Tuesday, November 11, 2014

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

This past Sunday, November 9, marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since I'm studying abroad in Berlin, I was lucky enough to attend the anniversary festivities!

The fall of the wall signified the end of the Cold War and the decline of communism in Europe. Germany was reunified into one democratic country for the first time since the end of World War II. November 9, the day of the actual "Mauerfall" (fall of the wall) in 1989, is kind of like  Berlin's version of Independence Day, since national pride is in full force. 

By the way, sorry about the blurry pictures. My camera doesn't work well in the dark!

Even that a 25-year anniversary is a huge milestone, Berlin hosted a ton of celebratory events in one giant festival during the weekend. Around 8,000 large white balloons were placed along the path of the Berlin wall, stretching for 15 km (more than 9 miles) through the city. This "border of lights" was the exact height of the former Berlin Wall, and each light glowed when the sun fell each night. Of course, Berlin's most popular monument wasn't left out of the festivities! The Brandenburg Gate transformed into a concert venue with a stage, flashing lights, and German pop artists. Information booths and TV screens relaying images of the Mauerfall popped up in select locations around Berlin as well.

My friends and I stopped by the festival on Saturday night for a couple of hours to see the balloons. We bought bratwurst and hot chocolate at the Winterfest in Potsdamer Platz before listening to some music at the Brandenburg Gate. The singer, who was apparently famous around the time the wall fell, was actually lifted above the crowds in a cage! 

Sunday was the actual anniversary of the Mauerfall, so at 7:20 p.m. the white balloons were scheduled to be released one-by-one into the sky, symbolizing the demolition of the wall. The festival on Sunday was literally the most busy, crowded, and overwhelming place I've ever been. I read that two million people were expected to visit Berlin for the event! I'd say a solid half of that number were gathered in the 750 meter (0.5 mile) stretch from Potsdamer Platz to the Brandenburg Gate. The crowds were so bad that we could barely move through them; we were stuck motionless in the middle of a hoard way more times than I'd like to think about. 

Halfway through our journey to the Brandenburg Gate, the crowd was stopped by the police. Apparently so many people were in front of the Gate that the police considered it a safety hazard and refused to let anyone else through. We were a little disappointed, since Angela Merkel (the German chancellor) and Mikhail Gorbachev (the Soviet Union's president during the Mauerfall) gave speeches at the Gate, and Peter Gabriel performed. Nonetheless, we were able to score a spot next to the balloons and got a front-row seat of their release. I found the event extremely powerful, and I felt so lucky to be a part of such a historic celebration. Perhaps more powerful than the balloon release was the older people crying, probably reliving memories of East Germany, and parents teaching their kids about their childhood connection to the wall. 

I can't believe Germany was divided only 25 years ago, and I can't even imagine living in a separated city. I'm glad that Germany is embracing its past and celebrating a defining moment in its history.