Gorbachev gets hero’s welcome, leaves handprints at Checkpoint Charlie as Berlin celebrates fall of Wall (VIDEO)
“Anyone who comes to Berlin, or even the rest of Germany, can see the progress that has been made in the past few years. Congratulations on the anniversary,” said the 83-year-old to applause from a large media-dominated crowd just outside the Brandenburg Gate.
“I was first in East Berlin in 1966 – this was a dour place, full of buildings that still hadn’t been repaired since the end of the war,” reminisced the frail-looking, but firm-sounding Gorbachev.
“The war is long gone, but once again we are seeing tensions rise in Europe, and we have to make sure that the situation doesn’t get away from us,” he said, referring to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Gorbachev’s speech had been widely touted as “pro-Putin” in advance by the Western media, but the former Soviet leader steered clear of explicit political statements, though did say he hoped to share his views with Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend of celebrations.
As he finished his speech, The Wall by Pink Floyd blasted out of the speakers, while the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner left his handprints as a commemoration of his role. Unlike previous Soviet leaders, who punished states behind the Iron Curtain with armed interventions whenever they set on an independent political course, Gorbachev famously said that Eastern European states had the right to make their own decisions, paving the way for the collapse of Communism in East Germany.
25 years after the Berlin Wall came down, 8,000 illuminated balloons float in remembrance. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/gu0sAvyWph
— Oliver James (@OliverJamesUK) November 7, 2014
A few hours earlier, popular outgoing mayor Klaus Wowereit lit up the first balloon in a line that stretches along the center of the Wall, which has been almost entirely dismantled, leaving few physical reminders of its existence.
"I do this with joy, goodwill and the knowledge that Berlin today is an open, tolerant and globally recognised metropolis in the heart of Europe," said Wowereit, a socialist politician, who has been in charge of the city since 2001.
On the evening on November 9, the exact anniversary of the announcement that East Germans were now allowed to cross the border to the West, all the balloons will be simultaneously released into the sky, to triumphant sounds of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself grew up in East Germany, will be the guest of honor at a memorial concert at the Palace of Tears, a landmark crossing between the two parts of the city, which were split in 1961. On Sunday, she will open an exhibition dedicated to the contrasting lives in the two halves of the city.
Also on Sunday evening, more than 2 million people are expected to attend a celebration by the Brandenburg Gate, headlined by Gorbachev, and other Cold War figures, such as Polish resistance leader Lech Walesa.