A day of joy and reflection
Fittingly, it was a trumpet that opened the central memorial event in the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse. Following a church service in the Chapel of Reconciliation the Chancellor, Berlin’s governing mayor Klaus Wowereit and Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, lit candles in memory of those who lost their lives at the Berlin Wall.
An important date in German history
Afterwards, at a ceremony, Angela Merkel reminded her audience of the many associations with 9 November in German history: the end of the German Empire in 1918, Hitler’s attempt to bring down the young Weimar Republic in 1923 and above all 9 November 1938, when SA and SS troops torched synagogues, destroyed the homes of German Jews and attacked Jewish citizens.
"And that is why, on this day that marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall I do not feel undiluted joy. I also feel the responsibility that German history as a whole places on us," stressed Angela Merkel.
The Berlin Wall did not fall without warning. Without the developments in the other former Eastern Bloc states, the peaceful revolution in the GDR would have been unthinkable, explained Angela Merkel. "We Germans will never forget that the freedom and democracy movements in Central and Eastern European states paved the way for the happiest moment in our recent history."
In 1989 an ever increasing number of East Germans found the courage to take charge of their own lives, continued the Chancellor, and recalled the civil society movements and the first demonstrations. "Then there were tens of thousands, then there were hundreds of thousands who were prepared to march and protest against government interference, repression and mismanagement," said Angela Merkel.
Remembering the victims
She remembered the victims, the lives claimed by the Berlin Wall in its 28 years. Representing all other victims, Angela Merkel recounted the fate of Ida Siekmann, the Berlin Wall’s first victim, who jumped from an upstairs window and died from the injuries she sustained. Her death was followed by many others. "Every single life lost, was and is one life too many," stressed Angela Merkel.
For this reason, the day of joy that the Berlin Wall is no more is always also a day of remembrance of the victims it claimed. And the remembrance embraces all those who died in East Germany’s State Security prisons, or who died later as a result of their imprisonment.
"Nothing has to stay the way it is"
Angela Merkel stressed the importance of coming to terms with the SED dictatorship in East Germany. It is important that injustice is unequivocally known as injustice. And for that we need places of remembrance. The memorial site also reminds us, "what a great happiness it is, what a gift it is to be peacefully united and to live in an economic and social order which combines liberty and responsibility."
"We can shape our lives and times," concluded the Chancellor. "We can change things for the better." That is the message sent out by the fall of the Berlin Wall. It addresses people in Germany, in other parts of Europe and around the world. "At this time it addresses particularly the people in Ukraine, in Syria, in Iraq and in many, many other parts of the world in which freedom and human rights are under threat or are ignored," declared Angela Merkel at the end of her address.
Bernauer Strasse – at the heart of things
There is scarcely another place in Berlin where the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 was quite as dramatic as in Bernauer Strasse. The Wall ran along the walls of the buildings, which belonged to East Berlin, while the pavement was already in West Berlin. The draconian restrictions imposed in the first few days caused many residents to flee. Some let themselves down on ropes from upstairs windows, while others jumped out of their windows. Some paid with their lives.
In mid-August doors and windows were bricked up, and later the upper floors of the buildings were demolished. For years the one-storey facades of these buildings were the Berlin Wall at that point. As a symbol of times gone by, the Reconciliation Church was left standing on the no man’s land between the wall and its secondary structures. It was pulled down in 1985.
Remembering at an authentic site
Since the end of the 1990s a memorial site on the former no man’s land commemorates the division of the city and the victims this claimed. The last original section of the Berlin Wall, which has been retained in its full depth, gives visitors an authentic impression of what the border was really like. The site includes a memorial, a documentation centre and the chapel, which was built precisely where the Reconciliation Church used to stand.
The magnetism of this place of remembrance is impressive, said the Chancellor happily. At the documentation centre Angela Merkel then opened a new permanent exhibition. She wished the exhibition many, many visitors, especially the young generation, who are lucky enough to have grown up without ever knowing the Berlin Wall. And that makes places like the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauer Strasse all the more important.
Permanent exhibition on the history of the Berlin Wall
While the outer area provides an authentic impression of the border as it really was, and various places recall the lives lost at the Berlin Wall, the documentation centre is dedicated to the history of the divided Germany. It brings together major political events and the stories from everyday life, and focuses on the consequences of living in a divided city for the people of Berlin. A multi-media eye-witness archive brings to life the way individuals experienced the division of Berlin into East and West.
The Berlin War Memorial in the Bernauer Strasse is the central site to commemorate the division of Berlin. The Berlin Wall Foundation also encompasses the Marienfelde Refugee Centre Memorial. The Berlin Wall Foundation receives an annual sum of 931,000 euros from the budget of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. For the new permanent exhibition and the accompanying programme the German government has made a available a sum of about 950,000 euros.