Germany marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on Saturday with a string of events dedicated to one of the most defining moments in modern European history.
The breaching of the hated wall on November 9, 1989 followed a peaceful and popular uprising across communist East Germany inspired by moves among nations in Soviet-controlled Central Europe to break away from Moscow and shift towards Western-style democracies.
About 200 events have been held over the last week in Berlin alone, including in the churches where members of the resistance to East Germany's communist rulers met and in buildings once part of the regime's feared security service, the Stasi.
One building in central Berlin has also beamed video footage of the 155-kilometre-long wall being breached by thousands of East Germans streaming into the West, consequently ending the nation's Cold War divide.
Under the slogan ‘7 Days - 7 Locations,’ lectures, art installations, talks from witnesses, films and exhibitions have been held at the original Berlin locations of the revolution.
Berlin's historic Brandenburg Gate has been the setting for an art installation featuring around 30,000 ribbons with people's wishes, hopes and memories, suspended in the air to make up a 150-metre long ‘freedom cloud.’ Under its musical director Daniel Barenboim, the Staatskapelle Orchestra is to perform Beethoven's fifth symphony - also known as the ‘Schicksals-Sinfonie,’ or ‘destiny symphony’ - at the Brandenburg Gate as part of a concert to be launched by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Built almost overnight in 1961 as what the East German government described as an ‘anti-fascist protection barrier,’ the wall quickly emerged as one of the most striking symbols of the so-called Iron Curtain between the West and the Soviet Union.
The ugly concrete barrier was also used by two US presidents as backdrops for speeches calling for freedom.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled on Friday a statue at the US Embassy directly next to the Berlin Wall of former US president Ronald Reagan, who famously called in 1987 on then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall.’ More than 20 years earlier, US president John Kennedy had stood before the wall and declared: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ To this day it is unclear whether the East Berlin authorities intended the wall to fall on the night of November 9.
A minister holding a press conference called to outline measures to ease restrictions on East German citizens after weeks of growing demonstrations suddenly announced that the wall was to be opened with immediate effect.
As a date, November 9 has also been a cause for less jubilation in Germany.
Events are also being held on Saturday to mark the horrors or November 9, 1938, when Hitler's Third Reich unleashed a pogrom against Germany's Jewish community in what became known as the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht.
To mark the day when the wall fell, Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a commemoration at the Berlin Wall Memorial on Saturday.
Merkel, who grew up in the communist east as the daughter of a pastor, said she was in a sauna when the wall was breached before joining the crowds of East Germans on the streets flocking to watch history unfold.
Since then, she has regularly spoken about how being an East German citizen robbed her of her freedom.
Speaking to the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, Merkel said the fact that she had been able to push through unpopular policies during her 14 years in office was partly due to the fact that she was used to having a dissenting opinion in her youth.
‘For 35 years, I experienced the official opinion as different from my own,’ Merkel said, referring to the former communist east. ‘I was alone with my opinion, or shared it with very few people. That's why it does not bother me when others see things differently.’ However, the breaching of the wall has over the years also triggered a wave of departures from the former east, with the region's economy struggling to catch up with the west and many of those who remained in the communist east claiming they feel left behind.
More recently, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has moved to capitalize on the dissatisfaction with post-communist life, decrying the changes unleashed by the 1989 breaching of the wall as a failure and calling for a new uprising in the east.
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