Fall of the Berlin Wall: Poetic justice meets Teutonic perfection as Germans celebrate anniversary with light, freedom and balloons

Eight thousand balloons fly into the sky, watched by a vast cheering crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate

Tony Paterson
Monday 10 November 2014 08:09
Huge crowds gather for an open-air party at Brandenburg Gate
Huge crowds gather for an open-air party at Brandenburg Gate

To the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, 8,000 glowing white balloons drifted into a black sky above the German capital on Sunday night in a spectacular aerial light show marking the climax of the 25th anniversary of the event which changed our world – the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The balloons had lined the course of the former “Iron Curtain” as a “light border” through the city since Friday and their ascent was watched by a vast cheering crowd celebrating in front of the Brandenburg Gate along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the former Soviet and Polish leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa.

Earlier, Ms Merkel declared that the fall of the Berlin Wall had shown the world that “dreams can come true” and that “nothing has to stay as it is”. Attached to each of the balloons was a message from its respective “patron”, including Mr Gorbachev who had written simply: “No more walls.”

The event was poetic justice organised to Teutonic perfection: the course of the former Wall –a 15km stretch of the German capital on which the concrete, barbed wire, watchtowers and armed border guards stood 25 years ago, was last night transformed into a long and giant party.

In weather grizzly grey and similar to that on 9 November 1989, the balloons were sent skywards shortly after 7.20pm, coinciding with the moment 25 years ago when the East German politburo member Günter Schabowski announced, in a garbled message to the world, that the Berlin Wall was to be opened.

Four hours later, frightened East German guards at the city’s Bornholmer Strasse crossing point opened the barriers and let a 20,000-strong crowd of East Berliners flood westwards. Nobody had expected it. But suddenly the Cold War was over.

Among those celebrating last night was 58-year-old Hannelore Fahr, an East Berliner who was united on that night with the West Berlin sister she had hitherto never met. Suddenly, on the evening of 9 November 1989, she found herself standing on her sister’s West Berlin doorstep and ringing her doorbell. “It’s wonderful, the tears come back, but we are both reminded just how important freedom is,” she said.

Robert Jobbins, a London student who was in Berlin for the first time with five friends, said: “It’s really cool.” None of his group was born when the wall fell 25 years ago. “It’s awesome. We haven’t managed to walk the whole length of the light show, but we really get an idea of what the Wall was.”

Johannes Krause, 73, an East Berliner who remembered the building of the Wall in 1961 and its fall, told The Independent: “Today is a magical day for me. It may have happened a quarter of a century ago, but I still get a thrill every time I walk through the now open Brandenburg Gate. People who never knew the Wall can’t feel that,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Ms Merkel placed roses at a remaining section of the wall in memory of the more than 100 people who were shot dead by East German border guards while trying to escape over the barrier.

Students place flowers in the slats of remnants of the Wall at in Bernauer Strasse

Speaking at the opening of a new permanent exhibition on the Wall, Ms Merkel said the events of 1989 contained an important message for people whose human rights were still being abused. “The fall of the Wall showed us that dreams can come true. Nothing has to stay as it is,” she said. “We can change things for the better. This is the message for Ukraine, Iraq and other places where human rights are threatened.”

Mr Gorbachev, widely considered to have done more than any other politician to bring about the Wall’s collapse, said: “I am proud to have been able to contribute to the fact that we can live as we do today.”

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