Wed, Nov 10, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Germans somber on anniversary of Berlin Wall's fall

FIFTEEN YEARS ONThe failure to bridge differences between east and west since reunification has left many Germans embittered


Germany was to mark a subdued 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall yesterday, weighed down by high unemployment in the formerly communist east and a sense that in people's hearts the nation has not yet fully reunited.

No big celebrations, parades or fireworks were planned to recall Nov. 9, 1989, the day East Germany's communist regime opened the wall almost by accident and set off national euphoria that peaked with German reunification 11 months later.

Official ceremonies planned for yesterday included a trip by President Horst Koehler to the former east-west border. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder issued a statement Monday praising east Germans for overthrowing communist rule peacefully.

As time has passed, however, Germans have focused on the staggering cost of rebuilding the east, not the peaceful revolution that toppled the Wall and the Stalinist rulers who had built it 28 years before.

Architects of reunification, led by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, urged Germans to take pride in their achievements despite the continuing east-west economic gap.

"We have every reason to be proud," Kohl was quoted as saying in yesterday's Bild newspaper. "Of course, a lot remains to be done and major efforts are still needed in some places to create flowering landscapes. And we will make it."

But critics often quote Kohl's 1990 promise of "flowering landscapes" for the east as a reason for the disillusionment that followed when West German capitalism swept away eastern industry at the loss of several million jobs.

The east's jobless rate -- 17.5 percent -- is more than twice as high as in the West. The disappointment shows in elections, when about one in five east Germans regularly votes for the successor party to the communists.

Kohl conceded that after 40 years apart at Europe's Cold War frontline, Germany's division "ran much deeper than I thought."

The Berlin Wall, the division's best-known symbol, was brought down by the offhand remark of an East Berlin 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 by a reporter when the new regulation would take effect, Schabowski fumbled, then said "immediately, without delay."

But the east's economic problems and up to US$1.9 trillion in government subsidies to the region have fueled resentment on both sides.

"Once upon a time, we hugged each other with tears in our eyes. That wouldn't happen anymore now," East German-born entertainer Achim Mentzel recently said on ARD television.

"Of course we have different life histories in the east and the west, but that doesn't mean we are two different peoples," countered former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who played a key role in reunification.

More than 1,000 East Germans were killed during the Cold War while trying to slip through the heavily fortified border to West Germany or trying to get out through other communist countries such as Poland or Hungary.

About 230 died at the Wall, a 155km reinforced concrete barrier that ran through the center of the capital and around then-West Berlin. Many were killed by East German soldiers following shoot-to-kill orders.

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