Chancellor Angela Merkel led a gathering of world leaders in Germany’s capital Monday for a celebration of the night 20 years earlier when the Berlin Wall fell.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, made a ceremonial procession with Merkel through the Brandenburg Gate, which for decades stood in the no man’s land between East and West Berlin.
The anniversary has provided Germans and people around the once-divided continent with an opportunity to reflect upon the successful reunification of Germany and the once-unthinkable integration of countries from the former Warsaw Pact into NATO and the European Union.
“It is also possible to overcome the barriers of our own time, just as we succeeded in bringing this about in this divided city in 1989,” Merkel told the crowd that had assembled in rain to mark the anniversary of the fall of the wall on Nov. 9, 1989, calling it “a day of celebration for all of Europe.”
Brown said, “Because of your courage, two Berlins are one, two Germanys are one, and now two Europes are one.”
To the disappointment of German leaders, President Barack Obama did not attend but made a video statement, introduced by Clinton. “Let us never forget Nov. 9, 1989, nor the sacrifices that made it possible,” Obama said. He added that “there could be no clearer rebuke of tyranny, there could be no stronger affirmation of freedom,” than the sight of people tearing down the wall.
The event swung from festive, with appearances by the tenor Placido Domingo and the rock band Bon Jovi, to the mournful, as when Merkel pointed out the importance of recalling that Nov. 9 was also the date in 1938 of the Nazi-led attacks on Jewish people, businesses and places of worship known as Kristallnacht.
A long line of 1,000 oversized dominoes were toppled along the route of the wall as a symbol of its collapse in the heady days of 1989 when dictatorships tumbled across Eastern Europe.
Lech Walesa, the former shipyard worker who led the fight against Moscow-backed Communism in Poland, pushed over the first domino, reflecting Poland’s leading role in Eastern Europe’s campaign against Communism.
Earlier in the day, Merkel walked across the Bornholmer Street bridge, accompanied by Walesa, who later became president of Poland, and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. In so doing they retraced the steps of the first East Germans, herself included, surging to West Berlin 20 years ago.
It was at the Bornholmer Street crossing point that East Berliners peacefully ended the division of their city. Crowds swelled the former checkpoint after an East German official announced that, with immediate effect, travel restrictions would be eased. Rather than use violence to force the masses of people back, the guards opened the gate.