Germany marks 25 years since Berlin Wall
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.