A quarter-century after the Berlin Wall that split East and West Germany came down, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said its destruction shows that dreams can come true and “nothing has to stay as it is.”
The Wall was built in 1961, closing off access to West Germany to stop people from the communist East from fleeing. The roughly finished concrete and barbed-wire structure became a potent Cold War symbol of what former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described as an “Iron Curtain” dividing Europe.
“The fall of the Wall has shown us that dreams can come true,” Merkel said at the main memorial site for the Wall on Bernauer Strasse. “Nothing has to stay the way it is, however big the hurdles are.”
In an iconic moment that has come to symbolize the end of the Cold War, on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, an East German announcement that it was easing travel restrictions to West Germany prompted a gathering at the Wall. East German border guards, apparently confused by their orders, allowed thousands of East Berliners to pass through a checkpoint to the West for the first time since the Wall was erected. Soon after, crowds began physically dismantling the structure.
But former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who set events in motion through his rapprochement with the West, warned on Saturday that a new Cold War with Russia was brewing.
In a speech at Brandenburg Gate to commemorate the anniversary, Gorbachev, 83 and reportedly in poor health, accused the West — especially the United States — of “triumphalism” after the collapse of the USSR, The Associated Press reports.
Gorbachev blamed the West for a squandered opportunity to work with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which led in part, he said, to an inability to prevent or contain conflicts in Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Ukraine.
“The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun,” Gorbachev said, calling on a renewal of trust though dialogue with Russia.
As Merkel spoke at Sunday’s anniversary ceremonies, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which can trace its roots to the centrifugal forces that broke up the Soviet orbit, was on full boil. NPR’s Corey Flintoff in Moscow, said reported heavy shelling of the airport in Donetsk despite a cease-fire deal between Russian-backed separatists and the Kiev government.