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Berlin Wall’s legacy 25 years on: inspire others to tear down barriers

EXTENDED COVERAGE: Fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years on

Germany has kicked off celebrations marking 25 years since the epochal fall of the Berlin Wall, with rock stars and icons joining millions at an open-air party.

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The Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, told SBS: “If the world is looking at us tonight because something important and wonderful happened, then it’s also a message to the whole world, where there are still walls left standing like out of cement or in the minds of the people. And it is that people should knock down these walls. Our solidarity goes to all the regions and to those people who are working on trying to bring down those walls.”

 

Gorbachev’s reminder of enduring relevance of lessons learned

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose perestroika and glasnost reforms helped pave the way for the Wall’s fall, greeted crowds at Berlin’s iconic former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing.

The 83-year-old, who is revered in Berlin for having refrained from a bloody crackdown on protesters in 1989, understated his own role in history.

“I am proud I could contribute a little bit to the fact that we live like this today,” he said.

But the Nobel Prize winner also warned of new East-West tensions sparked by the Ukraine crisis, saying both sides must “get a grip on the tensions that have emerged recently”.

“There is an old, proven experience when Russian and German are friendly to each other Europe is peaceful, and they’re good and the world is better. Let’s not forget about that.”

World leaders say they will never forget

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, is leading three days of commemorations for those killed trying to flee the repressive state, ahead of a giant festival Sunday marking the joyous breach of Europe’s Cold War division on November 9, 1989.

“I think you never forget how you felt that day – at least I will never forget it,” Merkel, 60, said in her latest podcast.

“I had to wait 35 years for that feeling of liberty. It changed my life.”

The festivities under the banner Courage for Freedom recall the peaceful revolution that led communist authorities to finally open the border after 28 years in which Easterners were prisoners of their own government.

Germany would reunite within the year, on October 3, 1990.

US President Barack Obama told the world to remember lessons from the emotional fall of the Berlin Wall.

“I will never forget the scenes of East Berliners courageously taking to the streets, pushing past the guards and tearing down the wall that for so long had separated them from family and friends and the free world,” Obama said in a statement.

“As Russia’s actions against Ukraine remind us, we have more work to do to fully realize our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.”

Relations between Russia and the United States are at their iciest since the end of the Cold War after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March.

EXTENDED COVERAGE: Fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years on

 

Wall of Lights

Berlin has set up an ambitious installation featuring nearly 7000 white balloons pegged to the ground along a 15-kilometre stretch of the Wall’s former 155-kilometre path.

The glowing orbs, which from above look like a string of pearls, are to be released Sunday and set to float into the night sky, to the stirring strains of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

East Germany built the Wall, which it called an Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, in August 1961 to halt a mass exodus to the West.

On November 9, 1989, East German border guards, overwhelmed by large crowds, threw open the gates to West Berlin, allowing free passage for the first time since it was built.

At least 389 people lost their lives trying to escape East Germany, according to an official toll, although victims groups put the figure much higher.