Twenty-four years after President Kennedy declared that he was a Berliner, Ronald Reagan came to the city to celebrate its 750th anniversary. By this time, Mikhail Gorbachev was leader of the Soviet Union and was developing a working relationship with the American president. They had, among other things, discussed peace and reducing nuclear arms.
Reagan, known as an excellent communicator, planned to say some tough words during his June 12, 1987 speech. Its draft (written by speech writer Peter Robinson) contained a line which some staffers thought too provocative:
General Secretary Gorbachev, 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!
Thereafter, finding a work-around the wall, many East Germans were leaving their country through Hungary. No longer effective at keeping the population “penned in” - to use another Reagan phrase - the people themselves would “tear down this wall.”
On the 9th of November, 1989, the government of East Germany opened checkpoints along the Berlin Wall, allowing East Berliners to freely travel to West Berlin. Two days later - on the 11th of November - the first slab of the wall’s concrete was removed as a crowd of thousands cheered.
To celebrate the occasion, West Berlin’s Philharmonic Orchestra gave a benefit concert for East Berliners, performing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony (in A major). Its second movement - considered by some lovers of classical music to be one of the most beautiful pieces ever written - is especially poignant. (You can watch Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic perform it. The second movement begins at about 11:18 into the video.)
The Brandenburg Gate was finally opened on the 22nd of December, 1989. On Christmas Day, Leonard Bernstein conducted an international orchestra as musicians from five countries performed Beethoven’s 9th - the "Ode to Joy." (Follow the links to watch it.) One hundred million people, in twenty-two countries, heard the broadcast.
Heard louder than the broadcast, however, was the will of the German people. They - not the Potsdam conferees or subsequent rulers - had the final say.