Germany’s capital is divided again; this time by an 11-feet tall wall of 8,000 illuminated balloons along a 15-km stretch of the original 115-km Berlin Wall. For those who have lived with the Wall, which cut through the centre of Berlin, it could seem incredible that Sunday is the 25th anniversary of an event that changed Germany and its history forever, and for the youth, the idea of a border running through their city would seem absurd.
But, tonight (around midnight IST), the young and old will get together and release the lit up balloons in the night sky, once again erasing the line that divides them.
The ceremony, expected to be attended by close to two million people, will see rock stars, top politicians and freedom icons get together to remember and commemorate those who made the peaceful revolution of 1989 a success.The theme of this year’s celebrations is ‘Courage for freedom’.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former citizen of the erstwhile East Germany, has spoken of her “indescribable feeling” when the wall fell on November 9, 1989.
“I think you never forget how you felt that day — at least I will never forget it,” the 60-year-old leader of Germany said, in her latest podcast on the eve of the celebrations. “I had to wait 35 years for that feeling of liberty. It changed my life.” She had spent that evening, 25 years ago, in a sauna with a friend, before heading out to one of the many demonstrations.
The reunification, however, would not have been possible without the then Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, who ordered soldiers to hold back and refrain from a bloody crackdown on protesters, an expert said.
“Gorbachev played one of the biggest roles in what happened then. The Wall came down only because Gorbachev was at the helm in Soviet Union. Anyone else and it won’t have happened. Someone like Stalin or Putin would have made it impossible to happen.
History would have been different,” Dr Klaus Bastlein, member of the staff, office of the state commissioner for the records of the state security service, told HT in Berlin.
In fact, 58-year-old Bastlein, a qualified lawyer and a historian, also has an East Germany link. His wife is from the eastern side and he is from the west.
There are many like Bastlein, who have either married to someone from the other side or had close relatives there.
Thomas Bayer is one such Berliner. The 39-year-old chef, born and brought up in the west, remembers going to his aunt’s home near Mitte, which was in eastern Berlin then and now is the central borough of the city, for vacations, or on Thanksgiving, with gifts.
“We would get only day passes, but at least we could go. They [East Berliners] could never come here till the wall went,” said Bayer.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev, who is in Berlin for the festivities, said, “I am proud I could contribute a little bit to the fact that we live like this today.” The 83-year-old
Nobel Prize winner and former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher held a debate about the legacy of 1989, and the resurgence of tensions between Russia and the West.
Gorbachev will also join Merkel, former Polish President and freedom icon Lech
Walesa, 71, German head of state Joachim Gauck, 74, a former pastor and rights activist in the East, and Hungarian ex-premier Miklos Nemeth, 66, at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German unity, as a grand fireworks show will light up the Berlin sky.
“Germany is at the heart of Europe. It is geographically very crucial and has always been. Twenty-five years on, the situation in Berlin and Germany is good; the Germans know it is good. The young generation does not have the baggage of the wall to carry. Those who are now in their 20s and 30s don’t think along the lines of east and west;
they know about Germany,” said Bastlein.
“In fact, 1989 was not reunification. It was unification of Germany. We were always one.”
Meanwhile, there was also relief on Saturday, as train drivers, who had gone on a strike over wage issues, decided to cut short their strike so as to not inconvenience the millions who are in Berlin to witness the celebrations.