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Festival of freedom

November 9, 2009

In a festival of freedom held at the Brandenburg Gate, world leaders joined tens of thousands of people to recall the moment that signalled the end of communist rule in Europe - the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The guests of honor walk through the Brandenburg Gate
The guests of honor walk through the Brandenburg GateImage: AP

Following a group of children whistling the iconic melody of the Scorpions' ballad, "Winds of Change," German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a delegation of world leaders through the Brandenburg Gate as Monday evening's festivities got underway.

At her side were British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among other dignitaries, all clutching white umbrellas against the downpour.

From left, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German President Horst Koehler, Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wave to the crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 9, 2009
Merkel and the other heads of state each delivered tributes to the people of BerlinImage: AP

On a personal note, Merkel - who grew up in East Germany - said that the night of November 9, 1989 was one of the happiest moments of her life. But she also recalled a darker anniversary that is marked in Germany each year on the same date - the pogroms against the Jews in 1938 known as Kristallnacht, or the "night of broken glass." These two events remind us "how fragile freedom is, and how it must be fought for again and again," the chancellor said.

Tributes to the people of Berlin

In his tribute, Brown said the fall of the Berlin Wall should set an example to tackle the seemingly "impossible" challenges of today, including climate change, extreme poverty and nuclear proliferation. The Wall "was torn down by the greatest force of all - the unbreakable spirit of men and women of Berlin, who dared to dream in the darkness," he said.

In her remarks, Clinton spoke of the need "to work together to advance freedom from beyond its current frontiers, so that people can pursue their dreams and live up to their God-given potential." She then introduced a surprise video address by US President Barack Obama, who said that "there could be no clearer rebuke of tyranny" than the sight of people tearing down the Wall.

Symbolic dominoes set in motion

Dominoes placed along the former border in front of the Brandenburg Gate
The dominoes created a symbolic wall in BerlinImage: AP

A highlight of the festival was the symbolic toppling of 1,000 giant Styrofoam dominoes along a 1.5-kilometer (one mile) stretch of the Wall's former course. They were set in motion by former Polish President Lech Walesa, recalling the sequence of events which began in early 1989 in Poland and culminated with the fall of the Wall.

The domino blocks were decorated by artists and schoolchildren in countries all over the world still affected by division and repression, and then sent back to Berlin for Monday night's festival.

Music to mark the moment

The festival also featured several musical highlights. The evening began with a concert by the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim, featuring compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Arnold Schoenberg and Friedrich Goldmann.

Tenor Placido Domingo sang a music-hall number celebrating Berlin's unique atmosphere, prompting enthusiastic calls of "Encore!" from the crowd.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi was also on hand to perform his new song, "We Weren't Born to Follow."

The evening ended with a fireworks display, recalling the joyous atmosphere of 20 years ago, when people from East and West Berlin celebrated the momentous events with spontaneous parties lasting well into the morning hours.

Author: Deanne Corbett

Editor: Susan Houlton