Berlin Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Wall's Fall

Ceremonies and celebrations marking the fall of the Berlin Wall are taking place in that city today, the 20th anniversary of the day the wall was breached. World leaders joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in walking through the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, crossing the line where the wall once divided the city. Michele Norris talks to NPR's Eric Westervelt, reporting from the German capital.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Im Melissa Block.

Today in Germany, celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 9th, 1989, the first East Berliners clambered over and through the wall, which had divided their city for more than a quarter of a century. In a moment well hear revelations from documents that had been secret about some world leaders anxieties as massive change spread through Eastern Europe, but first to NPRs Eric Westervelt, who is at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for todays celebrations.

(Soundbite of countdown)

BLOCK: Eric, it sounds like we just heard a countdown there. Whats going on there and how are people marking this anniversary?

(Soundbite of cheering)

ERIC WESTERVELT: Yeah, you just heard Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and labor leader, push the first dominoes. They started to push these giant hand-painted dominoes down, symbolically toppling communism in Eastern Europe and symbolizing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe. I think for people in Germany its a day of celebration today, especially in Berlin. Its marked by concerts, by festivities and despite a heavy downpour and terrible weather, people are coming out by the thousands to really celebrate this momentous day.

(Soundbite of sound system)

BLOCK: There are world leaders there to mark the anniversary and it certainly sounds like theres a lot of energy there in the city. Im curious about how ordinary Germans feel about this.

WESTERVELT: I think there is a mix. I mean, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said today, you know, before there was freedom, there was much suffering. There were people who were imprisoned by the Stasi, the East Germans secret police. This was a dictatorship. So there were a lot of people too who tried to cross over and didnt make it - 130 people or more died trying to break out of East Berlin. So, although its a celebration its certainly mixed with a sense that its coming out of pain and a real trial.

BLOCK: And also probably a history lesson because there's a generation of young people who have grown up without the wall there.

WESTERVELT: Its interesting to talk to people from the different generations. I talked to an 83-year-old today. He said this was the most momentous day of his life, 20 years ago when he saw the wall come down. He had lived through so much difficult history in Berlin to see that joy. And then I talked to, you know, someone in their 20s who was just a little kid and doesnt really remember it and hes just trying to by speaking with his or her parents. So, it really is a generational difference. Youve got young people who grew up without any memory of it - and many people here who obviously grew up with it and lived with it.

BLOCK: That's NPRs Eric Westervelt in Berlin. Eric, thank you very much.

WESTERVELT: Youre welcome.

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