Tear Down This Wall

Tear Down This Wall

President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 exhortation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall was a visceral response to a monstrosity.  In the mid-1980s, through glasnost—openness and freedom—and perestroika—economic restructuring—Gorbachev had demonstrated willingness to loosen government strangleholds in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including East Germany. While his openness was praised in the West, he met resistance from East German leader Erich Honecker and his regime.  The incipient freedoms Gorbachev encouraged in Eastern Europe and Germany led to an unforeseen outcome on November 9, 1989 when the Wall fell. 

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

—President Ronald Reagan

Tear Down This Wall

President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 exhortation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall was a visceral response to a monstrosity.  In the mid-1980s, through glasnost—openness and freedom—and perestroika—economic restructuring—Gorbachev had demonstrated willingness to loosen government strangleholds in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including East Germany. While his openness was praised in the West, he met resistance from East German leader Erich Honecker and his regime.  The incipient freedoms Gorbachev encouraged in Eastern Europe and Germany led to an unforeseen outcome on November 9, 1989 when the Wall fell. 

Tear Down This Wall

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall
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President Ronald Reagan

“The new is knocking”

“The new is knocking”

By the 1980s the Quadripartite Agreement of 1971 enabled more legal border crossings, including thousands of East Germans working in the West. Gorbachev, in expressing hope, said, “It is not easy to change the approaches on which East-West relations have been built for fifty years. But the new is knocking on every door and window.” U.S. political officer Jonathan Greenwald took a cue from Gorbachev, reporting that in East Germany he was contemplating changes “from the top, the kinds of changes Gorbachev was trying to institute in the Soviet Union.”

Pro-Solidarity banners are held aloft by the participants of a workers' pilgrimage in southern Poland.

Polish Pro-Solidarity Pilgrimage

Polish Pro-Solidarity Pilgrimage

Pro-Solidarity banners are held aloft by the participants of a workers' pilgrimage in southern Poland. Solidarity was a non-communist trade union promoting broad social agenda and free elections. The slogans read: "Bread of Freedom - Solidarnosc (Solidarity)" or "Can We? We Can. Polish Perestroika."
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, left, smiles alongside East German General First Secretary Erich Honecker during their 1981 meeting in East Germany

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, left, smiles alongside East German General First Secretary Erich Honecker during their 1981 meeting in East Germany. U.S. diplomat G. Jonathan Greenwald, East Berlin, described how Honecker only visited West Berlin six years later.
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AP

U.S. diplomat J.D. Bindenagel, East Berlin, 1996

J.D. Bindenagel, Deputy Chief of Mission, East Berlin

J.D. Bindenagel, Deputy Chief of Mission, East Berlin

U.S. diplomat J.D. Bindenagel, East Berlin, pictured here in 1996, commented on the antagonism in 1989 between Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and East German General Secretary Erich Honecker.
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Courtesy of J.D. Bindenagel

President Ronald Reagan delivers “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall” speech

President Ronald Reagan delivers “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall” speech

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Red Square, Moscow

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Red Square, Moscow

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Red Square, Moscow

U.S. President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right) stand alone during their impromptu walk in Red Square in Moscow. Although U.S.-Soviet relations were strained in the late 1980s, the two established good personal rapport.
Mikhail Gorbachev visits Bonn, West Germany

Mikhail Gorbachev visits Bonn, West Germany

Mikhail Gorbachev visits Bonn, West Germany

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, center left, shakes hands with German student Annette Lang, and received two coins from her as a symbol of Soviet-West German relations.

Air Beginning to Rise

Air Beginning to Rise

In September 1989, communist Hungary opened its border to Austria and some 50,000 East Germans who were permitted to travel to their communist neighbors crossed to freedom. Later thousands seeking asylum in Prague and Warsaw rode trains to the West. The 40 year celebration of the East German regime brought Gorbachev to Berlin. Urging Honecker to accept reforms, Gorbachev warned, “Life punishes those who come too late.” Meanwhile, after Honecker resigned, the world became aware of East Germany’s fragile and overextended economic state.
President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker honored

President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker honored

President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker honored

Hungarian Premier Miklos Nemeth presents President George H. W. Bush (left) and Secretary of State James Baker (right) with inscribed plaques containing a section of barbed wire removed from the Hungarian-Austrian border.
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Official White House Photograph

Removal of the "Iron Curtain" at the Czechoslovakia and West German border

Removal of the “Iron Curtain” at the Czechoslovakia and West German border

Removal of the “Iron Curtain” at the Czechoslovakia and West German border

Citizens of Czechoslovakia and West Germany gleefully take apart a section of the "Iron Curtain" that separated their countries in Waidhaus, West Germany.
New leader of East Germany Egon Krenz

New leader of East Germany Egon Krenz

New leader of East Germany Egon Krenz

Egon Krenz waves to the public in East Berlin six days after replacing Erich Honecker as East German leader and head of Communist Socialist Unity Party.
German police guard the U.S. Embassy to East Berlin

German police guard the U.S. Embassy to East Berlin

German police guard the U.S. Embassy to East Berlin

A long line of East German police guard the U.S. Embassy to East Berlin, Oct. 4, 1989, to prevent more East Germans from entering the building. Eighteen East Germans had fled there in search of freedom in the West in the previous five days.
Young man holding a photo of Mikhail Gorbachev

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

Many in East Germany, like this young man here carrying the photo of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989, sought hope in the Soviet leader’s reforms. U.S. diplomat G. Jonathan Greenwald, East Berlin, remembered the anticipation of change around him in the months before the Wall fell.
Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, left, and East German General Secretary Erich Honecker

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

Although this photo shows apparent cheer between Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, left, and East German General Secretary Erich Honecker, the two held divergent views on the future goals of communism. U.S. diplomat G. Jonathan Greenwald, East Berlin, observed the lack of leadership that contributed to East Germany’s collapse.

Agents of Change

Agents of Change

For decades the Protestant church movement had been the political conscience of East Germany, but by September 1989 diplomat G. Jonathan Greenwald observed it coalescing into a political movement. Monday night services in Leipzig grew into Monday demonstrations, expanding to more than 100,000 protesters, pressuring a sickly Honecker to resign. Before the Wall’s demise on November 9, Leipzig protesters numbered 500,000. On November 4, an estimated 1,000,000 demonstrated in East Berlin, unaware of the momentous change to come just five days later.
Photo of the 1981 consecration of an East German Evangelical church in East Germany

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

G. Jonathan Greenwald, Political Counselor, East Berlin

This photo presents the 1981 consecration of an East German Evangelical church in East Germany. U.S. diplomat G. Jonathan Greenwald, East Berlin, stressed the leadership of the church in organizing in East German social protests.
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National Archives and Records Administration

Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

East German demonstrators showing the victory sign during a demonstration in the city of Leipzig, Oct. 2, 1989. More than 20,000 people took part in the demonstration for democratic reforms in their country.
Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

Monday demonstration in Leipzig, East Germany

East German demonstrators carrying a banner which reads "NEW FORUM, NEW HOPE" during a peaceful protest march in downtown Leipzig Oct. 30, 1989. More than 300,000 East Germans took part in the demonstration for political reforms.
Students appear here at a 1982 Peace Forum in Dresden, East Germany, displaying a universally recognized sign for peace

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

Students appear here at a 1982 Peace Forum in Dresden, East Germany, displaying a universally recognized sign for peace. Ambassador Richard Barkley, East Berlin, described how the church movement affected the East German government.
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National Archives and Records Administration

November 9

November 9

When East Berlin police withdrew at the Wall that night, diplomacy helped secure people’s safety. West Berlin’s mayor, Walter Momper, fearing a stampede, contacted U.S. diplomat, Minister Harold Gilmore, who was in charge of West Berlin, his monthly rotation with Allies Britain and France having begun that November. Making a command decision, Gilmore mobilized West Berlin police immediately instead of following a lengthy command chain with potentially fatal consequences, sensibly enabling West Berlin police to direct the throngs.

Despite the Wall’s brutal history of death and repression, that night no one fired shots or turned loose the dogs. Berliners flocked to the Wall in the dark, and in days ahead amazed and awed that this dreadful symbol of repression was crumbling. Peacefully gathered celebrants danced and played music, chipped at the hated concrete or scaled to the top, raising their arms in victory.
A man atop the Wall raises his arms in triumph in 1989 as people below surge through a breach in the barricade.

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

A man atop the Wall raises his arms in triumph in 1989 as people below surge through a breach in the barricade. Ambassador Richard Barkley, East Berlin, described the disbelief and amazement of many in the crowd.
German newspaper B.Z. announcing fall of Berlin Wall

German newspaper B.Z. announcing fall of Berlin Wall

German newspaper B.Z. announcing fall of Berlin Wall

Headline in English: The wall is down; Berlin is again Berlin.
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Collections of the National Museum of American Diplomacy (Photo by Alex Jamison)

People lined the top of the Wall in 1989 with the Brandenburg Gate in the background as a crowd gathered below

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

Richard C. Barkley, Ambassador, German Democratic Republic

People lined the top of the Wall in 1989 with the Brandenburg Gate in the background as a crowd gathered below. Ambassador Richard Barkley, East Berlin, recalled how people responded to the startling news that they could freely cross the Wall.
T-shirt with screened image of artistic rendering of the front page of the Washington Post, November 10, 1989.

Short-sleeved T-shirt

Short-sleeved T-shirt

T-shirt with screened image of artistic rendering of the front page of the Washington Post, Nov. 10, 1989. Popular culture was quick to proclaim the exciting events in Berlin.
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Collections of the National Museum of American Diplomacy (Photo by Alex Jamison)

East Germans shopping in West Berlin

East Germans shopping in West Berlin

East Germans shopping in West Berlin

The Kurfuerstendamm Boulevard, the main shopping thorougfare, in West Berlin is crowded with people as hundreds of thousands came over from East Germany for shopping and sightseeing.
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