Official ceremonies marking the fall of the Berlin Wall have come to a close. More than a million people traveled to the German capital on Sunday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the event.
Though fireworks and an Udo Lindenberg concert closed festivities, a 15-kilometer (9-mile) string of 7,000 helium balloons stole the show, coursing the path of the barrier that had divided the city from 1961 to 1989.
Germans freed the balloons one after another to symbolize the breaching of the barbed-wire and concrete-block wall by crowds of protesters on that distant November 9.
Meantime, the Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra played "Ode to Joy," the anthem of the European Union, from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
"We're the happiest people in the world and we're thrilled that you brought the Berlin Wall down 25 years ago," Mayor Klaus Wowereit said. "Nothing and no one can stand in the way of freedom."
Festivities to mark the anniversary drew more than 1 million Berliners and visitors from all over to the heart of the once-divided city. Solidarity movement leader and later Polish President Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev - the last leader of the Soviet Union - and other figures credited with an international role in bringing down the wall and helping reunite Germany joined Wowereit, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck.
'Bridges, not walls'
Merkel, an East Berlin physicist when the wall opened, said in a speech that the world would forever remember the events as a triumph of the human spirit.
"The fall of the Berlin Wall showed us that dreams can come true and that nothing has to stay the way it is, no matter how high the hurdles might seem to be," Merkel said. "It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better," she added. "It was a victory of freedom over bondage."
The rest of the world also marked the anniversary of the opening of the border, a fortified and heavily guarded 155-kilometer barrier to West Germany. On Sunday, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican that the anniversary should spur people to try to topple other walls.
"Where there is a wall, there is a closing of hearts," the pope said on Sunday. "We need bridges, not walls."
Authorities from the former East Germany killed at least 138 people trying to escape to West Berlin and jailed many more. Soviet-style communist regimes collapsed in the face of popular uprisings across Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, signaling the end of the Cold War, of which the Berlin Wall had become the starkest symbol.
mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)