Ronald Reagan picture

"Berlin - A Very Special Place for America," an Article by the President Published in Die Welt

May 23, 1984

Berlin is a very special place for me and for America.

I visited Berlin in 1978 and again, after I became President, in 1982. The first impression entering the city by air is, of course, that terrible wall which surrounds and divides Berlin. Despite its bright white paint and the flowerboxes placed here and there to soften the effect, the wall's inhuman purpose cannot be disguised.

The wall suppresses man's natural impulse to be free. The angry words of protest splashed across the western side of the wall show the frustration that Berliners feel in living with this symbol of tyranny, knowing that there are Berliners too on the other side.

Berlin is a microcosm of a greater division. The ugly slash that divides Berlin is replicated on a larger scale in a similar division of Germany and in the artificial line cutting off one part of Europe from another. In divided Berlin, as elsewhere in divided Europe, families and friends are separated; contacts severed; freedoms denied.

This first impression, however, does not tell the full story. The tragedy of Berlin is evident even from a distance. One must move closer to see the triumph as well. For Berlin is a triumph of the human spirit. The visitor quickly realizes and admires the enormous courage and endurance of the Berliners. They are the inheritors of a devastated city. A city the Soviet Union once tried to bring to its knees through the Berlin blockade. A city cut in two by that cruel wall. But Berliners, all the while surrounded by a hostile environment, did not succumb to threats of pressure. They have repeatedly come through adversity with bravery, dignity, and grace.

Berliners have had to struggle to maintain their liberty, and their unwavering devotion to freedom is an example for us all. This is the first lesson of Berlin: that we cannot be timid in preserving our democratic way of life. We must stand up for our freedoms. The terrible price of losing them is vividly demonstrated just on the other side of the wall.

The United States stands with Berlin. We are honored to have an important role in the preservation of Berlin's freedom. The United States has a solemn obligation to Berlin which time has only reaffirmed and strengthened. The American commitment to Berlin is firm and unshakable.

Berlin, like the rest of the West, benefits from the ability of the Atlantic Alliance to deter war. This community of free nations, dedicated to democratic ideals, has given Europe a generation of peace. The unity and strength of the Atlantic Alliance provide the protective shield that keeps us free and secure. Last fall, the Soviet Union failed to intimidate the Alliance over the NATO decision on intermediate-range nuclear forces. As in Berlin 35 years earlier, the West refused to bow to Soviet dictates and is more secure in consequence. The Soviet Union now knows that the West will do what is necessary to keep the peace.

As a testing-ground for Western strength of will, Berlin has often been at the cutting edge of East-West relations. In times past, shock waves from strife elsewhere were frequently felt in Berlin. More recently, however, Berlin has become known for a different kind of East-West relationship. It has become an example of the successful management of delicate East-West problems.

A long-standing vital function in which the Soviet Union and the Western Allies cooperate is the coordination of Berlin air traffic. The maintenance of Allied rights and responsibilities with respect to Berlin air traffic is an integral part of the working relationship between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.

The Quadripartite Agreement of 1971 has helped Berlin become calmer, and more stable and secure. Berliners have found it easier to visit and communicate with friends and relatives in East Berlin and the German Democratic Republic. Trade and travel between Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany have been facilitated. The Quadripartite Agreement must continue to be strictly observed and fully implemented, in all sectors of Greater Berlin.

The second lesson of Berlin is that it is possible to build constructive and practical East-West relationships on the basis of realism, strength, and dialogue. While we cannot ignore the profound differences between East and West, we can accomplish much that is in the interest of all people.

The applicability of this second lesson extends beyond Berlin—it underpins the whole East-West relationship. By remaining unified in our determination to defend freedom-in Berlin and elsewhere—while at the same time exploring reasonable avenues for improved East-West relations, the West is making an important contribution to world peace. The key is solidarity. As has been the case for more than 35 years, the entire free world maintains its support for the freedom of Berlin. Today, it is important that all of us, Berliners included, show the same support for oppressed peoples in places such as Afghanistan and Poland. If we are to maintain freedom, we must remain united.

I am optimistic about the future of Berlin. Berlin is an extraordinarily vital world city, bustling with prosperity. It has a rich culture and history. The city is blessed with great universities and scientific institutes. Most of all, Berlin is blessed with the Berliners themselves—whose strength and spirit have served it well. The security guarantee of the Western allies is inalterable and permanent, and American ties of friendship with Berlin run deep. East-West accords have led to practical improvements to make life easier in Berlin. But the barriers to the free flow of information, to human contacts, are still far too high. Even the cultural life of the city is divided—museums, theaters, symphony orchestras and operas split between two sides.

Such human divisions are intolerable. If peace is to be secured, we must increase our efforts to accommodate the human aspirations of millions of persons in Europe who are not satisfied with the conditions under which they must live. In this regard, I would like to recall my 1982 visit to Berlin. At that time, I asked the Soviet Union to join with the West in working to reduce the human barriers which divide Europe. Rather than a symbol of oppression, reflected in barbed wire and walls, would it not be better for Berlin to be the starting point for the reduction of the human and political divisions which create misery in the world?

Today, I would like to repeat that challenge. In 1987, Berlin—all of Berlin—will celebrate its 750th birthday. Would not that occasion be appropriate for celebrating the further reduction of the barriers which divide the city?

In 1984, we celebrate another anniversary—the 35th anniversary of successful conclusion of the Berlin Airlift. This historic undertaking was made possible by the close cooperation of Americans, British and French officials with their German friends. It was truly an historic turning point, and the United States will be forever proud of its role in saving the freedom of the Western Sectors of this great city. All Americans join me in the hope that it will not take another 35 years to restore the unity of Berlin and that Berliners on both sides of the wall will one day be able to live together in peace and liberty.

Note: The President's article was published in the May 23 edition of Die Welt.

As printed above, the article follows the text of the White House press release.

Ronald Reagan, "Berlin - A Very Special Place for America," an Article by the President Published in Die Welt Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives