Tens of thousands of Berliners and visitors to the city thronged the path of the Berlin Wall on Monday, eager to be part of the emotional ceremonies being held to mark two decades since the Wall fell.
At 3:00 p.m. local time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-Polish President Lech Walesa, took a symbolic stroll across a bridge at Bornholmer Strasse - a former checkpoint along the Berlin Wall. It was the first border crossing to be opened in the city, and Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, was among those East Berliners who surged into the West on the evening of November 9, 1989.
In a speech, she honored all those who became victims of the East German regime, and also offered thanks to those who supported East Germans in their struggle to live in a free society. She also praised Gorbachev for his role in reforming the Soviet Union.
"You made this possible, you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect," she told Gorbachev.
Her words came ahead of the main ceremonies which will be held at the Brandenburg Gate. There, the chancellor will be joined by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the leaders of all 27 European Union member states, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Dominos a powerful symbol
One of the highlights will be the toppling of 1,000 colorful styrofoam dominos, which have been lined up along a 1.5 kilometer (one mile) stretch of terrain once occupied by the Berlin Wall in the area around the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag parliament building.
The falling of the 2.5-meter-high (8 ft. 2 in.) dominos will symbolically mark the fall of the Wall. They have been decorated by various artists as well as Berlin school children to reflect upon what reunification represents to the people of East and West Germany.
Many of the dominos carry messages like "We are one people." One labeled "bleeding heart" shows a sword cutting through the city of Berlin, starting a crimson flow of blood speckled with crosses.
"Everyone has walls in their heads to a certain extent," said one Berlin resident Stefan Schueler, who was admiring the artwork. "It is always a good thing if one can break them down, and I think this is a good symbol."
"It's really very beautiful, it's a terrific idea," said Barbara Graff, a 74-year-old city resident. Recalling November 9, 1989, she said that she went to West Berlin's main shopping street, Kurfuerstendamm, and "distributed money to the people arriving en masse from the East."
Human chain to form
In addition to the toppling of the dominos, the celebrations include a fireworks display, concerts and a human chain linking thousands of Germans and foreigners together along the former path of the Wall.
The president of the Berlin Assembly, Walter Momper, on Saturday donated the first of many stone pillars to be erected in the city's Berlin Wall park to remember those killed while trying to escape communist East Germany. Over the next few years, more pillars will be added until all the 136 victims shot and killed between 1961 and 1989 have been commemorated.
Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, said his city had become a symbol for "the dream of liberty." Berlin is a place where you "can feel history," he said, and a place which reminds us that "walls can fall; not just in Germany, but anywhere in the world."
Editor: Rick Demarest