Germans mark 16th anniversary of Cold War end

About 150 people gathered around one of the largest remaining portions of the Berlin Wall Wednesday to mark the 16th anniversary of the Cold War barrier's fall with a solemn bell ringing and candle-lighting ceremony.

"The fall of the Wall 16 years ago on this day moved the world and it made the Germans, at least for a moment, the happiest people on Earth," said Marianne Birthler, a former East German democracy activist who now oversees the archives of the Stasi, the communist state's secret police. Following Birthler's speech, people were invited to light candles and add them to the memorial.

The low-key ceremony at the Bernauer Strasse, which ran along the wall on the northern edge of downtown East Berlin, drew a handful of local politicians and tourists.

"That was the day of days, November 9, 1989," said Walter Momper, the last mayor of West Berlin. "We didn't dare hope for it, and as a result, it was totally unexpected when it happened."

The Wall, built in 1961 to stop a westward exodus of East Germans, was brought down by the offhand remark of a communist official at a Nov. 9, 1989 news conference.

Under pressure from nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations, East Germany's regime was desperately looking for ways to contain the revolt.

Guenter Schabowski, the ruling Politburo's spokesman, made the announcement: East Germany was lifting restrictions on travel across its heavily fortified border with West Germany after nearly three decades of isolation.

Asked when the new regulation would take effect, Schabowski fumbled, then said "immediately, without delay." Within hours, East Berliners were jamming the first crossing to West Berlin; armed East German border guards gave up and let them cross.

Germany was reunited less than a year later, on Oct. 3, 1990, and that anniversary - unlike that of the wall's fall - is a national holiday.

Nov. 9 also is the anniversary of dark events in German history: the Nazis' 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, or Night of Broken Glass, when synagogues and Jewish businesses were attacked, foreshadowing the Holocaust. On Nov. 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler staged a failed coup in Munich - 10 years before Germans voted him into power. A.M.

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