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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Germans celebrating the end of a division.....

Germans are celebrating 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell with a festive weekend in the city where the Cold War ended, Germany returned to global power, and Chancellor Angela Merkel got her start in politics.

Once split in half after World War II left Germany divided, Berlin is reliving the Nov. 9, 1989, opening of the barrier with events culminating at the Brandenburg Gate and the release of thousands of illuminated balloons along the former path of the wall. The balloons along the 9.4-mile stretch were lit after dusk Friday.

Set off by an East German communist official's offhand remark as pro-democracy protests swelled in the fall of 1989, the Wall's collapse brought down the regime and led to the reunification of East and West Germany 11 months later. The most prominent beneficiary was Merkel, a physicist whom then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl plucked from East Germany and gave a post in his first post-unity cabinet.
A light installation illuminates an original section of the Berlin Wall called the East Side Gallery as the German city prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the dismantling of the division between East and West. Story, A2.
"The feeling was indescribable," Merkel, 60, said in a Nov. 1 podcast, describing her experience crossing over to West Berlin on the night the border opened. "These were times that truly changed the world. You don't forget those emotions."

Celebrations include a performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" conducted by Daniel Barenboim, music by Peter Gabriel and German rocker Udo Lindenberg, and video displays of German history. Merkel is to give a speech Sunday at the Berlin Wall Memorial, built on a downtown stretch of the former border strip cleared by East Germany so its soldiers could shoot at citizens trying to flee to the west.
While then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attended the last major celebration in 2009, conflict with Russia over Ukraine stoked warnings of a new Cold War before this year's anniversary. 

Germany, its export power boosted by the global economy, has meanwhile consolidated its position as Europe's pivotal power by steering Europe through the debt crisis.

German "confidence has definitely grown," Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, a research group based in Brussels, said by phone. "German power is discreet" since it's mostly exercised through the European Union, she said. Germany's emergence casts an alternate light on warnings by France and the U.K. in 1990 that unifying East and West Germany raised the specter of a European power that started two world wars and perpetrated the Holocaust.

French and British leaders eventually signed on to reunification, which was backed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then led by Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev and former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher will be guests at the "citizens' festival" Sunday at the Brandenburg Gate, where Germany's soccer team celebrated its World Cup victory last summer.