Latest update: 10/11/2009
- Berlin Wall - Cold War - Germany
Berlin marks 20 years since the fall of the Wall
Leaders from both sides of the Atlantic joined some 100,000 revellers Monday for a series of events in the German capital marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
By FRANCE 24 (text)
World leaders joined thousands of people from around the globe on Monday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, that sombre barrier that for almost three decades symbolised the divide between the competing ideologies of East and West.
Key political figures that were instrumental in bringing down the wall and hastening the demise of Soviet communism in Eastern Europe gathered under the capital’s grey skies and at times pouring rain. The occasion was marked with a series of events, including the symbolic crossing of Bösebrücke bridge, once a checkpoint, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Polish president Lech Walesa and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the Kremlin’s top man when the Wall came down.
Later in the day, a thousand oversized dominoes emblazoned with bright colours along 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) of the Wall's original path were toppled to symbolise the collapse of the Communist regime.
Relatively peaceful revolutions against the Soviet regime took place in one Eastern bloc nation after another, with the success of each subsequent nation inspiring its neighbours to similarly shake off the shackles of Communism.
It all began in Poland, with the 1980 shipyard strikes led by Solidarity trade union leader Walesa, who later served as Poland’s first post-Communist president. A series of small successes -- including the Aug. 19, 1989, Pan-European picnic in the Hungarian town of Sopron, during which some 600 Easterners escaped -- followed elsewhere across the bloc, culminating in the Nov. 9, 1989, joyful dismantling of what was once the starkest symbol of the Iron Curtain.
“One event after another throughout the ’80s led up to the fall of the Wall in 1989,” says FRANCE 24’s Damien McGuinness, reporting from Berlin.
Fittingly, Walesa toppled the first domino, spurring loud cheers from the crowds gathered along the symbolic memorial.
The end of the Wall did not bring an end to all of the Eastern bloc’s troubles. Many were to face decades of economic hardship as their nations struggled to catch up with the more affluent West.
And even today's recollections of a world-defining moment have not entirely concealed the divisions that still exist between East and West, nor a certain longing some feel for the former East Germany that has come to be known among Germans as “ostalgia”.
“There are still many problems to overcome,” McGuinness says. “There are still economic problems which make the lives of many former East Germans difficult, mainly high unemployment.”
“There is a certain amount of nostalgia,” he says, although he notes that the once-divided capital in particular has come a long way to become the “vibrant, young dynamic” city it is today.
McGuiness says it must be remembered that, quite literally, “a state vanished overnight”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel - who grew up in Communist East Germany - welcomed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the day's festivities, including a gala reception at the Bellevue Palace.
Angela Merkel gave the final of speech of the evening from the foot of the historic Brandenburg Gate. “Let us continue to answer the call of freedom together,” Merkel said. “We are in a position to overcome the barriers of our time, just as we did 20 years ago in 1989 in this city.”
Merkel also said over the weekend that the Nov. 9, 1989, fall of the Wall was “the happiest day in recent Germany history”.