The speech that helped bring down the Berlin Wall

Ronald Reagan waving, with East German flag behind him on other side of gate (© Ira Schwartz/AP Images)
President Reagan acknowledges the crowd after his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, June 12, 1987. (© Ira Schwartz/AP Images)

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.” So said President Reagan, addressing the Soviet general secretary at the Brandenburg Gate, near the Berlin Wall. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Reagan’s stark challenge to tear down the Berlin Wall gave shape to increasing international pressure on Moscow to make good on its promises of openness and reform. The wall, which had become a symbol of Soviet oppression, came down two years later, on November 9, 1989.

To honor the 30th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo unveiled a statue of Ronald Reagan at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin during his visit to Germany this week.

Peter Robinson, who wrote Reagan’s “tear down this wall” line, said his team knew what tone worked for the president: clarity, a sense of vision and a moral purpose.

Robinson also knew that sometimes great speechwriting requires breaking rules and following your instincts. Robinson had been advised by numerous diplomats not to mention the Berlin Wall in the speech. In spite of the advice, he left the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in every draft.