Germany marks 25 years since Berlin Wall’s fall


November 10, 2014

Berlin: Germany on Sunday celebrates the 25th anniversary of the night the Berlin Wall fell, a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism and the start of the country's emergence as the major power at the heart of Europe.

The Berlin Wall

November 10, 2014

Berlin: Germany on Sunday celebrates the 25th anniversary of the night the Berlin Wall fell, a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism and the start of the country's emergence as the major power at the heart of Europe.

The Berlin Wall

A 15-kilometer (nine-mile) chain of lighted balloons along the former border will be released into the air early on Sunday evening – around the time on November 9, 1989 when a garbled announcement by a senior communist official set off the chain of events that brought down the Cold War's most potent symbol.

The opening of East Germany's fortified frontier capped months of ferment across eastern and central Europe that had already ushered in Poland's first post-communist prime minister and prompted Hungary to cut open its border fence. The hard-line leadership in East Berlin faced mounting pressure from huge protests and an exodus of citizens via other communist countries.

The collapse of the Wall, which had divided the city for 28 years, was "a point of no return … from there, things headed toward a whole new world order," said Axel Klausmeier, the director of the city's main Wall memorial.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, is opening an overhauled museum on Sunday at the site – home to one of the few surviving sections of the Wall.

Merkel, 60, who was then a physicist and entered politics as communism crumbled, recalls the feeling of being stuck behind East Germany's border.

"Even today when I walk through the Brandenburg Gate, there's a residual feeling that this wasn't possible for many years of my life, and that I had to wait 35 years to have this feeling of freedom," Merkel said last week. "That changed my life."

The future chancellor was among the thousands who poured westward hours after the ruling Politburo's spokesman, Guenter Schabowski, off-handedly announced at a televised news conference that East Germans would be allowed to travel to West Germany and West Berlin.

Pressed on when that would take effect, Schabowski seemed uncertain but said: "To my knowledge, this is immediately, without delay." Soon, Western media were reporting that East Germany was opening the border and East Berliners were jamming the first crossing.

Border guards had received no orders to let anyone cross, but gave up trying to hold back the crowds. By midnight, all the border crossings in the city were open.

East Germany's then-leader, Egon Krenz, later said the plan was to allow free travel only the next morning so citizens could line up properly to get exit visas. But with the leadership's control over the border well and truly lost, Germany was soon on the road to reunification less than a year later, on October 3, 1990.

East German Citizens Clamber Over The Berlin Wall

Since then, some 1.5 to 2 trillion euros ($1.9 to $2.5 trillion) has gone into rebuilding the once-dilapidated east.

Much has changed beyond recognition, though some inequalities persist.

Wages and pensions remain lower, and unemployment higher, in the east than the west. Many eastern areas saw their population drop as people headed west for jobs, something that is only now showing signs of turning around.

There are cultural differences too: a higher proportion of children are in daycare in the east, a legacy of communist times, and the opposition Left Party – partly descended from East Germany's communist rulers – remains strongest in the east.

But the progress toward true unity is seen in Germany's top leadership: Not only is Merkel from the east, but so is the nation's president, Joachim Gauck, a former Protestant pastor and pro-democracy activist.

Germans today can be grateful to have lives and opportunities, Gauck said, "that endless numbers of people in the world can only desire and dream of."

Berlin Wall Reactions, From George H.W. Bush To David Hasselhoff

The following quotes are from others who have commented recently during the lead-up to the 25th anniversary.

Richard Haass,  president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. diplomat , during a CFR debate on Oct. 27: “I would argue that we are witnessing the end of one era of world history and the dawn of another. It has been 25 years since the Berlin Wall was dismantled, bringing the 40-year Cold War to an end. What followed was an era of American pre-eminence, increased prosperity for many, the emergence of a large number of relatively open societies and political systems, and widespread peace, including considerable cooperation among the major powers.”

Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford professor of history and eyewitness to the fall of the wall, writing in the Guardian Nov. 6:“The Wall’s fall was the day of liberation, for those behind the Wall, not the day of unification for those in front of it. The fall of the Wall has become a kind of master metaphor (or meta-metaphor) of our age, used especially by western politicians, not just to represent, but to predict, the forward march of freedom.”

George H.W. Bush, the U.S. president in office when the wall fell, speaking to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle Nov. 6 : “To see a united Germany tackle the tough challenges associated with unification and go on to play a leading and constructive role on a host of regional and global issues has been truly wonderful to witness.”

James A. Baker III, Bush's Secretary of State, writing for CNN Nov. 4: “25 years later, on November 9, 2014, we should all enjoy a celebratory jig to commemorate what happened on that fateful day. That magical moment is a reminder to all people everywhere in the world — those alive then, today and well into the future. Tyranny cannot suppress the will of those yearning for freedom and desiring a better life for themselves and for their children.”

Klaus Wowereit, outgoing mayor of Berlin, speaking to Global Post Nov. 6: "No other European capital and no other country has experienced so deep a transformation, in substance and in form.” In charge since 2001 and stepping down in December, Wowereit has presided over the transformation of the city into an international avatar of cool.

Vitaly Churkin, permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, speaking at CFR Nov. 4: "Sometimes I think that the Cold War is not really dead. It's sort of comatose, but from time to time it would come back and give a few kicks, and then will go into this comatose state again. So, I think we need to make sure that that's definitively dead."

David Hasselhoff, the German-American actor who sang "Looking for Freedom" atop the wall, speaking to CNN Nov. 6: “I knew that night that I sang, other than the birth of my children, would be the highlight of my life. I was just in the right place, at the right time with the right song.”

Courtesy: IBN/IBT