German leaders mark fall of Berlin Wall with warning about democracy

German leaders mark fall of Berlin Wall with warning about democracy

Germany marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany, with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanking eastern European neighbours for enabling a peaceful revolution.

The toppling of the wall, which had divided the Communist-ruled East and the capitalist West Berlin for nearly three decades and became a potent symbol of the cold war, was followed a year later by the reunification of Germany in 1990.

“Together with our friends, we remember with deep gratitude the events 30 years ago,” Steinmeier said during a ceremony at the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse, which was also attended by chancellor Angela Merkel and heads of state from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“Without the courage and the will to freedom of the Poles and Hungarians, the Czechs and Slovaks, the peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe and Germany’s reunification would not have been possible,” Steinmeier said.

During the ceremony on Saturday, the German president and his counterparts from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic placed roses at the memorial.

In August 1989, Hungarian border guards for the first time allowed people from East Germany to cross freely into Austria, paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall three months later and with it the end of the Iron Curtain.

Steinmeier pointed out, however, that the historic event did not mark the “end of history” as US political scientist Francis Fukuyama had stated. The struggle of political systems had continued and the future was more uncertain than ever before, Steinmeier added.

Timeline

The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall

8 May 1945

Second world war ends and the Red Army captures Berlin. The city is divided in half; the Soviet Union in the east, and the British, Americans and French in the west.

24 June 1948

The Soviets begin the Berlin blockade. The following day the United States begins the Berlin air lift delivering food and fuel supplies to the city.

12 May 1949

The Federal Republic of Germany, West Germany, is founded. Twelve days later the German Democratic Republic, East Germany, is founded.

30 September 1949

Berlin airlift ends.

17 June 1953

The Red Army steps in to suppress riots by East Berlin workers over work conditions.

13 August 1961

The border between East and West Berlin is closed. Soldiers start to build the wall, at first with barbed wire and light fencing which in the coming years develops into a heavily complex series of wall, fortified fences, gun positions and watchtowers that are heavily guarded. The wall ended up being 96 miles long and the average height of the concrete divide was 11.8ft.

19 August 1961

The wall claims its first life as a man falls trying to climb down from his top-floor flat in Bernauerstrasse in East Berlin, to reach the pavements of West Germany.

26 June 1963

US President John F Kennedy visits the wall vowing to protect East Berlin, famously declaring “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).

May 1973

East and West Germany establish formal diplomatic ties.

12 June 1987

President Ronald Reagan visits Berlin calling for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall.

19 August 1989

The Pan-European Picnic takes place, a peace demonstration held on the Austrian-Hungarian border near Sopron.

10 September 1989

Hungary opens its border with Austria. More than 13,000 refugees flee into Austria.

4 November 1989

More than a million people attend a pro-democracy rally in East Berlin’s central square. The East German government resigns within days.

9 November 1989

The wall is pulled down as thousands of East Germans celebrate entering West Berlin.

Helen Pidd

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“Liberal democracy is being challenged and questioned,” the German president said. “That’s why Germany and its European allies had to fight every day for a peaceful and united Europe with each country having to do its part to overcome differences,” he added.

His message was echoed by Merkel in a brief speech during a commemorative service at the memorial’s chapel. “The values on which Europe is founded – freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights – are anything but self-evident. And they have to be filled with live and must be defended again and again,” she said.

The festivities in Berlin were due to culminate with a party at the Brandenburg Gate in the evening featuring the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra directed by Daniel Barenboim and electronic music with techno DJ legend WestBam.

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