25 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell
On November 9, 1989, a low-level East German bureaucrat said at an evening press conference that travel restrictions to West Germany would be relaxed. He wasn't very clear about it. In fact, it's not clear where the authoirity to make that announcement came from.
It didn't matter. Thousands of sledgehammer-wielding East and West Berliners marched to the wall and began to destroy it. Then, an East German border guard, getting no instructions from the government, decided to open one of the gates, and people began flooding into West Germany.
The party was on.
Weeping reporters showed pictures of jubilant Germans on top of the Wall, dancing with the hated border guards, drinking, crying, hugging each other. It was easily one of the most dramatic moments of 20th-century history.
It took a year to bring the wall completely down and effect formal unification. But today, Germans are recalling that joyous moment that occurred 25 years ago today and contemplating what they have wrought.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday an irrepressible yearning for freedom brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down 25 years ago and called it a "miracle" that the Cold War barrier was breached without a shot being fired.
Speaking on the eve of Sunday's celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's collapse, Merkel said Germany would always be grateful for the courage of East Germans who took to the streets to protest the Communist dictatorship.
"It was a day that showed us the yearning for freedom cannot be forever suppressed," Merkel said in a speech in Berlin.
"During the course of 1989 more and more East Germans lost their fears of the state's repression and chicanery, and went out on the streets. There was no turning back then. It is thanks to their courage the Wall was opened."In a country with few cheerful anniversaries to celebrate after its belligerent 20th century history, Germans have latched onto memories of the peaceful East German revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall on a joyful Nov. 9, 1989.
More than 100,000 Berliners and tourists wandered along a 15-km route in the city center on Saturday where the Berlin Wall once stood, and 7,000 illuminated balloons are now perched 3.6-metres high on poles - matching the height of the Wall.
The artistic display of balloons, which dramatically illustrate how the Wall snaked through the heart of the city, is also porous to enable people to easily move back and forth between the former East and West Berlin. The balloons will be released on Sunday to symbolize the Wall's disappearance.
Certainly the mass confusion in the crumbling East German government is mostly responsible for the fall of the Wall. And it's easy to forget that without the forbearance of the border guards, and the protestors, it may have become a bloody night:
"It was a miracle that everything happened peacefully," said Merkel, who was on her way home from a visit to the sauna when she saw crowds of people heading west and joined them. "There had been a lot of excitement for weeks. There were tanks that had been on my street since October 7."
Merkel, chancellor since 2005, began her career in politics months later as a deputy party spokeswoman. Usually guarded about her life in East Germany, Merkel had until recently been circumspect about revealing details of what she did on the evening the wall opened.
But in recent weeks she has spoken more openly and on Saturday said: "After I left the sauna on the evening of November 9, I went over the Bornholmer Street crossing to the other side and celebrated there with total strangers.
"There was just this incredible feeling of happiness," she said. "It was a night I'll never forget."
I remember being alone in my apartment watching in utter astonishment what was happening at the Wall. For those of us who lived and came of age during the Cold War, the pictures were simply unbelievable. I was sure we were watching some clever movie or something.
Watching the enthusastic protestors taking turns pounding the wall with their sledgehammers, everyone realized that it was over and that the West had won. To this day, the left tries to minimize the role of the U.S. and other Western countries in the fall of Communism, but most of us ignore their petulance. Next to perhaps the War for Independence, it was the greatest victory in the history of the United States, and its effects – both good and bad – are being felt to this day.