Germany has marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, a pivotal moment in the events that brought down Communism in eastern Europe.
Leaders from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic attended a ceremony at Bernauer Strasse – where one of the last parts of the Berlin Wall remains – before placing roses in the once-fearsome barrier that divided the city for 28 years.
At a memorial service inside a small chapel near where the wall once stood, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The Berlin Wall, ladies and gentlemen, is history.
“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.”
Noting the cruelty of the East German regime – which had torn down a previous church on the former death strip site so snipers could get a better shot at people fleeing to the West – Ms Merkel paid tribute to those who were killed or imprisoned during the Communist dictatorship, and insisted the fight for freedom worldwide is not over.
“We are bereft of excuses, challenged to do our part for freedom and democracy,” she said.
In a statement issued by his office, US President Donald Trump congratulated Germany on its anniversary, saying “courageous men and women from both East and West Germany united to tear down a wall that stood as a symbol of oppression and failed socialism for more than a quarter of a century”.
He added: “The United States and our allies and partners remain steadfast in our unwavering allegiance to advancing the principles of individual liberty and freedom that have sustained peace and spawned unparalleled prosperity.”
Speaking to European leaders at Bernauer Strasse, Axel Klausmeier – the head of the Berlin Wall memorial site – recalled the images of delirious Berliners from East and West crying tears of joy as they hugged each other on the evening of November 9, 1989.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall was brought about largely by peaceful protests and a stream of people fleeing East Germany that piled pressure on the country’s Communist government to open its borders to the West and ultimately end the nation’s post-war division.
Thirty years on, Germany has become the most powerful economic and political force on the continent, but there remains deep misgivings among some in the country about how the transition from socialism to capitalism was managed.
Ms Merkel acknowledged this in a recent interview, 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”.
She also recalled that November 9 remains a fraught date in German history, as it also marks the anniversary of the so-called Night of Broken Glass, an anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938 that foreshadowed the Nazis’ Holocaust.
On Saturday night, light installations, concerts and public debates were held across Berlin and in other parts of Germany to mark the fall of the wall, including a concert at the Brandenburg Gate.