Primary Sources

President Bush's Statement on the Anniversary of the Berlin Wall


In May 1989, Hungary began to dismember the barbed wire fences and mines surrounding its border with Austria, prompting the largest exodus of East Germans since August 1961 when East Germany constructed the Berlin Wall to stop the flow of emigrants to the West. Tensions during the summer of 1989 between East and West Germany were at their highest level since 1961, as fleeing East Germans sought asylum at Bonn’s missions in East Berlin and Budapest. On the anniversary of the construction of the wall, President George H. W. Bush, in the statement that follows, reiterated a call he had made during a speech in Mainz in May calling for the destruction of the wall. In the Mainz speech, called by National Security Advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, “a capstone of the unfolding of our strategy for relations with Europe and the Soviet Union, but with a German accent,” Bush proclaimed, “Just as the barriers are coming down in Hungary, so must they fall throughout all of Eastern Europe. Let Berlin be next—let Berlin be next!” The wall, Bush insisted, “must come down,” and he proposed to “bring glasnost to East Berlin” and “make all Berlin a center of commerce between East and West—a place of cooperation, not a point of confrontation.” The East German leader, hardliner Eric Honecker, rejected Bush’s call, but stated that that border guards had been ordered not to shoot civilians attempting to leave. He was trying, he told the press, to “humanize the border regime” in order to help improve relations with Western Europe and the US.


George H. W. Bush, "Statement on the Anniversary of the Berlin Wall," speech, The White House, Washington, D.C., August 12, 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Documents and Papers, Bush Library (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Twenty-eight years ago, a barrier of steel and stone was erected in the heart of Berlin. It stands there still—now more than ever a relic of a bygone era and a failed philosophy. The barbed wire that severed a great city also proclaimed in stark, inhuman terms the unnatural division of Europe. Beyond its tragic human cost over the years, rending families and friends, the Berlin Wall has affronted the free world with an alien vision of closed societies where basic freedoms are denied.

The courageous people of West Berlin tend the precious fire of freedom as an example for us all. The city prospers and benefits from their innovative spirit and from expanding international ties. Its cultural diversity, economic vigor, and political pluralism are the fruits of boundless imagination at work in a democratic community. The United States is proud to have contributed to Berlin's freedom and vitality....

The United States is also committed to improving the lives of Berliners and to bringing closer the day when the city is again united. Together with our British and French allies, we have put forward an initiative to make such progress a reality. We want Berlin to enjoy greater access to the world through expanded air links, to be a center of international meetings and sports events, and to foster more human contacts which lead to better understanding. As I said in Mainz on May 31, we want Berlin to be a place of cooperation, not a point of confrontation....

We observe this sad anniversary with renewed determination to overcome the division of Berlin and of Europe. On behalf of the people of the United States, I reaffirm this nation's commitment to Berlin's freedom and prosperity. The tide of history has turned, and we look to a future Europe whole and free. As we now mark the day the wall was built, so shall we inevitably celebrate a day when it no longer divides Berlin, the German people, and the nations of Europe.

How to Cite this Source

President George H. W. Bush, "President Bush's Statement on the Anniversary of the Berlin Wall," Making the History of 1989, Item #47, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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