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Germany celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall

AFP/The Local · 9 Nov 2009, 23:19

Published: 09 Nov 2009 12:13 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Nov 2009 23:19 GMT+01:00

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Chancellor Angela Merkel joined luminaries past and present to remember when communist East German finally opened the despised concrete barrier on November 9, 1989.

Merkel, who grew up in the East, marched through the historic Brandenburg Gate with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives from across the European Union.

Surrounded by a giant crowd despite a steady cold drizzle, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-Polish president Lech Walesa also appeared at the monument, which now stands as the symbol of German unity.

"It is not only a day of celebration for Germans," Merkel said of the anniversary. "It is a day of celebration for the whole of Europe."

Click here for a photo gallery of the Berlin Wall celebrations.

In a surprise video address beamed into the ceremonies, US President Barack Obama said he still took inspiration from the courage of East Germans who stood up against their oppressive regime.

"Few would have foreseen ... that a united Germany would be led by a woman from Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent," he said. "But human destiny is what human beings make of it."

But Medvedev said the end of the Cold War did not justify any nation's global dominance, in a clear swipe at the United States. "The transition to a new multipolar world is today very important for most countries, for all the countries in Europe and the world," he said.

Crowds surged to hear Berlin's renowned State Opera orchestra play strains of Beethoven and Wagner and cheered the symbolic toppling of 1,000 giant styrofoam dominoes along two kilometres (1.2 miles) of the Wall's former course, where border guards once had shoot-to-kill orders.

Sarkozy said the global community still needed to live up to the promise of that euphoric night. "The fall of the Berlin Wall is an appeal, an appeal to all to vanquish oppression, to knock down the walls that throughout the world still divide towns, territories, peoples," he said.

Brown called the unity of Berlin, Germany and Europe "majestic" achievements. The Wall "was swept away by the greatest force of all - the unbreakable spirit of men and women who dared to dream in the darkness," he said.

Click here for a photo gallery of the Berlin Wall then and now.

At least 136 people who tried to cross the most visceral manifestation of the Iron Curtain were killed.

But following weeks of protests against the regime, East German authorities suddenly allowed people to travel to the West that autumn night in 1989.

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

Easterner Christel Schneider, now a 62-year-old bank employee, said the mood that night was electrifying.

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"I crossed the border into the West – it was madness," she said, still breathless from the memories. "There were so many people that we were driving at a snail's pace."

Even twenty years later, an overwhelming majority of Germans are still grateful for the Wall's fall. According to a poll in the Leipziger Volkszeitung daily, with 79 percent of those surveyed calling November 9, 1989 a magical day.

"It was an immense joy," said Thekla Koehler, recalling the night that the concrete barrier dividing the city and keeping her apart from her family, was no more.

"I fled from the East to the West through Checkpoint Charlie, hidden in a car, 35 years ago," the 59-year-old told AFP, one of tens of thousands of people in the German capital celebrating the anniversary on Monday.

But sociologist Frithjof Hager of Berlin's Free University said national unification, sealed in 1990, was still a work in progress.

"I believe the authoritarian mindset is still an issue (in the east) – such things only change very slowly," he told AFP. "But I think simply pointing the finger at easterners would be deeply unfair."

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Your comments about this article

16:57 November 9, 2009 by Wise Up!
Where's Obama???????
17:05 November 9, 2009 by Soonerdiver
Mr Obama is to busy to allow himself to come to Germany to celebrate the falling of the Wall! In all actuality he is probably looking for an excuse for the police shooting that poor Major at Ft. Hood, Tx.; but then we shouldn't jump to conclusions... like the Cambridge Police did!
18:26 November 9, 2009 by berniebird
For those interested, there is a good audio doc podcast on RTE about the Irish diaspora in Berlin during the fall of the Wall:

19:37 November 9, 2009 by mprulez
Dear Germans

Please accept us too! We want to integrate and we are...the question is, DO YOU WANT TO?
19:40 November 9, 2009 by Lairor
It's just like Russia to blame everybody else for their inability to join European integration.
20:20 November 9, 2009 by Neutral
Well, German unification was associated with emotion, a crave for free world for the easterners and glorified feeling of westerners in liberating their eastern broghters. However, Germans are basically not an emotional race. This could be seed of disillusionment.
22:52 November 9, 2009 by wot20krpm
Truly a special and worthy celebration. Question I have is why current President of Poland's was not invited considering those who were in attendance - Russia's President, Britain's PM, President of France? Lech Walesa is the former President of Poland, who at least in Poland is no longer held in high regard due to his questionable past and unexplained (by him) allegations of him being a secret police confidant.
00:10 November 10, 2009 by Bushdiver
Hard to believe, 20 years later and the so-called reunification tax which was to be just temporary still exists!
02:52 November 10, 2009 by maxbrando
You Germans should be ashamed of yourselves. Ronald Reagan did more to cause that wall to come down than anyone else. Why was Gorbachov so prominent in being recognized, and not Reagan??? None of this will be forgotten when you next need the USA to bail you out. Next time, we will let the Russians have you. See how you like it then.
05:57 November 10, 2009 by Major B
Just don't understand innoble comments from some of you on a great occasion like this. Geez!!!!! This is a time to again congratulate the German people. Response to some ot the avove.

1) Pres. Obama beamed a great response. When he did visit Berlin two years ago, the comments from the right wing crazies in the U.S. were shameful and they make them daily. He is right to be with his nation at a time like this and "Soonerdiver", don't you dare blemish the soldiers of the U.S. military with nonsense and cras comment you made you x#&******. That situation is none of your business!!!!

2) The German people have nothing to be ashamed of "masbrando" and everything to be proud of. Sure Pres Reagan contributed to German unification but it took the guts, courage and strength of Pres George Bush Sr. who overrode the objections of the French and British. Germany is a NATO ally and the U.S. is still committed to the agreements outlined in our alliance. That Russian comment was irresponsible and reprehensible.
12:20 November 10, 2009 by kalyaja
Dear Wise up!

I'll tell you as well whereabout Mr.Obama, the president of the United States of America. He has schedule conflict with the China visit. He had no time to participate in this historical event when all 27 EU zone head of the gov and States and even Russian President were attending. Obama opted out to go kiss hands of Hu Jin To to beg for more money to foot his expensive healthcare bill. He'll go where there's money for him. That's his top priority, not this gathering of european leaders eventhough he's been preaching for closer cooperation between transatlantic. He could careless for this european event. Appearing himself so arrogantly via video was good enough for him and that was a big slap on Merkel's face. You'll see how Merkel will pay him back. But then again he had time to fly for a day to Copenhagen to do Olympic bid which wasn't necessary trip and nobody in the U.S except in Chicago wanted it and what was the result??? Lost his pants there. He made a stupid mistake not to attend. This is the only chance for him to show strong support for the european allies and represent the country as America was the main force behind the collapse of the Wall and the communism. There will not be another Berlin Wall Fall anniversary for him to attend again even if he goes into the 2nd term by luck. He missed it big time. He only smells after Chinese money. Or maybe his First Lady couldn't wait to go do her shopping for cheap chinese goods in China and didn't want to waste her time in Berlin.
15:26 November 10, 2009 by Major B
Come on!!!!! You guys are aweful cynics with nothing good to say about anything. "Wise up" up indeed. Germany has "super big" trading interests in China. Germany is the world's third largest arms exporter. Careful what you say.!!!

Pres Obama is needed at home. He fully demonstates and believes in the concept first spoken by his predecessor, "Ich bin ein Berliner" about 47 years ago. We all celebrate German unity. We are aware that the majority of Americans are of German descent. He sent "Hillary" and that's supposed to be bad???? She is the distinguished former first lady of the United States, loved and respected by women around the world. She is a former Senator of the of the United States. Even her harshest critics in America and abroad respected the tenacity, courage, steel and vision she demonstrated as she ran her very recent presidential campaign. She is a "de facto" third Vice President, because of her smarts, experience and stature. I am sure, very sure, that Chancelor Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, appreciated her presence. Secretary Clinton being there demonstrates the President's trust and faith in her, the unity of the present U.S. government, and the utmost respect for the German nation.
18:55 November 10, 2009 by Kennethmac2000
Sorry guys, but some of you need to check your facts.

Obama wanted to come to Berlin, but the security arrangements would have been an absolute nightmare and the Berlin authorities asked him to stay away.
18:23 November 11, 2009 by Hibernicus
It's more than ironic, Merkel and the rest of the Euro Gang standing beside her talking about freedom and liberty when they all conspired to deny the German people and the rest of the continental EU the right to a referendum vote on their damnable Lisbon Treaty. They all applauded the Irish Government's rigged referendum on October 2 (currently being challenged in the Irish Supreme Court) and of course, they allowed the appointment of the corrupt Karzai as "President" of Afghanistan; also the product of rigged elections. Clinton can't say much either, as her government has a 700 mile wall on the border of Texas and Mexico and are the biggest funders of Israel's wall on the occupied Palestinian teritories of the West Bank of Jordan. Damn hypocrites, all of them. At least Medvedev had the honesty not to boast of freedom and liberty in his country.
22:28 November 13, 2009 by DrGideonPolya
Well said, Hibernicus. In addition to the 700 mile Gringo Wall on the US-Mexico border and the obscene, war criminal Apartheid Israeli Apartheid Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there is the Great Wall of India between Bangledesh and India that is ostensibly to keep out Bangladeshi "smugglers" (700 shot so far) but is really to deal with the literally millions of climate refugees due to largely First World-imposed global warming and worsening Climate Genocide. Who are the climate criminals who will create the climate refugees from climate genocide who will press up against the Great Wall of India? The annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution in tonnes per person per year is is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 12 (GERMANY), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; or 54 if Australia¦#39;s huge Exported CO2 pollution is included). It is estimated from predictions of top UK climate scientist Dr James Lovelock FRS that Climate Genocide due to unaddressed man-made global warming will kill 10 billion non-Europeans this century, this including 6 billion infants, 3 billion Muslims, 2 billion Indians, 0.5 bilion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis. WALLS (barbed wire, ocean and channel barriers) will keep out the climate refugees just as they presently largely keep out the current 20 million Muslim refugees from the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan and NW Pakistan Territories created by the racist Zionists of Apartheid Israel and the war criminal and climate criminal US Alliance (including Merkel Germany and Apartheid Australia).
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