Representatives of the younger and older generations came together at the Allied Museum to celebrate this highpoint in the history of German-American relations. Back then, no one could have possibly imagined that barely three years later the U.S. president’s appeal to the Soviet general-secretary – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” – would have become a reality. In his brief address, Herr Walter Momper, the president of the Berlin House of Representatives, correctly pointed out that “it would not have been possible to overcome German division” without the help of the USA. The director of the Museum, Dr. Helmut Trotnow, then proceeded to welcome many old acquaintances who had made contributions to German-American relations. These included Jürgen Graf, the legendary journalist from RIAS and now chairman of the RIAS commission. Gail Halvorsen, the famous Candy Bomber from the era of the Berlin Airlift, even used his visit to Berlin to attend the exhibition opening with his wife Lorraine. He has done more than almost any other person since the Second World War to ensure that Americans did not forget the divided city of Berlin. Peter Claussen, the cultural attaché of the U.S. embassy in Berlin, reminded the audience that many contemporaries had considered the U.S. president’s speech rather risky. “The speech,” he explained, “scared a lot of people because it was so open and direct; it stated openly what many people, whatever their political convictions, secretly wished for. ”
Guests from the United States who as eyewitnesses or donors played a major part in the exhibition’s success were at the center of the opening festivities. Mr. Duke Blackwood, the director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, unfortunately had to cancel his trip to Berlin at the last minute. The exhibition could never have been mounted without the cooperation of the Presidential Library. John Barletta deserves special mention. The president’s longtime bodyguard was one of the few people who really knew Ronald Reagan as a man and enthusiastic equestrian. He provided the Museum with valuable personal mementos for the exhibition, including Reagan’s own riding boots. With Peter Robinson, the Allied Museum presented the former White House staff member who was responsible for the manuscript of the historic speech. Robinson reported that the idea for the most famous sentence in the speech arose during a meeting with Berliners. Highly contested within the Reagan administration, the sentence caused a long and controversial debate, which the president ended with his personal decision. At the end of his remarks Robinson stressed that the president, were he still among us, would not have been satisfied with mere memories. Instead he would have argued that we should used the experience we have gained to tackle the tasks and problems of today. The fact that Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel assumed patronage of the exhibition underlined its significance. Professor Dr. Hermann Schäfer read out the words of greetings from the German federal government in the name of Herr Bernd Neumann, minister of state for culture and the media and member of the Bundestag. “I recall very well,” the former director of the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn, confessed, “how moved and indeed ‘electrified’ I was when I heard those words on television.”
The exhibition opening began with a little surprise. Jasper Kump, now a professional singer on Broadway in New York, was a pupil at the Berlin American High School when the president visited in 1987. He was selected to sing at the American party for Berlin’s 750th birthday held at Tempelhof Airport, accompanied by the well-known RIAS orchestra. Now he had returned to the Outpost Theater where he spent many hours as a student to present songs from his new CD. Finally, the exhibition opening recognized the personal success of five Berliners; Angelika Heinemann, Sigrid Reske, Dagmar Willert, Bernd Barnert and Peter Opelt all successfully answered questions about the exhibition in a competition organized by the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, and won copies of the exhibition catalogue personally signed by Peter Robinson.
Excerpts from the speeches
Dr. Helmut Trotnow, director of the Allied Museum:
Ronald Reagan was neither a trigger-happy cowboy nor an actor who accidentally became president. His politics, which aroused so much opposition and denunciation particularly here in Germany, contributed quite decisively to creating the preconditions for November 9, 1989 and the collapse of the Communist empire. It is time that we acknowledged this... without any reservations.
Walter Momper, president of the Berlin House of Representatives:
The Wall symbolized the division of Berlin, Germany and Europe. For us Germans the day the Wall fell was one of the most important – and happiest – days in our country’s history. When I look back I think of the Allies, above all the USA, with a great sense of gratitude. Without them, it would not have been possible to overcome German division.
Prof. Dr. Hermann Schäfer, federal commissioner for culture and the media:
The American president’s speech on June 12, 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German division and unity, marked a turning point that was not recognized at the time. ...
I am convinced that this exhibition will revise the black and white image that many Germans still have of Ronald Reagan.
Peter R. Claussen, cultural attaché of the U.S. embassy, Berlin:
Twenty years ago this summer I arrived in Berlin for the first time, just a few weeks after the historic moment we are commemorating today. I was beginning a tour at the American Embassy, located then just where it is today – in what was East Berlin. I wish I could say that I recognized in President Reagan’s remarks the brighter and undivided future that the City of Berlin now enjoys, but that would be a lie. Instead, like many, many others I took the President’s bold statement to be just another piece of Cold War political rhetoric. I was wrong.