Breaking the Wall: World Leaders join festivities in once-divided Berlin
World leaders from the past and the present gathered in Berlin to join the festivities commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – one of the most important events in the history of Europe.
Twenty years on it is music that can be heard at the Brandenburg gates.
When the wall was in place, the scene was one of pain and grief that came with divided families, divided streets and a divided future.
Now those who look at the broken remnants of the Berlin Wall simply can not believe that it once stood strong through a major European capital.
The square in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which has become the symbol of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the epicenter for the festive program. Thousands of people gathered at the Pariser Platz despite the bad weather, and the Berlin Capella Contorum performed a concert along with the State Opera Choir.
The day when the Berlin Wall fell is seen as the point of when the Cold War ended.
The celebrations were hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“For us Germans, November 9 is also a day of admonition. Today, 71 years ago, Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) opened the darkest chapter of Germany's history – the systematic persecution and murder of Europe's Jews and many, many other people. This, also, we will not forget on this day. Both [events] show us that freedom is not self-evident. Freedom must be fought for. Freedom must always be defended,” Angela Merkel said.
She also recalled her feelings on November 9, 1989.
“Twenty years ago today the Brandenburg gates were opened as a gateway to freedom. Those of us who were alive at that time still remember the feelings that they felt that night and the things they did that very evening. For me, it was one of the happiest moments in my life. Ladies and gentlemen, this constituted an epochal turning point for Germany, for Europe and the world,” she said.
Leaders of the world’s powers have come together for one night in Berlin to speak of peace and freedom in front of more than 200,000 spectators.
The former Soviet leader and one of the key figures in reshaping the whole European continent, Mikhail Gorbachev, along with Lech Walesa, who led anti-communist demonstrations in Poland as a trade union leader and was the first to successfully challenge a regime in Eastern Europe, have also taken part in the commemorative events.
They were joined by other world leaders from those nations that occupied the territories of Germany after the war – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
As for Germany and Russia, they had special speeches of their own.
“We appreciate it very much that these 20 years that have passed since that event have proven to be a time of special importance for Russia and Germany. We have been building new partner relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Our peoples have had the courage to step over the memories of the past and achieve a historically important reconciliation after World War II,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said.
“These events brought progress and unity to the whole of Europe and marked a turning point in the fate of the whole world,” President Medvedev added. “And we should remember that the path to German reunification was closely linked to the fates of many people in the Soviet Union.”
And as a special sign of respect for the nation he was addressing, the Russian President chose to complete his speech in German.
“Meine Damen und Herren, liebe Berliner. Ich wünshce Ihnen viel Erfolg, Wohlergehen und Prosperität. Alles Gute! [Ladies and gentlemen, dear Berliners. I wish you all possible success, well-being and prosperity. All the best!],” Medvedev said.
It seemed there would be no end to festivities this week in Berlin, with people taking to the streets to celebrate regardless of which part of Germany they had originally come from – East or West.
Yet some remained skeptical when considering the legacy left by the past two decades.
“We lost 20 years, we lost them politically. We should have made sure that NATO did not encroach Russia. We should have kept very clear that we are not misusing the space that Mr. Gorbachev gave us in Europe,” said publicist Christoph Horstel.
The highlight of the night was the fall of the improvised wall made up of 1,000 giant domino pieces. They fell in a synchronized display in full view of the world’s leaders.
The dominoes have been on display for two days. They were lined up along over 1.2 km on the former site of the Berlin Wall from Checkpoint Charlie to the Reichstag.
The German people proved that they are united – but it was also a moment to reflect on the challenges that they still face.