Soviets respond? What
    change did Reagan’s speech bring about, if any? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience,
    and other literature, art, or history in your answer.