Berlin, Nov 9 (DPA) German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday retraced the steps she took after the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, as international leaders gathered in Berlin to celebrate the events of Nov 9, 1989.
Addressing throngs of onlookers, the chancellor said the historic events of 1989 were ‘the result of a long history of repression and the fight against repression’, and remembered the many people who suffered under the East German regime.
Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, was once again surrounded by crowds as she symbolically crossed the Bornholmer Bridge, the site of the first checkpoint to be opened between East and West Berlin.
The chancellor, who had been among the crowd surging through the checkpoint 20 years ago, was joined by dignitaries and civil rights activists, among them former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Poland’s former opposition leader and president Lech Walesa.
International leaders congregated in Berlin for a day of festivities remembering the events of Nov 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall was breached, marking the end of Europe’s East-West divide.
On that day in 1989, travel restrictions for East German citizens were unexpectedly lifted, prompting a rush of thousands of Berliners to the despised barrier, where they were allowed to cross in a night of jubilation.
In the months that followed, the Soviet-controlled bloc in Eastern Europe collapsed.
Leaders of the four World War II Allied powers – Britain, France, Russia and the US – were due to take part in the celebrations, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel began the day at a remembrance service in the Gethsemane Church, which had been a centre of the resistance movement against the East German communist state (GDR) in the former East Berlin.
German archbishop Robert Zollitsch remembered the mass demonstrations in East Germany, which increased the pressure on the East German regime throughout the summer of 1989.
‘In the end, it was the call of the masses for freedom which put and end to the East German state,’ Zollitsch said.
Later, the chancellor shared a moment of reflection in the Chapel of Reconciliation, built at the site the so-called Death Strip, the forbidden area between the two layers of the Berlin Wall.
The day’s events will culminate at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, which for 28 years had stood out of bounds at the centre of the divided city.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Premier Gordon Brown, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will join Merkel for a ceremonial walk through the gate.
Other guests include the presidents of the European Commission and Parliament, Jose Manuel Barroso and Jerzy Buzek.
For the past several days, central Berlin has been divided again by a row of domino stones, 2.5 metres in height and decorated by artists and school pupils from Germany and around the world.
The blocks are set to topple, after a push from Walesa, symbolising the sequence of events which began early 1989 in Poland and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the end of the Soviet bloc’s rule in eastern Europe.
Celebrations will include musical performances led by renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim, as well as a song from rock star Jon Bon Jovi and a hymn by Berlin music producer Paul van Dyk.
The evening is set to end with a huge fireworks display, recalling the joyous scenes as people partied the night away on top of the breached Berlin Wall 20 years ago.