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Friday, November 8, 2019

President Reagan Returns To BERLIN, This Time In Bronze

After a decade of lobbying to place a statue of Ronald Reagan in Berlin, the Gipper was given a place beside the Brandenburg Gate, atop the U.S. Embassy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second from right, and Fred Ryan, left, the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, unveiling a statue of Ronald Reagan on Friday at the American embassy in Berlin.
Credit...Pool photo by Hannibal Hanschke

Melissa Eddy

BERLIN — When Germans mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Saturday, a figure of an American man who was intertwined with the events of that day will be looking on, figuratively at least.

A towering sculpture of Ronald Reagan, clutching the cards inscribed with his 1987 speech challenging Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, to “tear down this wall,” was unveiled on Friday atop the United States Embassy, after the Berlin authorities refused for years to allow his likeness to be placed in the city. The statue of Mr. Reagan, the 40th U.S. President — who died in 2004 — overlooks the Brandenburg Gate he called on Mr. Gorbachev to open.

The unveiling of the statue was attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was wrapping up a two-day tour of Germany meant to shore up relations that have frayed under President Trump and to shift public focus from the pressure Mr. Pompeo faces at home over the Ukraine scandal.

At the ceremony unveiling the statue, accessible only to embassy staff and guests, Mr. Pompeo praised Mr. Reagan for his bold defense of freedom, telling a gathering of politicians, diplomats, donors and others that the former president “courageously denounced the greatest threat to that freedom, the Soviet Empire, the Evil Empire.”

Mr. Pompeo’s characterization of Reagan’s role in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism varied in important ways from the German version. Just days before the unveiling, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was criticized for failing to mention the United States or any of its presidents by name in an op-ed thanking European countries for their role.

“Dear Minister Maas, on behalf of the late President Reagan, whom you don’t mention, and the millions of American Soldiers who served in West Germany along with your other NATO Allies, you’re welcome,” the former commander of the United States Army in Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, wrote on Twitter.

Relations between the United States and Germany have been tense, with Mr. Trump relentlessly pressuring Germany to increase its contribution to NATO. Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel also disagree over immigration policies and her insistence on pushing ahead with Nord Stream 2, a major gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany, bypassing Poland and Ukraine, that is opposed by many European countries and the United States.

John Heubusch, who heads the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, said they had been trying for 10 years to get a statue of the president erected in the German capital. While other cities across Europe, from London to Budapest to Tblisi, Georgia, were more accommodating, Berlin city officials insisted the 40th President had already been an honorary citizen of the city in 1992, and that was honor enough.

Not so, argued those like Mr. Heubusch, who sought a visible marker to the speech that many credit with at least symbolically creating the first cracks in the Berlin Wall, which East German demonstrators finally pressured their government to open on the night of Nov. 9, 1989.

In 2012, the city allowed a plaque embedded in the sidewalk on the exact location where Mr. Reagan stood when giving the speech, with the East German capital, stretching out behind it. The foundation had largely given up the fight for a statue when Richard Grenell, the Ambassador to Germany, contacted them to say he had named the terrace on the embassy roof overlooking the Brandenburg Gate after Mr. Reagan — and suggested it would make a perfect place for the statue.

“If you examine the sculpture closely, you’ll discover that I placed an original piece of The Wall inside the hollow bronze stack of speech cards,” said Chas Fagan, the artist commissioned by the foundation to create the 800-pound bronze statue. “The story of the Berlin Wall is embedded in the sculpture.”

The significance of that speech has been fiercely debated since that June afternoon, with some dismissing it as an act of showmanship, while others consider it the first direct challenge to the Soviet leadership to take action.

Some years earlier, concerned that the Soviet Union was falling behind the West, Mr. Gorbachev had declared the twin programs of perestroika and glasnost. These were intended to open up civil society and to restructure the economy to make it more responsive to market signals, but there was a lively debate in the West whether he was sincere.

“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!” he said. “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Appealing directly to East Germans, Mr. Reagan also said, “Es gibt nur ein Berlin,” or “There is only one Berlin” — a remark that would prove equally prescient.

“He was courageous enough to stand there, at that point and remind people that this wall was an eyesore and a symbol of unacceptable division of Europe,” said Jens Schöne, a historian who works at the Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany. “He kept that memory alive at a time when people had come to almost accept it.”

The president opened the speech by quoting from a Marlene Dietrich song with the line, “Ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin,’’ or ‘‘I still have a suitcase in Berlin.’’ Now, he has a seven-foot likeness instead.


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