Spectres from the past return to haunt feast at Berlin Wall

t TEN YEARS ON Gorbachev, Kohl and Bush take centre stage at celebrations marking the decade since Germany was reunited
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The Independent Online
WITH AN explosion of light and sound and amid hugs, kisses and quantities of alcohol, Berliners last night relived the cathartic events of that unforgettable night 10 years ago.

The party had none of the spontaneity of the event it celebrated: in truth, it was very organised. Hours of concentrated fun were in store for those that braved the icy drizzle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

The star of the night was Mstislav Rostropovich. The exiled Russian cellist had watched on his television set in Paris 10 years ago as the Wall disintegrated and rushed to Berlin. Borrowing a chair from a local newspaper office, he sat by the frontier and began playing, one Bach suite after another.

How times have changed. Mr Rostropovich turned up to the new Berlin in the company of 166 other cellists. And the repertoire has been updated, to include a joint effort with the German rock group The Scorpions.

The band is famous in Germany for composing in 1989 the song "The Wind of Change", which captured the hearts and imagination of a generation. The lead singer's voice had evidently not improved in the past decade, but to the tens of thousands of Berliners cramped into Pariser Platz that did not seem to matter. As Mr Rostropovich, the cellos and The Scorpions scaled their crescendo together, the Brandenburg Gate behind them was enveloped in the orange halo of fireworks going off near the Reichstag. Crowds blended and separated as they made their way from one stage to the next, shopping around for the best sound of the night. Apart from techno, Berlin's characteristic music, all kinds of music was on offer, from the exotic to the sublime.

It was a strange night, and not just because of the large numbers of revellers wielding hammers of the 1989 vintage. For as Germans were lighting candles to celebrate the end of their captivity and division, Jewish groups were remembering Kristallnacht, the night Jewish property was torched by the Nazis.

That also happened on 9 November, but in 1938. It is for this reason that the only day in this century when most of the world could share Germans' joy can never become an official holiday in Germany.

Inevitably, it fell to Helmut Kohl, one of the few speakers selected to address the festive session of Parliament yesterday, to draw attention to this terrible irony. The "Chancellor of German Unity" is at his best when placed in front of the broad canvas of history, and yesterday he excelled even himself.

Mr Kohl drew an unhesitatingly direct line from Germany's darker past to the joyous moment of 10 years ago. "After the catastrophe of two world wars and the shameful acts committed in our name, we Germans were able to experience great happiness towards the end of the century," he declared at the revamped Reichstag.

His successor, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, was also in magnanimous mood.

Seeking to undo the public-relations disaster of the past week, when it transpired that no East German had been invited to the festivities, Mr Schroder was even prepared to concede yesterday that East Germans did deserve some credit.

"The Wall was not brought crashing to the ground in Washington, Bonn, or Moscow," he declared. "It was the brave and fearless people in the east that made it crumble."

The party was nearly ruined, however, by two uninvited guests. Only yesterday did it emerge that a former world leader who played a very distinct role in Germany's reunification had also been forgotten. "We were never officially approached by anybody to attend the ceremonies that are taking place in Berlin," a spokesman for Baroness Thatcher's office complained.

Not one measly talk-show host thought to call the former British Prime Minister's home. And the German parliament, which extended to those old war horses Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush and Helmut Kohl the courtesy of its rostrum for a few minutes, had been unable to squeeze her in. But, as Berliners will never forget, Baroness Thatcher had fought hard against German reunificition.

The other illustrious stay-away creating a stir is Egon Krenz, the East German leader who decided to open the Wall 10 years ago and is now on his way to prison for the killings perpetrated on his orders before that moment of enlightenment. Krenz was no reformed Communist, unlike Mr Gorbachev, who was feted yesterday by all of Berlin as the returning hero.

But Mr Gorbachev clearly feels some affinity with fallen Communist leaders, as he demonstrated yesterday. He used his allotted time in the Reichstag to castigate Germans for the way they treat his erstwhile comrades.

"It's strange that right now they are sentencing those very people who 10 years ago made the decision to remove the Wall." Some people will just never be happy.