The Brandenburg Gate is famous worldwide as the symbol of Berlin, but for many years it also stood for the division of Germany because of its location directly at the Berlin Wall, which was erected in 1961. Official visitors to West Berlin were taken to this site to see the increasingly sophisticated border control system. This was where US President Ronald Reagan gave a speech on 12 June 1987 in which he exhorted the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall!” No one suspected that this was exactly what would soon happen.
When the border opened on the night of 9 November 1989, large numbers of cheering people climbed on to the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate. However, there was no official crossing point there. This meant that the opening of a new crossing point at the Brandenburg Gate on 22 December 1989 was a very special event. Despite pouring rain, thousands of people turned out to witness the ceremony.
The previous night, East German border guards used a crane to remove the Wall’s cement slabs, which weighed tonnes and were topped with a cement tube aimed at making it more difficult to climb over the Wall.
Meticulous preparations – a slightly strained atmosphere
The files of the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the GDR, which are now stored by the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office, include a schedule for the ceremony. The West and East German heads of government, Helmut Kohl and Hans Modrow, along with several incumbent and former political leaders, took part in the event.
The ceremony was prepared down to the last detail, but it was obvious that the two sides did not know each other well. West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s first name was not written out in full. There were also spelling mistakes in the names of two former West German presidents, Walter Scheel and Karl Carstens.
The plan was that the participants would walk towards the crossing point from East and West at the same time. However, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and West Berlin’s Governing Mayor, Walter Momper, were the first to walk through the Brandenburg Gate, where they were greeted by Prime Minister Hans Modrow and the Mayor of East Berlin, Erhard Krack.
Message of peace and freedom
On the western side of the Brandenburg Gate, a large stand was set up for the public, as well as for the many camera teams and photographers who had travelled to Berlin for the event. Chancellor Kohl was visibly moved during the speeches, describing the occasion as one of the happiest moments of his life. He added:
The message ‘we want peace, we want freedom and we want to do our part for peace in Europe and the world’ is being sent from the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany from this square.
Since then, the Brandenburg Gate, once the site of dark days that included National Socialist parades and the division of Berlin, has been a symbol of peace and freedom.