Five American Presidents at the Berlin Wall

Five American presidents delivered addresses at the Berlin Wall and, 20 years after its fall, the city is still considered a prime venue for American presidents to deliver important speeches.

Berlin was once a battleground of Cold War ideologies, and even after the fall of the wall, phrases like "Ich bin ein Berliner" and "Tear down this wall" still resound there. Following are excerpts from the most crucial speeches given in Berlin during the past half-century—and why they were so important.

President: John F. Kennedy
Date: June 26, 1963

After World War II, the Allies divided the city into four sectors belonging to France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The spheres controlled by the Western powers soon merged, and in 1949 West Germany and East Germany were formed and Berlin was cut in two. West Berlin became an enclave in East Germany, which became problematic during the Berlin blockade of 1948, when the Soviets blocked all ground access to the city and Western countries turned to supplying it via the Berlin Airlift. In 1961, the Soviets started building the wall in response to the massive number of people fleeing the East for the West through Berlin. An arms buildup in Cuba fall of 1962 nearly led to nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. But when Kennedy came to Berlin in 1963, the Cold War had entered a period of détente. His speech, delivered in front of the West Berlin city hall, is considered among his best; it was also a turning point in the Cold War because, for the first time, the United States implicitly recognized the separation between East and West Berlin.

President: Ronald Reagan
Date: June 12, 1987

This speech was delivered for the 750th anniversary of Berlin, at a moment of thaw in the Cold War. Reagan chose the Brandenburg Gate as his backdrop not only because it was a symbol of Germany, but also because it was very close to the wall, enabling East Berliners to hear his defense of freedom and his exhortation that Gorbachev tear it down.

President: Bill Clinton
Date: July 12, 1994
Although this wasn't a particularly pivotal moment, Clinton's address in front of the Brandenburg Gate broke new ground by focusing on European unity and promoting economic globalization and an increased partnership with the U.S.

President: George W. Bush
Date: May 23, 2002

Just eight months after the September 11 attacks had inaugurated the global war on terror—and the battle for hearts and minds—that animated U.S. foreign policy for the decade, Bush appealed for Europe's support. The subsequent war in Iraq would put a significant strain on the alliance.

President: Barack Obama
Date: July 24, 2008

Obama hadn't even been elected when he went to Berlin during his 2008 campaign. For that reason, the Germans did not allow him to speak at the Brandenburg Gate—they reserve it for presidential speeches. But his plea for the fall of all walls echoed every earlier presidential speech, and the crowd of 200,000 was more than four times the number that attended Reagan's 1987 speech.

Five American Presidents at the Berlin Wall | World