Berlin Wall Anniversary: Pondering Europe’s Upbeat Past and Grimmer Future

Written by | Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday (9 November) warned against divisions three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the reunification of Germany, urging Europe to defend democracy and freedom and also warning that such gains must not be taken for granted. The fall of the Berlin Wall reminds “us that we have to do our part for freedom and democracy,” said Merkel at a solemn ceremony in a church standing on the former ‘death strip’ that divided East and West. “The values upon which Europe is founded … must always be lived out and defended anew.”
On 9 November 1989, East German border guards, overwhelmed by large crowds, opened the gates to the previously forbidden West Berlin, allowing free passage for the first time since the Berlin Wall was erected. The momentous event would eventually bring the communist regime crashing down, leading to German reunification a year later. The sheer euphoria of late 1989 made many people believe that the tumbling of a barrier and the crumbling of its guardian Soviet-led empire would unleash liberty and democracy, though this view ignored the real nature of history. With the end of the Cold War, the sociopolitical forces that long animated much of the world were unfrozen, and their fossils were reanimated. Countries like East Germany or Czechoslovakia with some legacies of markets and democracy were able to revive the practices, while those without such legacies – like Hungary and Romania – were not.
Under grey skies, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his counterparts from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary put roses through cracks in part of the Berlin Wall that still stands at Bernauer Strasse. Steinmeier stressed the crucial role played by people across Central Europe in bringing about the peaceful revolution that destroyed the communist regime. Still, the German president also noted the much grimmer atmosphere nowadays compared with the same celebrations commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall some five or 10 years ago – “In Germany, we are debating and yes, fighting, more than before, about German reunification and its consequences. In Europe too, in your countries and also between the European societies, there is a more intensive and fiercer struggle not only on the future of Europe but also on the interpretation of the past.”

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