BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday an irrepressible yearning for freedom brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down 25 years ago and called it a “miracle” that the Cold War barrier was breached without a shot being fired.
Speaking on the eve of Sunday’s celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, Merkel said Germany would always be grateful for the courage of East Germans who took to the streets to protest the Communist dictatorship.
“It was a day that showed us the yearning for freedom cannot be forever suppressed,” Merkel said in a speech in Berlin.
“During the course of 1989 more and more East Germans lost their fears of the state’s repression and chicanery, and went out on the streets. There was no turning back then. It is thanks to their courage the Wall was opened.”
In a country with few cheerful anniversaries to celebrate after its belligerent 20th century history, Germans have latched onto memories of the peaceful East German revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall on a joyful Nov 9, 1989.
More than 100,000 Berliners and tourists wandered along a 15-km route in the city centre on Saturday where the Berlin Wall once stood, and 7,000 illuminated balloons are now perched 3.6-metre high on poles – matching the height of the Wall. The artistic display of balloons, which dramatically illustrate how the Wall snaked through the heart of the city, is also porous to enable people to easily move back and forth between the former East and West Berlin. The balloons will be released on Sunday to symbolise the Wall’s disappearance.
Merkel, who was a 35-year-old scientist in Communist East Berlin at the time, told German television earlier on Saturday that she remembered tension, fear and excitement in the air in the weeks and days leading up to the opening of the Wall.
“It was a miracle that everything happened peacefully,” said Merkel, who was on her way home from a visit to the sauna when she saw crowds of people heading west and joined them. “There had been a lot of excitement for weeks. There were tanks that had been on my street since October 7.”
Merkel, chancellor since 2005, began her career in politics months later as a deputy party spokeswoman. Usually guarded about her life in East Germany, Merkel had until recently been circumspect about revealing details of what she did on the evening the wall opened.
But in recent weeks she has spoken more openly and on Saturday said: “After I left the sauna on the evening of November 9, I went over the Bornholmer Street crossing to the other side and celebrated there with total strangers.
“There was just this incredible feeling of happiness,” she said. “It was a night I’ll never forget.”