BERLIN WALL-BEHIND THE SCENES
Peter Robinson
Speechwriter


On June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate rising behind him, to deliver a speech I had drafted. "General Secretary Gorbachev," the president said, "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!"

Back in Washington a few weeks earlier, the State Department and National Security Council had objected to this passage, arguing that it would sound unduly provocative. Yet when I asked the president what message he wanted to convey to the East--conducting research in Berlin, I had learned that listeners throughout East Germany would be able to hear the speech on their radios--Reagan singled out this part of the draft.

"That wall has to come down," the president replied. "That's what I'd like to say to them." The State Department and National Security Council made repeated attempts to strike the passage; the president overruled them. A year-and-a-half after Reagan delivered the address, the Berlin Wall came down.

This may sound like an odd admission, but for years afterward I wondered whether President Reagan's Berlin Wall address had really mattered. Only a single piece of evidence that the speech had produced any practical results ever came to my attention. At lunch in the White House mess a week after the speech, a member of the National Security Council staff told me that our intelligence services had picked up unusual cable traffic between Moscow and East Germany.

The Soviets, the cable traffic showed, wanted the East Germans to make the Berlin Wall less offensive to the West, opening more checkpoints or easing travel restrictions on people who wanted to visit their relatives. "Each generation of Soviet leaders," said the NSC staffer, who after opposing the Berlin Wall address had changed his mind about it, "needs to be reminded that the wall is a public relations disaster." I'd have called the wall an affront to human decency, not just a public relations disaster, but I understood what he meant.

Yet that was all I'd ever heard. A suggestion that the speech might have prompted some cable traffic. After that, nothing.

Then I returned to Berlin.

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Andrew J. Littlefair
Office of Presidential Advance


I had the pleasure of being the lead Advance in charge of the Berlin. Our team spent over three weeks preparing for the President’s visit. I remember on the pre-advance we went onto the balcony of the Reichstag and peered over the Wall. There was a desire by the President to look into East Berlin; beyond the barbed wire, dogs and the Wall, to dramatize the difference between freedom and repression. We negotiated with the Secret Service and discussed the type of bullet proof glass that would be necessary to ensure the President’s safety.

The main event was the President’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate. We designed the stage with a glass backdrop so the Wall could be seen. With a couple of days to go, it was clear that the East Germans were becoming uncomfortable. During the late afternoons, hundreds, if not thousands, of young people could be seen in East Berlin trying to get a peek at what was going to happen. The East Germans placed large speakers to drown out the sound of our event – at least on their side of the wall.

As I remember it, we had a crowd of 20,000 or more. The President was in top form as he delivered his famous words: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. I remember looking up and noticing how Chancellor Helmut Kohl seemed to be taking great delight in the reception being given to the President’s remarks.

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Jack Courtemanche
Chief-of-Staff to Mrs. Ronald Reagan


I will never forget this day. We were on advance trip in preparation for President Reagans visit to Berlin. At the time I was the Chief of Staff for Mrs. Reagan. This day we visited the wall and the NATO troops that were guarding the wall. We interviewed a number of the patrol and they told us stories about East Germans trying to get over the wall and being pulled off the wall, etc. We also had opportunity to visit East Berlin and see the condition and contrast from West Berlin. Unbelievable the contrast between the conditions on either side of this wall.

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Ray Shaddick
Special Agent in Charge, United States Secret Service


It was a cool, overcast day on June 12, 1987, when the President, Mrs. Reagan and entourage arrived at the Reichstag. The party entered the building and went to a balcony that had a superb view of the wall and East Berlin. After a brief discussion with members of the White House staff, we departed the Reichstag and moved a short distance to the Brandenburg Gate where the President then made his speech in front of two sections of bulletproof glass. As far as one could see down the main street, approximately 50,000 people had gathered to witness the historical event.

As I understood the political significance at the time, the Brandenburg Gate site was chosen to highlight President Reagan’s conviction that Western democracy offered the best hope to open the Berlin Wall. I do recall some controversy among the White House staff about saying anything that might exacerbate East-West tensions or embarrass Gorbachev. We all know that the President prevailed.

PI consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be on the dais (second row, dais left) during this historical event. As Agent in Charge of Presidential Protection Division and first responder to any threat situation, the festivities were far removed from my psyche. I was unable to capture the full impact that led up to the President’s final request – “Mr. Gorbachev , open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.

About two and one-half years later Gorbachev acquiesced and let Berliners destroy the wall. In January 2008, I attended a Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and as I was touring the library grounds, I observed a large section of the Berlin Wall that provided a flashback to that very special day in June 1987..

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Tom Griscom
Assistant to the President, Communications and Planning


Sen.. Baker, the president’s chief of staff, asked me to come down the hall to his office in the West Wing. Entering his office, he was sitting with Secretary of State George Shultz. The conversation quickly moved to removing the lines from the president’s speech that referenced tearing down the Berlin Wall. The State Department had made several attempts during the vetting process to either remove the lines or greatly water them down. The point that was made - the statement would be viewed as an affront by Mr. Gorbachev and set back the work that had been done to normalize relations. I responded that having heard the president deliver the line on several occasions, there was no doubt of the potential impact. But it was none the less daunting as a communication director in his thirties to be responding to the questions of the chief of staff and the secretary of state.

Move ahead about a week as President Reagan stood on the platform at the Brandenburg Gate. I was following every word, waiting for him to reach the line on tearing down the wall. President Reagan came to the passage. He appeared to slightly stand taller and he delivered it. A hush spread across the thousands gathered at the Gate and then applause broke out among those amassed at the Gate. There was little doubt that the message rang true.

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