BERLIN (Reuters) - The German capital will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a huge street party around the Brandenburg Gate celebrating the part ordinary people played in bringing down communism in eastern Europe.
The festivities for Nov. 9 will contrast sharply with the more solemn 20th anniversary, when dignitaries including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Poland’s Lech Walesa joined the events at the Gate, once a symbol of Europe’s partition.
The Berlin Wall, which divided the island of West Berlin from the communist East after it was built in 1961, was the most potent symbol of the Cold War. At least 136 people were killed or died at the Wall, most of them while trying to escape.
Momentous images of emotional Germans from the East surging through the newly opened border stunned the world in 1989 and the following year, when the two Germanys became one.
“We want to celebrate the role of citizens in bringing about change,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, outlining the plans for the celebrations along with representatives from Berlin city.
He cited the tens of thousands of people in the eastern city of Leipzig who gathered inside and outside churches to protest against the communist government and those who ultimately brought about the end of the East German regime.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, brought up under communism in East Germany, will make a speech at a memorial at the former border strip along Bernauer Strasse where a new exhibition will be opened, said Seibert. Afterwards she and many cabinet members will join in the festivities as guests.
There has so far been no suggestion that Helmut Kohl, 84, chancellor at the time of the fall of the Wall and the main architect of German reunification, will join the festivities. He is in frail health and is usually seen in a wheelchair.
“We want a festival that will embody freedom and we want to celebrate the fact that we had a peaceful revolution,” said Seibert.
Beer and sausage stands will line the streets around the Brandenburg Gate and music will be provided by the likes of Peter Gabriel and German rocker Udo Lindenberg. Daniel Barenboim will conduct the Berlin State Opera orchestra playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony.
The festivities will go on all day and into the evening. Some 8,000 illuminated white balloons will be lined up along a strip of the former Wall in Berlin and released after dark.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones