Somber, hopeful ceremonies mark 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell

Story highlights

The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, as the Cold War ended

Germans celebrate Sunday anniversary with services, performance art, concert

Germans tried to break out of the former communist dictatorship in East Germany

They cleared the wall using various methods, but 200 paid with their lives

CNN  — 

Jumping out of buildings, running through barbed wire, flying makeshift planes and digging secret tunnels – all desperate measures used by people to flee East Berlin after the wall went up.

Those images and memories flooded back into Germany’s collective conscious on Sunday, as the nation celebrated 25 years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

On November 9, 1989, tens of thousands of Germans literally tore it down by hand – using their fists, pickaxes, sledgehammers and shovels.

Then East Germany’s communist government helped, heaving away chunks of it by crane, as its citizens streamed into the West and its one-party oligarchy collapsed.

Freedom and ultimately a united Germany emerged from the bitter Cold War that had separated Berlin since the first concrete barrier went up in 1961.

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Berlin today

In the years since the Wall came down, the city has undergone a massive transformation as people and money poured into the former East Berlin.

Berlin now shines as a crown jewel of central Europe. It’s a far cry from the city and the country that were bombed to ruins during World War II. And Germany is now the world’s fourth largest economy and the driving market in the European Union.

On Sunday, thousands of Berliners, dignitaries and visitors from around the world gathered around the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate to remember the moment that many thought would never come.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the Berlin Wall sends “a message of hope and that dreams can come true, nothing has to stay as it is, even if it’s difficult.”

People are also visiting the East Side Gallery, the longest part of the wall still standing – measuring 2.2 kilometers or 1.6 miles.

Most of the Wall was dismantled in the immediate aftermath and much of it was sent to other countries. There are parts of the Wall at the United Nations headquarters in New York as well as U.S. embassies and presidential libraries.

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Grandiose work of art

A grandiose performance art celebration on Sunday is to symbolize the disappearance of the wall.

The “Lichtgrenze” (Border of Light) was placed along the former path of the Berlin Wall. It comprises thousands of illuminated white helium balloons – to be released into the sky after a performance by the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra.

In a more somber ceremony, candles will burn at the National Memorial for the Victims of the Berlin Wall. Two hundred people were killed while trying to escape, many of them shot by border guards, others succumbing to accidents.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit says he hopes the ceremonies will spread hope to people around the world.

“When the wall came down it was a signal to the world that freedom is possible,” he said. “There are many other walls in the world and people who do not live free. We want them to watch these ceremonies and events and be inspired by them.”