How seriously is Germany taking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall? Well, if you consider the people who are showing up for the event any index, try 10 on a 10-point scale.
For the Wall’s history, check out my post below called, “Remembering the unforgettable.” But today I wanted to talk about how Germany is treating this anniversary, starting with the invitation list.
These guests include three world leaders from the Cold War era and one of the best-known bands in the world, which is also known for its humanitarian efforts.
The three men who led the Soviet Union, West Germany, and the United States when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 were on hand today (Saturday) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, and George Bush spoke to some 1,800 pepole who packed the Friedrichstadt Palast theatre. The Berlin newspaper, Der Tagesspegiel, quotes former German Chancellor Kohl as saying, “I have every reason, above all anger and frustration, to be proud. I’ve nothing better to be proud of than the German unification.”
As current German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked on, the three world leaders spoke of the significance of the Nov. 9, 1989, event. Former Soviet leader Gorbachev, the man who is responsible for originating peristroika in Russia, then goaded Bush saying, “I tell you quite simply, America also needs a peristroika,” Der Tagesspiegel reports. He then commended President Obama for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and said that is a step in the right direction.
Bush praised Kohl as a “truly great statesman of the 20th century,” but said the events of 1989 were begun by the hearts and minds of the people deprived for too long of their God-given rights.”
German Federal President Horst Kohler called the fall of the Wall a “historic high point,” and called the gathering of the three world leaders “something special” and “a sign of hope and encouragement.”
The reunion of Bush, 85; Gorbachev, 78, and Kohl, 79, weas sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has close ties to Chancellor Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Party. All three of the world leaders played key roles in the peaceful revolution that played out in 1989 East Germany that culminated in the fall of the Wall that year.
Berlin is organizing a “Festival of Freedom” for November 9, in which Merkel will host Gorbachev, Polish former anti-communist leader Lech Walesa, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will represent President Obama. French and Russian presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medved will also attend.
Also lending a hand to the anniversary celebration is the Irish band of superstars simply known worldwide as U2. They will perform a short outdoor free-ticketed concert Thursday night, Nov. 5, at the foot of the historic Brandenburg Gate. The concert is part of the 16th MTV Europe Music Awards, to be held in Berlin’s 02 World on Thursday and broadcast live over MTV the same day.
Germany holds special meaning for U2, as the band relocated to the city in 1990, a year after the Wall came down, to reinvent its sound and release its famous “Achtung Baby” album. The Hansa recording studio where the album was done is located close to where the Wall stood.
The band’s manager, Paul McGuinness, said on the U2 website, “It’ll be an exciting spot to be in, 20 years almost to the day since the wall came down. Should be fun.”
A testimony to U2′s enduring popularity is that all of the free tickets were handed out within 24 of the concert’s announcement last Wednesday.
On the more serious side, one of the anniversary events will be the voluntary return to jail of a former prisoner of East Germany’s Stasi secret police. Wolfgang Holzapfel, 65, is returning to a former East German jail cell for a week to remind the world of the brutality of conditions there before the Wall came down.
The former West German will be enduring the same conditions he did when he was sentenced in 1965 to eight years in Hohenschonhausen Prison for political activism. He will be locked in a small cell, wear a prison uniform and will not be permitted to lie on his bed during the daytime hours.
In other news related to the anniversary, the German newspaper, The Local, announced that China’s government has blocked its citizens from logging onto a German website celebrating the fall of the Wall because Chinese bloggers were using it to protest conditions in their own communist government.
The site is called Berlin Twitter Wall www.berlintwitterwall.com and its access was cut off to China Monday afternoon Beijing time, according to the KulturProjekte Berlin, the non-profit arts organization that sponsors the website.
“When we launched it on Oct. 20, we got a lot of worldwide attention, so naturally the Chinese people have seen it as a way to voice their opinions about internet censorship in their own country,” Carsten Hein, the project coordinator, told The Local.
Particularly troublesome to Chinese authorities was the request by the Berlin Twitter Wall for users to describe, “which walls in the rest of the world should, in their opinion, now fall.”
All in all, the week ahead is shaping up to be an interesting one in Berlin.