Hundreds of thousands of people celebrate freedom

25 years after the Berlin Wall fell Hundreds of thousands of people celebrate freedom

More than 300,000 visitors, a spectacular lights show and rousing music from a line-up of big names – the party made waves well beyond the city limits of Berlin. With the motto "The Courage to be Free" the festivities remembered all those people whose resolute and tenacious protests paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

People celebrate in front of the Brandenburger Gate.

Impressive fireworks above the Brandenburg Gate bring the party to a close

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bolesch

A young man from Potsdam stands radiant in front of the stage that has been built at the Brandenburg Gate. He got here early to make sure he didn’t miss anything. "The party is a sort of birthday party for me. My father is from Charlottenburg (in West Berlin), my mother from Erfurt (in East Germany). If the Wall hadn’t fallen, my parents would never have met," he tells us.

A few yards further on, we meet a 60-yar-old from Cologne, who is visibly enjoying the action. He still has very vivid memories of the 9 November 1989. "I was sitting in front of the television and couldn’t believe my eyes. The Wall … open? No, that can’t be true, I thought. But it was true!" The enthusiasm of 1989 is tangible again at the party. A throng of happy faces and everyone looking forward to the rest of the party. "I’m looking forward to Daniel Barenboim and Udo Lindenberg most of all," says a lady from Hamburg.

"A wonderful party," says Udo Lindenberg

And she was almost certainly not disappointed when the two of them took the stage later in the evening. Udo Lindenberg sang his classic numbers "Sonderzug nach Pankow" and "Cello". "This is going to be a wonderful party. I celebrate the ninth of November every year, but this year is very special," said Udo Lindenberg during the first rehearsals on Friday. Twenty-five years ago he was in Munich on 9 November. "A friend phoned and told me to put on the TV," remembers the singer. The next day he caught a flight to Berlin and celebrated for several days on end. "That was the best party of my life."

Musician Udo Lindenberg is interviewed as he stands next to government spokesperson Steffen Seibert in frnt of the Brandenburg Gate.

Udo Lindenberg arrived at the Brandenburg Gate on Friday - two days before he was due to appear at Sunday's party

Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

The evening programme kicked off with an international start, Peter Gabriel, who performed the orchestral version of "Heroes" – just the right song for Berlin. It tells of two lovers who meet in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. It was a song that was guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of all those listening on the evening of 9 November at the Brandenburg Gate.

"The Courage to be Free"

The motto of the huge open-air party at the Brandenburg Gate was "The Courage to be Free". After one minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives at the Berlin Wall, the actor Jan Josef Liefers took the audience through a rich and varied evening programme – with memories of the peaceful revolution, the opening of the symbolic "border of lights" and, of course, lots of music. And memories: when the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, the pictures of the Brandenburg Gate went round the world. People hugged and danced on the Wall. The images were rediscovered at the party.

A huge crowd watched the show.

The crowds stretched as far as they eye could see

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bolesch

But the events that led up to that night were not forgotten either, starting with a commemoration of the people who lost their lives at the Berlin Wall. Eyewitnesses, people who resisted the SED dictatorship in East Germany, including singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, were invited to take part in a discussion. "I’m happy to meet you at last. I missed you in East Germany," presenter Jan Josef Liefers said to Wolf Biermann, who was stripped of his East German citizenship in 1976. The former civil rights activist Ulrike Poppe was also invited. Because of her activities in opposition groups in East Germany she was imprisoned for a time in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. "I fought then for human rights and I still do," she stressed.

Suddenly the GDR was history

Jan Josef Liefers, born in Dresden, also reported on his own experiences in the GDR, especially just before the Berlin Wall fell. On 4 November 1989 he was at an opposition demonstration on East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Suddenly a man behind him asked if he would like a piece of plumb cake. He turned round and recognised the man. It was spymaster Markus Wolf, who headed the foreign intelligence division of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security from 1952 to 1986. "I suddenly realised that if a spymaster was offering me a piece of cake, the GDR was doomed," said Liefers. Five days later the Berlin Wall fell.

Alongside Peter Gabriel and Udo Lindenburg, musical highlights were provided by Clueso, Silly, die Fantastischen Vier and Paul Kalkbrenner. The programme was put together by the Berlin-based performing arts company phase7 under Sven Sören Beyer. Federal President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel and many other leading politicians and personalities were at the party.

White balloons for peace and liberty

At precisely 19:20 the optical highlight of the party began: some 8,000 white balloons were released and rose gently into the night sky over Berlin to the strains of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy) played by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Berlin’s governing mayor Klaus Wowereit sent the balloons on their way along with major personalities including Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa. "For peace and liberty," added Wowereit.

All the people who adopted a balloon took the stage

On the stage - all those who adopted a balloon, including Federal President Joachim Gauck

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bolesch

Since Friday the balloons had marked a 15-kilometre-long "border of lights" following the course of the Wall - from Bornholmer Strasse, through the Mauerpark, past the Berlin Wall Memorial in the Bernauer Strasse and the Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie to the East Side Gallery. People had adopted the balloons and added their own messages. One well-known face among them was Federal President Joachim Gauck. Iris Gleicke, Federal Government Commissioner for the New Federal States and Parliamentary State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Energy adopted a total of 25 balloons. She declared, "We East Germans fought for our own freedom in a revolution in which not a single shot was fired, which we can proudly and rightly call the peaceful revolution."

At the website everyone had the opportunity to become involved and adopt a balloon, with their own personal story about the Wall or their memories about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, on the Pariser Platz, the visitors could make the most of an interesting range of information: short films about the peaceful revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall were screened. The German government showed a "journey through time", a video installation to take visitors through the salient moments of the last hundred years of German history. A guest book allowed visitors to record their own impressions. Visitors from the USA, Poland and China made the most of this opportunity. On one thing they all agreed. Berlin is a wonderful and moving city. The Federal Press Office also presented the government app: first-hand information delivered directly to your smartphone. And several institutions dedicated to the peaceful revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall and coming to terms with the SED dictatorship were on hand with a range of information materials to answer questions.

After such a packed programme most visitors just wanted to party the night away – just as so many of them did on 9 November 1989. One woman put it in a nutshell, "Three cheers for the people in the former GDR, who were so brave and so resolute in their resistance." With tears in her eyes she added, "I am so impressed."