20 Years After Berlin Wall's Fall, Looking Back And Ahead

Germany Reflects As Leaders Press Expansion Of Freedom

November 09, 2009|By Agence France-Presse

BERLIN - -Germany's capital warmed up for the 20th anniversary of the Wall's fall with events throughout the city, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a new trans-Atlantic push to free those still oppressed.

"Our history did not end the night the Wall came down," Clinton told current and former European and U.S. political heavyweights on the eve of the celebrations marking the end of the Cold War and the continent's division.

"To expand freedom to more people, we cannot accept that freedom does not belong to all people. We cannot allow oppression defined and justified by religion or tribe to replace that of ideology."

Leaders from across Europe are to join about 100,000 revelers today at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of national unity since the peaceful revolution that tore down the Wall in 1989.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will also host leaders including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, recalled that the end of Europe's postwar rift came as an utter surprise.

"The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall should remind us all what incredible luck we had with the reunification of Europe and Germany," Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said in today's edition of the newspaper Bild.

On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, following weeks of pro-democracy protests, the Stalinist state's authorities suddenly opened the border.

After 28 years as prisoners of their own country, euphoric East Germans streamed to checkpoints and rushed past bewildered guards, many falling tearfully into the arms of West Germans welcoming them on the other side.

On Sunday, Germans were already out in force along the former route of the barrier that had cleaved the city in half, inspecting 1,000 giant dominoes that will be toppled as part of today's ceremonies.

Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the project, in which schoolchildren were among those to decorate the huge foam tiles, had helped underline the day's importance for those too young to remember it.

In the run-up to the anniversary, Irish rockers U2 electrified a crowd of 10,000 at the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday with a spectacular free concert that included the ballad "One," written in Berlin and partly inspired by the Wall's fall.

Artists on Friday unveiled restored murals on the longest-surviving stretch of the 96-mile-long Wall.

Today, Merkel will be joined by former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, ex-Polish president Lech Walesa and German civil rights activists who will meet at Bornholmer Strasse, where many East Germans had their first taste of freedom.

Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim will later lead the State Opera orchestra and choir in a concert at the Brandenburg Gate capped with fireworks and performances by Bon Jovi and German DJ Paul van Dyk.

France was also preparing a big celebration, with a dazzling light-and-sound show on the Place de la Concorde in central Paris.

Sarkozy shared his own memories on his Facebook page, saying he was in Berlin and among the first to chip away at the Wall's concrete slabs.

"We then headed for Checkpoint Charlie [border crossing] to see the eastern side of the city and finally confront this wall and I was able to take a pickax to it," he wrote.

Meanwhile Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who was posted as a KGB agent in Dresden under communism, said he had fond memories of East Germany including learning German, mountain excursions and contacts with local agents.

"But we see how the Federal Republic [post-reunification Germany] is developing and we are happy that we have good relations on a new basis," he said. "This of course makes any nostalgia secondary."

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