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Berlin marks 25 years since the fall of the Wall

November 8, 2014

People from across Germany and the globe are flocking to Berlin to remember the fall of the Wall 25 years ago. Iconic figures, among them former Soviet leader Gorbachev, are also in the capital for the historic occasion.

25 Jahre Mauerfall
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

By Sunday, some 2 million people are expected to have gathered in Berlin for the culmination of weekend events marking a quarter of a century since the fall of the Wall.

The streets of the German capital were filled on Saturday as large crowds viewed a light installation which marks the 15-kilometer (9-mile) stretch of wall - once guarded, barb wired and absolutely prohibited to cross - that divided the city for nearly three decades.

Some 7,000 balloons were first illuminated on Friday evening, retracing the path which nowadays is invisible, but for the odd plaque or remnant dotted across the city.

On Sunday evening, the balloons are to be set free into the night sky, this time lifting the divide into the heavens over the city - a stark contrast to the hammers, bulldozers and cranes that broke down the 3.6-meter-high concrete slabs 25 years ago.

Merkel leads three-day events

The German chancellor had a schedule filled with anniversary-related engagements ahead of the highly-anticipated festivities on Sunday, November 9. On that historic day in 1989, the former East Germany opened its borders to the West for all to pass without a visa for the first time in 28 years. Communist East German authorities had erected the Wall in 1961 to stem an exodus of residents.

Formal German reunification took place almost a year later, on October 3, 1990. That followed a series of negotiations between the two then German states and the four former occupying powers, Britain, France, the-then Soviet Union and the USA.

On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the former East, remarked in her weekly podcast on the significance of November 9 not just for Germany, but for herself.

"I think you never forget how you felt that day - at least I will never forget it," she said, adding: "I had to wait 35 years for that feeling of liberty. It changed my life."

On Saturday, Merkel was to open the conference "Falling Walls" on global research innovations. She was also scheduled to attend a concert by former East German activist and singer Wolf Biermann, whose performance at the parliamentary commemoration drew widespread media coverage for his criticism of the Left Party.

Iconic figures return

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose "perestroika" and "glasnost" policies were credited with paving the way for the fall of the Wall, has also travelled to Berlin. Speaking at an event near the iconic Brandenburg Gate, he warned of new tensions spiraling out of control.

"The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it's already begun," the 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner said, referring to the West's inability to find viable solutions for conflicts in the Middle East and in Ukraine.

Gorbachev is to attend Sunday's events, alongside former Polish President Lech Walesa and former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth. German President Joachim Gauck, who like Merkel grew up in former East Germany, will also be in attendance.

Vandalism mars memorials

Police reported damage to a new exhibition which Chancellor Merkel is scheduled to open on Sunday.

Six teenagers between the ages of 15 and 20 were apprehended early Saturday morning after authorities found they had allegedly painted political statements near the new memorial site, located on Bernauer Strasse. The street was the site of harrowing escape attempts when the Wall was first constructed in 1961.

While the police declined to release what had been written, they indicated that the graffiti had criticized Europe and Germany's treatment of refugees during a time when it is celebrating freedom and national reunification.

Earlier this week, a group of refugee activists stole white crosses for people who had died while trying to flee into West Germany. For their protest action they cited the deaths of 30,000 asylum seekers who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

kms/nm, ipj (AP, AFP, dpa)