German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Saturday by declaring that its collapse proves that barriers to freedom cannot stand.
“The Berlin Wall, ladies and gentlemen, is history and it teaches us: No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high or so wide that it can’t be broken down,” she said at a memorial service in a small chapel near where the wall once stood.
“We want to ensure that no wall will separate people ever again,” she added. “It proves that no wall is so high and so strong that we could not break it.”
Leaders of Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic attended the ceremony at Bernauer Strasse — where one of the last parts of the Berlin Wall remains — before placing roses in openings in the once-formidable barrier that divided the city for 28 years.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the collapse of the wall opened a new road of history for the entire continent and the world.
“A Europe without walls of division and without hatred is a great opportunity for the citizens to be masters of their own destiny,” he said, according to Deutsche Welle.
Germany was marking the wall’s demise with an event that would have been impossible in the once-divided city: A concert at the Brandenburg Gate.
Berliners from either side of the once divided city were able to stroll up to the iconic 18th century monument to hear the Staatskapelle Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Fifth symphony under musical director Daniel Barenboim.
For almost 28 years, when the wall went up to seal off East Germany from the West, the historic gate, and symbol of Berlin, remained tantalizing out of reach for West Berliners — a daily reminder of Soviet domination of the region after World War II.
The break in the barricade came on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, as East German politicians, pressured by events sweeping Eastern Europe, could no longer hold back the tide in the divided city. Delirious Berliners from East and West cried tears of joy as they swarmed over and through the wall, hugging each other.
Although communist leaders remained in power in some Soviet bloc countries after the wall came down, the fall of the 165-mile long barrier marked the physical, political and emotional end to the Cold War in the wake of then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of reforms.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Eastern European countries for their fight against the Iron Curtain that divided East and West for more than four decades.
“Without the courage and the desire for freedom of the Poles, the Hungarians, the Czechs and the Slovaks, the peaceful revolution and the German unification would not be possible,” he said.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — once part of the Soviet Union — said the fall of the wall brought back hope not only to Germans, but to all people trapped in the Soviet bloc.
“It signified the collapse of the Evil Empire in the most direct and decisive way — it was the beginning of the end of communist tyranny in Europe,” they said in a joint statement.
Some 200 events have been held during the past week in Berlin alone. More activity — light installations, concerts and public debates — were planned throughout the city and other parts of Germany.
At an art installation at the Brandenburg Gate, 30,000 ribbons, bearing the wishes, hopes and memories of Berliners, were combined in a “freedom cloud” more than 150 yards long.
At one point in the weeklong celebrations, news footage of the wall being breached by ecstatic East Germans was beamed onto a building in central Berlin.
Amid the celebration, though, were signs that the fall of the wall was only the beginning of efforts to reunite a Germany split apart by war.
In a recent interview with the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Merkel acknowledged this, saying that “with some things, where one might have thought that East and West would have aligned, one can see today that it might rather take half a century or more.”