Germany is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Concerts and exhibitions are being staged in the city and Chancellor Angela Merkel will later attend a huge open-air party at the Brandenburg Gate.
White balloons marking a stretch of the Berlin Wall will be released to symbolize its disappearance.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop people fleeing from Communist East Germany to the West.
Its fall in 1989 became a powerful symbol of the end of the Cold War.
Angela Merkel will be joined for the festivities by former Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.
White balloons marking a stretch of the Berlin Wall will be released to symbolize its disappearance
The wall stretched for 96 miles through Berlin but today only about 2 miles of it still stands.
Within a year of its collapse, Germany – divided after its defeat in World War Two – was reunited.
More than a million visitors have descended on Berlin for the weekend of festivities that will culminate at the Brandenburg Gate.
The monument itself was inaccessible during the partition of Germany and is seen as a symbol of the country’s reunification.
On November 8, people posed for photos in front of the few remaining graffiti-daubed slabs of the wall, or read information boards about life under Berlin’s 28-year division.
Others admired the art installation of almost 7,000 white balloons, pegged to the ground and winding along a 9 miles stretch of the wall’s route.
At the bustling Potsdamer Platz, which was once cut in two by the wall, a small crowd watched archive footage of East German demonstrators chanting: “We are the people.”
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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that the world is on the brink of a new Cold War, and trust should be restored by dialogue with Russia.
At an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, Mikhail Gorbachev said the West had “succumbed to triumphalism”.
He expressed alarm about recent Middle Eastern and European conflicts.
Tensions have been raised between the West and Russia over Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev, 83, was attending an event at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
The landmark was inaccessible during the Partition of Germany, and is seen as a symbol of the country’s reunification.
“Bloodshed in Europe and the Middle East against the backdrop of a breakdown in dialogue between the major powers is of enormous concern,” Mikhail Gorbachev said.
“The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.”
Mikhail Gorbachev is attending an event marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (photo Reuters)
The former Soviet leader said that the West, in particular the US, had succumbed to “triumphalism” after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
For this reason the global powers had been unable to cope with conflicts in Yugoslavia, the Middle East and now Ukraine, he added.
He urged the West to lift sanctions on Russian officials – imposed over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict – and restore trust through dialogue with the Kremlin.
Mikhail Gorbachev, as leader of the USSR in the late 1980s, is credited with rapprochement with the West and creating a more liberal atmosphere which led to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989.
On November 9 1989 East Germany opened its borders including the Wall, which separated East and West Berlin.
Its collapse led to a mood of euphoria, as many East Germans got their first glimpses of the West.
Hundreds are now arriving in Berlin to celebrate anniversary on November 9.
Festivities will include a rock concert and fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate. Other participants include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Polish president Lech Walesa.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is an unusually private and reticent politician – there is no exhibitionism and grandstanding.
Even for Germans, Angela Merkel is a hard woman to know.
Angela Dorothea Kasner was born on July 17, 1954, in Hamburg, West Germany. Her father Horst Kasner, a Lutheran pastor, moved the family to Templin, East Germany, in 1954 when Angela was just a few weeks old.
As a politician, Angela Merkel has never been overbearing when it comes to her religious views, but it’s clear that her father’s position in the church had a deep influence on her – creating a powerful moral compass.
Her childhood was also shaped by the Cold War – Angela Merkel’s Socialist father held politically charged gatherings at his seminary and as she grew up, vigorous debates rang around the dinner table. The young Angela had to learn to keep her cards close to her chest for fear of drawing the attention of the Stasi, the secret police.
Being unable to openly express your opinion in East Germany affected people in different ways.
An old school friend of Angela Merkel’s, Hartmut Hohensee, compared it to lapsing into “a sort of paralysis, just hoping winter will pass and the flowers will begin to grow eventually”.
Angela Merkel’s political flowers would begin to grow – but not until 1989, after the Berlin Wall was toppled.
The fall of the Wall produced a maelstrom in German politics. Cafe conversations became street protests; movements became political parties; individuals tried to take control of their country for the first time. It was this world that Angela Merkel decided to enter, aged 35.
Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, stood out from the rest in that political world.
“She didn’t seem to care about her outward appearance at all,” says Lothar de Maiziere, who went on to be East Germany’s last prime minister.
“She looked like a typical GDR scientist, wearing a baggy skirt and Jesus sandals and a cropped haircut.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is an unusually private and reticent politician
To the surprise of many, the East German woman brought up under Communism joined the overwhelmingly male and patriarchal Christian Democrats. In late 1990 Angela Merkel became a member of the Bundestag for the CDU, the largest party in West Germany, and began her rise to the top.
Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted someone female, quiet and a former East German for his first post-reunification cabinet. Lothar de Maiziere recommended Angela Merkel. Beginning as minister for women, she moved slowly up the ranks, becoming minister of the environment.
But in 1999 the quiet girl from Templin stunned everyone. It emerged that Helmut Kohl, who used to call her his “Maedchen” or little girl, had been putting donations into a secret slush fund which he’d used to reward his friends.
Nobody seemed prepared to confront Helmut Kohl but Angela Merkel refused to follow the pack. In a front-page piece in a leading conservative newspaper, she denounced her former mentor and called upon him to resign. It was a stunning act of political patricide and set Angela Merkel on a trajectory towards the top of German politics.
“One of the things people doesn’t always understand about her is she’s… actually a ruthless political operator,” says Jonathan Powell, who got to know her when he was chief of staff to the UK prime minister.
“The way she dealt with all of her rivals in the CDU was extraordinarily Machiavellian from that point of view. She would get rid of them in a switch of an eyebrow.”
Angela Merkel became chair of the CDU in 2000 and Germany’s first woman chancellor five years later.
The defining moment of Angela Merkel’s eight years as leader so far came with the eurozone financial crisis. Greece revealed an enormous – and unmanageable – public debt. And it soon emerged that other countries were in similar dire straits. But as Europe waited to see if Germany would agree to bail out the struggling members of the eurozone or force them to sort out their own problems, Angela Merkel was criticized for reacting too slowly.
Caution and consensus, however, have always been hallmarks of the Merkel machine.
“You can only manage such a crisis if you take a lot of people along the way,” says Ursula von der Leyen, who has worked in every one of Angela Merkel’s cabinets since 2005.
“Angela Merkel always knew where she wanted to end up, but she took time to find a way which everybody could go along with.”
Quite a lot about her story seems to echo Margaret Thatcher’s. Angela Merkel comes from the edges – East Germany, rather than Lincolnshire – and was brought up by an abnormally self-certain and pious father. Something of a loner, she became quite a serious scientist before choosing politics.
Inside her party, Angela Merkel was picked up as a useful female talent by a somewhat patronizing mentor – Kohl, rather than Edward Heath – and surprised everybody by her ruthlessness in ousting him, and eventually taking power herself. Like Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel is a ferociously hard worker, excellent on the detail and a wily political operator.
Yet the differences matter much more than the similarities. Coming from her East German background Angela Merkel believes in social solidarity and working with trade unions; in a coalition-based political system, she is a mistress of consensus and, when it suits her, delay.
Angela Merkel has mattered much more to us and the full European story than perhaps we’ve realized.
The results from the imminent German elections can’t be guaranteed but if Angela Merkel is successful, as many have predicted, she’ll have another chance to secure her legacy.
Parts of a historic stretch of the Berlin Wall have been removed by a German property developing firm amid heavy police presence, despite a week of protests.
Four segments of the so-called East Side Gallery stretch have been removed by builders on Wednesday morning to open access to a building site for blocks of flats.
Some 250 police officers were deployed as the sections were dismantled.
The re-development project has sparked outrage among citizen groups, who say the site is a symbol of freedom.
Four segments of the so-called East Side Gallery stretch have been removed by builders on Wednesday morning to open access to a building site for blocks of flats
Workers tried to dismantle the segments on March 1st, but were forced to halt their plans when angry demonstrators blocked their path. Another small part of the stretch has already been removed.
Set on the banks of the River Spree, the East Side Gallery is the Wall’s longest remaining stretch, measuring 1.3 km (0.8 miles).
The East Side Gallery became one of Berlin’s most visited attractions in the early 1990s after international artists painted its concrete surfaces with strong, often irreverent images depicting, for example, Soviet and East German leaders locked in a kiss.
But in recent times it has turned into a symbol for the gentrification of the new Berlin, with property developers seeking to build apartments along the river, our correspondent says.
On Wednesday at 05:00 a.m., workers took down four chunks measuring around 1.2 m to make space for a construction site gate, police said.
“We are here on the one hand to enable [builders] to continue their construction work and on the other side we want to welcome people who want to protest against this and finally allow them to stage their protest,” police spokesman Volker Alexander Toennies said.
No incidents were reported during the early morning removal but the number of protesters at the site is growing, according to German media.
In total, 22 m will be taken down for the riverside flats.
Although the stretch was heritage-listed in 1991, the protection applies only to the wall itself, not to the land it stands on.
The missing segments will be replaced once construction work is completed, the building project’s private investor, Maik Uwe Hinkel, has told Bild newspaper.
The re-development plan has caused a major headache for all parties involved.
The East Side Gallery falls under the authority of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, which gave the green light for the new flats.
But the ensuing public controversy has forced Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit – a critic of the project – to become involved in negotiations and propose alternatives to the wall’s removal.
On Tuesday evening, talks between Klaus Wowereit, local district authorities and the property developer failed to reach an agreement, Germany media report.
The issue is a part of a continuing debate in Berlin as the city morphs from one with little money – poor but cool, as one mayor put it – into a global magnet for the fashionable and rich.