World leaders and partying Germans are descending on Berlin Nov. 9 to mark the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall was breached
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 President Lech Walesa 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 said.
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 billion ($1.9 billion) 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 Strasse crossing 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 crossing.
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 Are One."
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.