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The world remembers the fall of the wall

Gavin Hewitt | 15:44 UK time, Monday, 9 November 2009

Berlin: It was grey, misty, with a damp chill in Berlin today; the way the Cold War was usually portrayed in films.

In the early afternoon a crowd gathered at the Bornholmer bridge. This was the first crossing point to open on that night 20 years ago.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was there. She is the first German leader to have grown up in East Germany.

With her was the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He resisted using force to keep the wall in place. There was loud applause for him. Angela Merkel told him "you made this possible. You let this happen."

Also in the crowd was Lech Walesa, the former leader of Solidarity, the free trade union in Poland. Angela Merkel said it was very important that the first challenge to Soviet power and Communist rule came from working people. "That gave us courage," she said today.

She walked across the bridge surrounded by photographers and large crowds. "It was necessary today for us to return to this point together, to come back in order to celebrate what became possible on 9 November 1989.

"It was," she said, "the result of a long story of oppression and the struggle against oppression".

They passed a black and white poster of a Trabant triumphantly heading into the west twenty years ago.

When the German Chancellor spoke she reminded people of the repression they lived under. They could not travel abroad. They suffered from a secret police that turned family members into spies.

Walking with Angela Merkel was Vera Lengsfeld. She had been a dissident and was held by the Stasi at their prison in Hohenschonhausen. Two days ago I went to see her. She described how, when arrested, the Stasi would drive you around for four hours so you had no idea where you were. You never saw the prison from the outside.

Inside the prison she was completely isolated. The only sound was the shutting of cell doors. We visited the prison which is largely untouched; a monument to a police state. There is a corridor with 40 interrogation rooms. The secret police wanted confessions and a finger pointed at others. Many lives were destroyed.

Vera Lengsfeld remembers the night of 9 November 1989. The sheer exhilaration of freedom. She also says with a smile that it changed Europe, lifted the Iron Curtain and ended the Cold War.


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