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Germany Marks The Fall Of The Berlin Wall

  • RFE/RL

Celebrations marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have culminated with fireworks, songs, and the release of thousands of glowing white balloons into the night sky.

The fanfare followed three days of emotional ceremonies during which throngs of Berliners and visitors remembered November 9, 1989, the day the wall that divided Cold War Europe and trapped millions of Germans in the communist east was breached.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the wall still sends a message of hope to oppressed people around the world.

"It's a message of encouragement to tear down other walls, walls of dictatorship, violence, ideologies and enmity," she said.

The Berlin State Orchestra played Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as nearly 7,000 illuminated balloons floated up from a 15-kilometer stretch of the despised barrier's path.

Earlier, British singer Peter Gabriel sang a shortened version of David Bowie's wall anthem "Heroes," sharing the stage with former dissidents and rock bands from eastern and western Germany.

The anniversary took place at a time of deep tension between Russia and the West over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of lending military support to pro-Russian separatists trying to carve out new borders in Europe.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who warned on November 8 that a new Cold War was taking shape, said "now is not the time for recriminations. Let us work hard to restore confidence."

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany when it was a Soviet satellite, mourned the deaths of compatriots killed trying to make it over the wall and suggested that its fall was a triumph of right over wrong.

"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," she said.

"It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better. That is the message of the fall of the wall," Merkel added.

She said, "It is directed at us in Germany, but also at others in Europe and the world, especially to the people in Ukraine, in Syria, Iraq, and other regions where human rights are threatened or violated."

Pope Francis, speaking on November 9 during his weekly Sunday prayer at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, said the Berlin Wall was "a symbol of the ideological division of Europe and the whole world."

"Where there is a wall, there is a closing of the heart. We need bridges, not walls," he said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Berlin 1961 -- When The Wall Went Up

Built in 1961 to stop East Germans fleeing to the West, the Berlin Wall was the starkest embodiment of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe before the collapse of communism.

It began as a brick wall but was developed into a fortified, heavily guarded 155-kilometer barrier.

At least 138 people were killed trying to escape to West Berlin, before it was breached as communist governments across Eastern Europe collapsed in the face of popular uprisings.

"The day of joy over the fall of the Berlin wall is also a day of remembrance for its victims," Merkel said.

WATCH: When The Berlin Wall Tumbled In 1989 (natural sound)

Merkel also noted that November 9, 1938, was also the date of Kristallnacht, a state-sponsored spree of destruction of Jewish property under Adolf Hitler.

It was "a day of shame and disgrace," she said, adding "that's why I not only feel joy but also historic responsibility."

Commemorations in Berlin mixed memories of the jubilation unleashed by the fall of the wall with concern about new tensions between Russia and the West.

Relations are badly strained by Russia's annexation of Crimea and a conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has killed more than 4,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

PHOTO GALLERY: The RIse And Fall Of The Berlin Wall

Gorbachev, whose political and economic reforms hastened the unraveling of Moscow's control over Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, warned in Berlin on November 8 that "the world is on the brink of a new Cold War."

Gorbachev accused the West, and particularly the United States, of giving in to "triumphalism" after the collapse of the communist bloc.

Western governments blame Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin -- a KGB officer in East Germany during the Cold War -- for the tension that is flaring now.

They accuse Russia of illegally annexing Crimea and supporting separatists who have declared two "people's republics" on land they control in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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