10 Nov 2014

Germans celebrate fall of the wall

5:13 pm on 10 November 2014

More than a million Germans and people from throughout the world on Sunday celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that more than any other marked the end of the Cold War.

A 15km long string of 7000 illuminated helium balloons traced the course of the barrier that once snaked through the city, slicing across streets, between families and even through graveyards.

A light show at the Brandenburg Gate as part of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A light show at the Brandenburg Gate as part of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Photo: AFP

They were set free one after another into the night sky, symbolising the breaching of the wall by crowds of protesters in 1989.

The Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra played Beethoven's 9th Symphony Ode to Joy in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Festivities to mark the anniversary drew more than one million Berliners and tourists to the heart of the once-divided city. Earlier, Peter Gabriel played a powerful rendition of "Heroes" and several German artists performed on stage as well.

Despite the fog and cold, many wandered along the former "death strip" where the Wall stood and where the illuminated helium balloons forming the "Lichtgrenze", or Border of Light, were perched 3.6 metres high on poles matching the height of the barrier built in 1961 by Communist East Germany.

The crowd also cheered when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, widely admired in Germany for his role in paving the way for the Wall's collapse, stood and waved. He ominously warned in a speech in Berlin on Saturday that a new Cold War was looming over the Ukraine crisis.

World looks to Berlin

The anniversary of the wall's fall was also marked around the world. Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that it should spur people to try to topple other walls. "Where there is a wall, there is a closing of hearts. We need bridges, not walls," he said.

Earlier on Sunday, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the fall of the wall showed the world that "dreams can come true" and should inspire people trapped in tyranny everywhere.

Merkel, was a young physicist in Communist East Berlin when she got her first taste of freedom on 9 November 1989, said in a speech that the wall's opening in response to mass popular pressure would be eternally remembered as a triumph of the human spirit.

"The fall of the Berlin Wall showed us that dreams can come true and that nothing has to stay the way it is, no matter how high the hurdles might seem to be," said Merkel.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop East Germans fleeing to the West. It began as a barbed wire and cinder block wall and was then fortified as a heavily guarded 160 km white concrete barrier that encircled West Berlin.

At least 138 people were killed trying to escape to West Berlin and many who were captured ended up in jail.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs