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25 Years Later: Looking Back On The Fall Of The Berlin Wall

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Today, Germany marked the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In the city center, 8,000 balloons were released into the sky as an orchestra played Beethoven's "Ode To Joy."


GRIGSBY BATES: NPR Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin and joins us now. Hey Soraya, what's the day been like and what's the mood and what's happening where you are?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, it's been very somber and very celebratory all mixed in one. At the moment, I'm standing here on Bernauer Street, which was one of the places the Wall ran along.

So besides releasing the balloons, they've been playing music. Earlier in the day, however, there were some commemorative ceremonies - a church service to remember some of the violence that was associated with this Wall, the deaths that were associated with it and just the oppression that existed for its 28 years of existence. So it's been a very emotional day for all concerned.

GRIGSBY BATES: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in Berlin for the festivities and he had some pretty negative criticism for his German host and the West in his speech last night. What did he say?

NELSON: He's feeling that there was an opportunity squandered here by the U.S., by Germany, by Europe, in the sense that there was no reaching out to Russia or any sort of constructive engagement - that in fact a lot of actions were taken that were quite antagonistic, including expanding NATO, the actions in Ukraine, the actions in the Middle East. These were things that Mr. Gorbachev said were leading the world, basically, to the brink of another Cold War.

GRIGSBY BATES: And what was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's reaction? Does she offer any rebuttal?

NELSON: She didn't offer any direct rebuttal and tried to make this about the people here - about the history. She, in fact, is one of the people who crossed over on that fateful night 25 years ago - November 9 - because she lived in East Germany. Her father was a pastor. She said that the burden of history is heavy for Germans, that this is not only the anniversary of the Wall coming down, but also the anniversary in 1938 of the very vicious violent attacks on Jewish businesses, Jewish homes, Jewish synagogues here in Berlin that became infamously known as Kristallnacht. So she felt that commemoration was important. But she also said that the Wall coming down does bring hope to people that this could lead to other walls coming down, both figurative and real, in terms of oppression and hatred.

GRIGSBY BATES: NPR Berlin correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Thanks, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Karen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.