Ger­many marks 25 years since Berlin Wall

Lesotho Times - - International -

BERLIN — With mo­ments both solemn and play­ful, this city put on a fes­ti­val of mu­sic and lights on Sun­day to com­mem­o­rate the 25th an­niver­sary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — with hun­dreds of thou­sands jam­ming the streets to re­mem­ber a day that marked the be­gin­ning of the end of the Cold War.

Cel­e­brants gath­ered around the Bran­den­burg Gate and across a nine-mile stretch of the wall’s for­mer route to watch 7 000 il­lu­mi­nated bal­loons re­leased into the night sky. Ar­gen­tine-is­raeli con­duc­tor Daniel Baren­boim led an orches­tra play­ing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as the white orbs drifted above the cold city like bub­bles of light.

The mass of bal­loons — tot­ing per­sonal mes­sages about the wall’s fall — were meant to sym­bol­ise the end of di­vi­sion in this on­ce­s­plit me­trop­o­lis. Af­ter­ward, though, Ber­lin­ers threw solem­nity to the wind, rev­el­ling in an open-air mega party as the sounds of techno mu­sic thumped through the streets.

The fall of the wall her­alded not only the last days of com­mu­nism in East­ern Europe, but also the emer­gence of a re­uni­fied and rein­vig­o­rated Ger­many — a coun­try that is now Europe’s undis­puted eco­nomic leader. Yet across the city on Sun­day, there were signs of Ger­mans’ still-un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship with pa­tri­o­tism seven decades after the end of World War II.

In­au­gu­rat­ing a new ex­hi­bi­tion at the memo­rial on Sun­day, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel called the his­toric 1989 event the “hap­pi­est mo­ment in our re­cent his­tory.”

“The fall of the wall has shown us that dreams can come true,” she said. “Noth­ing needs to re­main the same no mat­ter how high the hur­dles may be.”

The joy of the mo­ment was tem­pered by re­flec­tions about the dark days of di­vi­sion as well as fore­bod­ing about the fu­ture. For­mer Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev — in town for com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­monies — warned that the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War.”

He ref­er­enced Rus­sian ac­tion in Ukraine, where Moscow stands ac­cused of back­ing rebels seek­ing in­de­pen­dence in the east­ern part of the coun­try. Rus­sia also an­nexed Ukraine’s au­ton­o­mous Crimean Penin­sula in March. Gor­bachev — a some­times-critic of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin — nev­er­the­less charged the West with box­ing Rus­sia into a cor­ner in the years after the Berlin Wall fell.

“Eu­pho­ria and tri­umphal­ism went to the heads of Western lead­ers,” he said at an event Sun­day.

“Tak­ing ad­van­tage of Rus­sia’s weak­en­ing and the lack of a coun­ter­weight, they claimed mo­nop­oly lead­er­ship and dom­i­na­tion in the world.”

The wall, built in 1961, was meant to halt the tide of de­fec­tors from the re­pres­sive and com­mu­nist East Ger­many into West Berlin. Over the years, at least 138 peo­ple would die try­ing to cross the no-man’s-land di­vid­ing the city.

East Ger­man au­thor­i­ties, hit by mas­sive protests and a resur­gent flood of de­fec­tors, ul­ti­mately agreed to al­low cross­ings start­ing Nov. 10, 1989.

But an an­nounce­ment a day ear­lier caused a flood of East Ger­mans to rush the wall on 9 Novem­ber, with shocked guards watch­ing on as scores of civil­ians scaled its ram­parts.

To­day, only frag­ments of the wall re­main. Much of it was smashed to smithereens, and parts of it were sold off or taken as sou­venirs. But many in this city will never for­get what once stood there. —

An East Ger­man bull­dozer and crane knock down the Berlin Wall at Pots­damer Platz to make way for a new bor­der cross­ing in the de­v­ided city on 12 novem­ber 1989.

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