They came in their thousands to join together where once the city divided them.
The venue was Berlin’s Brandenburg gate – a modern city landmark – and a sharp contrast to the hated symbol of the past whose demise the crowds had gathered to celebrate.
Thousands of illuminated balloons marked the path, formerly known as the “death strip”, where the Berlin Wall used to stand.
A quarter of a century after it crumbled and the world leader who set the process in motion was welcomed back.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was given a standing ovation at a concert to mark the historic events of the late 1980s.
His reforms and overtures to the West are widely viewed as having seen off the communist regimes of the East.
The 83-year-old was joined by other former East European leaders and dissidents.
Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who affectionately referred to Gorbachev as “Gorby”, passed on Germany’s thanks for the roles they played.
“Brave citizens in East Berlin and in the GDR made it happen. They paved the way for the fall of the Wall. And they played a decisive role in the fact that Germany was given this historic chance to overcome dictatorship and oppression and to reunite in solidarity and freedom. We will always be grateful,” Wowereit said before personally thanking Nobel prize winner Lech Walesa and former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth.
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to the 136 people known to have died trying to escape from East to West.
The fall of the Wall, she said, showed that dreams can come true.
“It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better,” she said, noting that people in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere around the world should feel heartened by the example of the wall’s sudden demise.
“It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it’s a message of faith for today’s, and future, generations that can tear down the walls – the walls of dictators, violence and ideologies.”
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