Leaders urge new push for unity on Berlin Wall anniversary

10th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined luminaries past and present to mark the defining moment in the end of communist rule in Europe, when the crumbling East German state finally opened the despised concrete border on November 9, 1989.

Berlin -- World leaders joined more than 100,000 revellers Monday for emotional celebrations 20 years after the Berlin Wall's fall and called for a new transatlantic push against threats to global peace.

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined luminaries past and present to mark the defining moment in the end of communist rule in Europe, when the crumbling East German state finally opened the despised concrete border on November 9, 1989.

Merkel, who grew up in the Stalinist state, marched through the historic Brandenburg Gate with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives from across the European Union.

Surrounded by a giant crowd despite a steady cold drizzle, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-Polish president Lech Walesa also appeared at the monument, which now stands as the symbol of German unity.

"It is not only a day of celebration for Germans," Merkel said of the anniversary. "It is a day of celebration for the whole of Europe."

In a surprise video address beamed into the ceremonies, US President Barack Obama said he still took inspiration from the courage of East Germans who stood up against their oppressive regime.

"Few would have foreseen ... that a united Germany would be led by a woman from (the East German state) Brandenburg or that their American ally would be led by a man of African descent," he said.

"But human destiny is what human beings make of it."

But Medvedev said the end of the Cold War did not justify any nation's global dominance, in a clear swipe at the United States.

"The transition to a new multipolar world is today very important for most countries, for all the countries in Europe and the world," he said.

Crowds surged to hear Berlin's renowned State Opera orchestra play strains of Beethoven and Wagner and cheered the symbolic toppling of 1,000 giant styrofoam dominoes along two kilometres (1.2 miles) of the Wall's former course, where border guards once had shoot-to-kill orders.

Sarkozy said the global community still needed to live up to the promise of that euphoric night.

"The fall of the Berlin Wall is an appeal, an appeal to all to vanquish oppression, to knock down the walls that throughout the world still divide towns, territories, peoples," he said.

Brown called the unity of Berlin, Germany and Europe "majestic" achievements.

The Wall "was swept away by the greatest force of all -- the unbreakable spirit of men and women who dared to dream in the darkness," he said.

At least 136 people who tried to cross it were killed.

Following weeks of protests against the regime, East German authorities suddenly allowed people to travel to the West that autumn night.

After 28 years as prisoners in their own country, stunned East Germans streamed to checkpoints and rushed past bewildered guards, many falling tearfully into the arms of West Germans on the other side.

Easterner Christel Schneider, now a 62-year-old bank employee, said the mood that night was electrifying.

"I crossed the border into the West -- it was madness," she said, still breathless from the memories. "There were so many people that we were driving at a snail's pace."

Earlier in the day, Merkel urged the United States in particular to do more to renew the spirit of international partnership.

"This world will only be a peaceful and good world if we have more of a world order and more multilateral cooperation," she said.

Medvedev also sounded a sour note, saying Russia had often felt on the back foot since the Wall fell, despite assurances at the time that NATO would not expand eastward, as it since has.

"We were hoping the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact would be accompanied by a different degree of Russia's integration into common European space," he told Germany's Spiegel magazine.

"What have we received as a result? NATO is still a bloc whose rockets are targeting the Russian territory."

Meanwhile Sarkozy raised eyebrows with an account, posted on social networking website Facebook, of how he rushed to Berlin November 9, 1989 and was among the first to chip away at the Wall. Critics poked holes in his story.

AFP/Expatica

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