Ger­many, al­lies mark 30 years since Ber­lin Wall fell

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Frank Jordans

BER­LIN — Ger­many marked the 30th an­niver­sary Satur­day of the open­ing of the Ber­lin Wall, a piv­otal mo­ment in the events that brought down Com­mu­nism in East­ern Europe.

Lead­ers from Ger­many, Poland, Hun­gary, Slo­vakia and the Czech Repub­lic at­tended a cer­e­mony at Ber­nauer Strasse — where one of the last parts of the Ber­lin Wall re­mains — be­fore plac­ing roses in the once-fear­some bar­rier that di­vided the city for 28 years.

“The Ber­lin Wall, ladies and gen­tle­men, is his­tory,” Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said later at a memo­rial ser­vice in­side a small chapel near where the Wall once stood. “It teaches us: No wall that keeps peo­ple out and re­stricts free­dom is so high or so wide that it can’t be bro­ken down.”

Not­ing the cru­elty of the East Ger­man regime — which had torn down a pre­vi­ous church on the for­mer death strip site so snipers could get a bet­ter shot at peo­ple flee­ing to the West — Merkel paid trib­ute to those who were killed or im­pris­oned dur­ing the Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship and in­sisted that the fight for free­dom world­wide isn’t over.

“We are bereft of ex­cuses, chal­lenged to do our part for free­dom and democ­racy,” she said.

In a state­ment is­sued by his of­fice, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump con­grat­u­lated Ger­many on its an­niver­sary, say­ing that “coura­geous men and women from both

East and West Ger­many united to tear down a wall that stood as a sym­bol of op­pres­sion and failed so­cial­ism for more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury.”

“The United States and our al­lies and part­ners re­main stead­fast in our un­wa­ver­ing al­le­giance to ad­vanc­ing the prin­ci­ples of in­di­vid­ual lib­erty and free­dom that have sus­tained peace and spawned un­par­al­leled pros­per­ity,” he added.

Speak­ing to Euro­pean lead­ers at Ber­nauer Strasse, the head of the Ber­lin Wall memo­rial site, Axel Klaus­meier, re­called the images of deliri­ous Ber­lin­ers from East and West cry­ing tears of joy as they hugged each other on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989.

Built al­most overnight in 1961 as what the East Ger­man gov­ern­ment de­scribed as an “an­tifas­cist pro­tec­tion bar­rier,” the 96-mile wall quickly emerged as one of the most strik­ing sym­bols of the so-called Iron Cur­tain be­tween the West and the Soviet Union.

The col­lapse of the Ber­lin Wall was brought about largely by peace­ful protests and a stream of peo­ple flee­ing East Ger­many that piled pres­sure on the coun­try’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment to open its bor­ders to the West and ul­ti­mately end the na­tion’s post­war di­vi­sion.

Thirty years on, Ger­many has be­come the most pow­er­ful eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal force on the con­ti­nent, but there re­main deep mis­giv­ings among some in the coun­try about how the tran­si­tion from so­cial­ism to cap­i­tal­ism was man­aged.

Merkel ac­knowl­edged this in a re­cent in­ter­view with daily Sued­deutsche Zeitung, say­ing that “with some things, where one might have thought that East and West would have aligned, one can see to­day that it might rather take half a cen­tury or more.”

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony at Ber­nauer Strasse, she re­called that Nov. 9 re­mains a fraught date in Ger­man his­tory, as it also marks the an­niver­sary of the so-called Night of Bro­ken Glass, an anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938 that fore­shad­owed the Nazi’s Holo­caust.

“It re­minds us that hu­man rights can­not be taken for granted,” said the chan­cel­lor, who grew up in the Com­mu­nist East.

Light in­stal­la­tions, con­certs and pub­lic de­bates were planned across the city and other parts of Ger­many to mark the fall of the Wall, in­clud­ing a con­cert at Ber­lin’s Bran­den­burg Gate.

Among those who came to Ber­lin to cel­e­brate were mem­bers of the Tra­bant Club Mid­dle Hesse, which pro­motes the old East Ger­man car af­fec­tion­ately known as the Trabi.

Jens Sch­midt, who fled East Ger­many be­fore the fall of the Wall by driv­ing his Trabi to Hun­gary and then across the open bor­der to the West, said the club has many young mem­bers for whom learn­ing to re­pair the sim­ple but sturdy ve­hi­cles can be a les­son in his­tory and civics.

“The team spirit,” he said. “It was stronger back then.”

Mean­while in Paris, a French choco­late sculp­tor cel­e­brated the 30th an­niver­sary by tak­ing a ham­mer to a choco­late replica of the in­fa­mous bar­rier, dis­tribut­ing the sweet chunks to ap­plaud­ing by­standers.

Patrick Roger said it felt “amaz­ing to share the taste, the values and a cer­tain wind of lib­erty.”

Made with more than 400 pounds of choco­late, the wall scrawled with the words “free­dom” and, in Ger­man, “I am a Ber­liner!” was then brought crash­ing down onto the pave­ment in front of Roger’s choco­late store, shat­ter­ing into hun­dreds of pieces.

MARKUS SCHREIBER/AP

Peo­ple put roses in re­mains of the Ber­lin Wall dur­ing a cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate the 30th an­niver­sary of its fall at the Wall memo­rial site Satur­day at Ber­nauer Strasse in Ber­lin.

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