Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Berlin marks 20th anniversary of wall's fall"

Fireworks illuminate the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Monday as part of the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tens of thousands lined the route where the wall once stood.

Thousands of cheering Germans re-enacted the electrifying moment the Berlin Wall came crashing down — toppling 1,000 graffiti-adorned 8-foot-tall dominoes that tumbled along the route of the now vanished Cold War icon, celebrating 20 years of freedom from separation and fear.

The spectacle — billed by organizers as a metaphor for the way the real wall came down 20 years ago Monday and the resulting fall of communist countries in eastern Europe — was one of several events to mark the anniversary and celebrate the profound change it had not only Germany, but Europe and the world.
Chancellor Angela Merkel — the first east German to hold the job — called the fall of the wall an "epic" moment in history. "For me, it was one of the happiest moments of my life," Merkel said.
Yet she also recalled the tragic side of Nov. 9 for Germans — the Nazi's Kristallnacht — or Night of Broken Glass — anti-Semitic pogrom 71 years ago. At least 91 German Jews were killed, hundreds of synagogues destroyed, and thousands of Jewish businesses vandalized and looted in the state-sanctioned riots that night.
"Both show that freedom is not self evident," Merkel said. "Freedom must be fought for. Freedom must be defended time and again. Freedom is the most valuable commodity in our political and social system."

'Gorby! Gorby!'
Earlier, Merkel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev crossed a former fortified border on Monday to cheers of "Gorby! Gorby!" as a throng of grateful Germans recalled the night 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall gave way to their desire for freedom and unity.
Within hours of a confused announcement on Nov. 9, 1989, that East Germany was lifting travel restrictions, hundreds of people streamed into the enclave that was West Berlin, marking a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism in Europe.
Merkel, who was one of thousands to cross that night, recalled that "before the joy of freedom came, many people suffered."
She lauded Gorbachev, with whom she shared an umbrella amid a crush of hundreds, eager for a glimpse of the man many still consider a hero for his role in pushing reform in the Soviet Union.
"We always knew that something had to happen there so that more could change here," she said.
"You made this possible — you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect," she told Gorbachev in front of several hundred people gathered in light drizzle on the bridge over railway lines.
Tears sprang to the eyes of Uwe Kross, a 65-year-old retiree, who recalled seeing the start of the drama on Nov. 9, 1989, from his home, a block away from the bridge.
'Everyone poured through'
"That night, you couldn't stop people," Kross said. "They lifted the barrier and everyone poured through.

"We saw it first on TV; normally it was very quiet up here, but that night we could hear the footsteps of those crossing, tap, tap, tap."
Kross was among those who crossed early on — so early that nobody was yet waiting on the other side when they reached the West. He recalled hopping on the first subway to then-West Berlin's main boulevard, the Kurfuerstendamm. "All hell was breaking loose there," Kross said.
Merkel also welcomed Poland's 1980s pro-democracy leader, Lech Walesa, to the former crossing, saying that his Solidarity movement provided "incredible encouragement" to East Germans.
The leaders were joined by prominent former East Germans such as Joachim Gauck, an ex-pastor who later oversaw the archives of East Germany's secret police, the Stasi.
"Those in government thought they were opening a valve, but once it was open much more happened," Gauck said of the border opening. "A collapse followed."
The bridge crossing was one of a series of events marking Monday's anniversary of the border's opening after the wall kept East German citizens penned in for 28 years.

Bon Jovi, Beethoven
Music from Bon Jovi and Beethoven recalled the joy of the border's opening, which led to German reunification less than a year later and the swift demolition of most of the wall — which snaked for 96 miles (155 kilometers) around West Berlin, a capitalist enclave deep inside East Germany.
Memorials were held for the 136 people killed trying to cross the border and candles were lit.


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