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07/12/2016

Berlin celebrates the night ‘that changed our lives’

Europe's East

Berlin celebrates the night ‘that changed our lives’

The Brandenburg Gate during celebrations on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall [twitter.com/RegSprecher]

Hundreds of thousands gathered in Berlin on Sunday (9 November) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the momentous day had proved that “dreams can come true”. EurActiv Germany reports.

On 9 November 1989, after 28 years, two months and 28 days, the Berlin Wall fell. 25 years later Berlin celebrated the anniversary of the historic day.

A huge party was held at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday with musical performances by the likes of Peter Gabriel and veteran German singer Udo Lindenberg.  

Since Friday, a 15 kilometre long “border of lights” made of 8,000 white balloons has marked where the Wall once stood – from Bornholmer Strasse, through the Mauerpark, past the Berlin Wall Memorial in the Bernauer Strasse and the Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie to the East Side Gallery.

On Sunday evening, despite reports of hundreds of them having already been stolen or damaged during the weekend, the balloons were set free, symbolically re-enacting the fall of the Wall.

At the Brandenburg Gate, the Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, played “Ode an die Freude”, the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Attending were German President Joachim Gauck, former Polish trade union leader and president Lech Walesa, former Prime Minister of Hungary Miklos Nemeth, last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, among others.

Earlier on Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the Wall had shown the world that dreams could come true. “It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better. That is the message of the fall of the Wall,” she said at the main memorial site for the Wall on Bernauer Strasse. “It is directed at us in Germany, but also at others in Europe and the world, especially to people in Ukraine, in Syria, Iraq and other regions where human rights are threatened or violated.”

“It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it’s a message of faith for today’s, and future, generations that can tear down walls – the walls of dictators, violence and ideologies,” said Merkel who was a 35-year-old scientist in East Berlin when the Wall came down.

She had waited 35 years to have this feeling of freedom, Merkel said in her video podcast to mark the 25th anniversary. “That changed our lives”.

But for Germans, 9 November was not only a noteworthy day in 1989. In 1918 the same day marked the founding of the first German republic, and 20 years later it saw the anti-Jewish pogroms of the “Night of Broken Glass”, ushering in the darkest chapter of German history with the start of the open persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime.

“It was a date of shame and disgrace,” said Merkel on Sunday. “So on this 25th anniversary of the Wall’s fall, I feel not only the joy of November 9, 1989 but also the responsibility of German history.”

Chancellor of German Unity

The “Chancellor of German Unity”, Helmut Kohl, was also in the city for the celebrations. The man without whom German reunification could not have been a success, as Jean-Claude Juncker put it last week, paid a visit to the Brandenburg Gate on Saturday morning for a photo op for the German tabloid Bild Zeitung.

84-year-old Kohl, who is wheelchair-bound and can barely speak due to health problems, has recently caused controversy. A new book has quoted Kohl making disparaging remarks about numerous leading German politicians, including Merkel.

Kohl has also released his own book titled “Worrying about Europe” blasting his successor, Social Democrat (SPD) leader Gerhard Schröder for opening the door to the euro crisis with two “disgraceful” decisions; allowing Greece into the eurozone prematurely, and conspiring with France to water down the Maastricht deficit rules.

Most recently it was revealed that Kohl only attributed a small role to the GDR civil rights movement in the events leading to German reunification. In previously unpublished conversations, Kohl is quoted as saying “the people on the street would have changed nothing if the environment had not been appropriate, if Gorbachev and Bush had not negotiated on disarmament.”

Gorbachev: “We are on the brink of a new Cold War”

Foremer Soviet leader Mickhail Gorbachev was in Berlin for numerous events this weekend during which he was almost always greeted with cheers and affectionate shouts of “Gorbi, Gorbi”. Visiting Checkpoint Charlie on Friday, he commented on Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech. “Frankly, we did not take this that seriously, he is after all an actor,” Gorbachev joked. According to the 83-year-old, the Russian leadership allowed the fall of the Wall because “Germany was ready”.

But Gorbachev also used the occasion to issue a stark warning. During a speech on Saturday at a symposium near Brandenburg Gate he referred to the separatist standoff in eastern Ukraine. He warned that the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War”, and added, “some say it has already begun.”

The West had exploited Russia’s weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev explained. “Instead of building new mechanisms and institutions of European security and pursuing a major demilitarisation of European politics, the West, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War.”

“The events of the past months are consequences of short-sighted policies of seeking to impose one’s will while ignoring the interests of one’s partners,” he said.

He also specifically criticised Europe, which was in danger of becoming irrelevant as a global power. “Instead of becoming a leader of change in a global world, Europe has turned into an arena of political upheaval, of competition for spheres of influence and finally of military conflict,” he said.

“The consequence inevitably is Europe weakening at a time when other centres of power and influence are gaining momentum. If this continues, Europe will lose a strong voice in global affairs and gradually become irrelevant.”

Background

During a revolutionary wave that swept across the Eastern bloc, on 9 November 1989 an East German government official announced, after a misunderstanding, that all citizens of East Germany (GDR) could visit West Berlin and West Germany freely.

Tens of thousands of East Germans immediately swarmed to the border crossings. The East German border guards did not oppose them. 

Crowds of East Germans climbed onto the wall, crossed it, and were soon joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were destroyed.

The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for Germany's reunification, which was formally concluded on 3 October 1990.

>>Read: Remembering people, places and myths surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall