November 09, 2009
Berlin Celebrates the Day the Wall Fell
Germany is celebrating 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
on Monday with a series of events, including ceremonial domino toppling,
concerts and fireworks. As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to
host world leaders at the celebrations, she acknowledged that much
still needs to be done to ensure equal living conditions in the
East and West.
It is a day for celebrations and commemorations, for festivities
and sober reflection. Berlin is marking 20 years since the fall
of the Wall on Monday with a series of events, big and small.
Leaders from around the world are descending on the German capital
to help celebrate the momentous events of Nov. 9, 1989, a date
that has come to symbolize the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
The main focus of events will be the historic Brandenburg Gate,
where 20 years ago, joyful East and West Berliners gathered together
to dance on top of the wall and celebrate the sudden opening up
of the Iron Curtain. The iconic gateway had once stood in the
midst of no man's land, surrounded by barbed wire and machine
guns. Now 20 years on, a concert and fireworks display will recall
those heady moments.
A line of 1,000 foam dominoes painted by 15,000 young people have
been set up along the former line of the Wall in front of the Brandenburg
Gate. The former Solidarity trade union leader and former Polish
will push the first domino, symbolically reenacting the
toppling of communism across Eastern Europe. He will be joined by
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, former
South African President Nelson Mandela and former Czech President
Vaclav Havel, who was one of the leaders of 1989's Velvet Revolution.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the former East Germany,
will then join her guests, including US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the other 26 leaders
of the European Union for a celebratory dinner.
Merkel acknowledged on Monday that 20 years on, there was still
work to be done on bringing together the East and West. "German
unification is not complete," she told the ARD TV station
on Monday morning. She said that while there had been much progress,
there was still much to be done to create "equal living conditions,"
pointing out that, for example, unemployment is still twice as
high in eastern Germany. Given the persistent inequality, the
so-called "solidarity tax" that all Germans pay to help
with the former East's reconstruction was still required, Merkel
An enormous amount of money has been pumped into the former East
over the past two decades. According to a report in the Welt am
Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, the Institute for Economic Research
estimates that between 1991 and 2005 €1.3 trillion ($1.9
trillion) flowed into the region.
Celebrations and Commemorations
Earlier on Monday Merkel joined German President Horst Köhler
to attend a ceremony at the Gethsemane Church, which was a focus
for the peaceful protest movement in the Prenzlauer Berg district
in 1989. While much of the mood on Monday is celebratory, there
are also to be events commemorating those people, whose total
number is estimated to be over 100, who lost their lives attempting
to escape across the Berlin Wall.
The 155-kilometer (96-mile) construction was erected on Aug. 13,
1961, in order to prevent East Berliners from leaving. After months
of pro-democracy protests that had already caused the ousting
of the hardline East German leader Erich Honecker, the Wall finally
fell on Nov. 9, 1989.
East Berliners rushed to the border that night after watching
Politbüro member Günter Schabowski declare at a press
conference that travel restrictions were being lifted "immediately."
Bon Jovi and Paul van Dyk
The first breach of the border was at the Bornholmer
in the north of the Prenzlauer Berg district.
The first East Berliners without visas pushed through the checkpoint
on the bridge at 9:20 p.m. Within hours, hundreds of thousands
of people had joined them and by midnight East and West Berliners
were celebrating on the streets and dancing on top of the Wall.
On Monday afternoon, Merkel and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit was
joined by Walesa and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to
mark that historic moment with a ceremony at the Bornholmer Strasse
At 7 p.m. the Berliner Staatskappelle led by Daniel Barenboim
will hold a concert at the Brandenburg Gate, followed by rockers
Bon Jovi performing their song "We Weren't Born To Follow."
After the dominoes are knocked over, Paul van Dyk, a Grammy Award-winning
DJ who grew up in East Germany, will premier his song "We
Aside from the official celebrations, a number of other more
informal events will take place across the city. The Dutch band
Noir plan to hold a "Wall of Sound" guitar performance
at the Mauerpark,
which runs along the former death stip. Meanwhile organizers of
the "Mauer Mob"
flash mob are hoping to recreate the Berlin Wall in human
form for 15 minutes at 8:15 p.m.