Germans remember the night when the Berlin Wall fell

Germany is marking 28 years since the night when the Berlin Wall fell and, looking for freedom, thousands headed west. The anniversary comes as Germany continues to confront the problems of reunification.

Berliners from east to west left candles and roses across Germany's capital to commemorate 28 years since the wall that had divided their city since 1961 began to come down. More than 160 schoolchildren from across the country joined 100 politicians, former citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and other invited guests at a commemoration hosted by the Berlin Wall Foundation in the capital.

Foundation director Axel Klausmeier said the Wall was not just a historical structure, but "a learning center for cosmopolitanism and tolerance — and against all forms of exclusion."

In one high-profile event, the capital's mayor, Michael Müller, led an anniversary ceremony at the Berlin Wall Memorial. Dietmar Woidke, the state premier of neighboring Brandenburg, laid a wreath at the former border between West Berlin and Potsdam, a city once walled into the GDR.

Across the country, readings, concerts, podium discussions and other events commemorated the occasion. People killed trying to escape the GDR were remembered Thursday in the Chapel of Reconciliation, which sits on what Germans have come to know as the death strip, where 44.5 kilometers, (27.5 miles) of mesh fence with no cover left refugees in a veritable shooting gallery for border guards.

Deutschland, Brandenburger-Tor, US-Präsident Ronald Reagan

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," US President Reagan said in 1987

'Nobody cares'

On November 9, 1989 (pictured), Socialist Unity Party politburo honcho Günter Schabowski told East Germans that they would be able to travel more or less freely to the West, "as far as I know — effective immediately, without delay." That last bit was improvised and the easing of restrictions had not been meant to go into effect quite yet, but East Germans began gathering at the Wall, ready for a glimpse of the other side. Schabowski's improvised words may have helped set up the fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany, but the country has hardly lived happily ever after.

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Time travel: Berlin Wall panorama

The GDR's former political prisoners continue to find social exclusion in reunified Germany as they continue their personal battles with the trauma they experienced in the former East, the psychologist Stefan Trobisch-Lütge told the Berliner Zeitung for an article published on Thursday. "These people feel likewise left behind by today's society — and that nobody really cares for them anymore," Trobisch-Lütge said. They are, he added, "virtually the collateral damage of history."

To combat this, Petra Köpping, a Social Democrat and the integration minister of the eastern state of Saxony, has called on politicians to approach the problems of the former GDR as phenomena unique from the country's many other challenges. "We have to take care of East Germany differently," she told public radio on Thursday.

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East Side Gallery

At 1316 meters along the River Spree, the longest remaining stretch of the Wall is the world's longest open-air gallery. Painted in 1990 by artists from around the globe, it illustrates personal destinies, wishes and dreams. 101 large-format pictures show the way to freedom and the joy at the fall of the Wall. The East Side Gallery was completely restored in 2009.

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Berlin Wall Memorial

Nowhere is the former "death strip" as vivid as it is here. An 80-meter-long segment of the Wall, including a guard tower, has been reconstructed. The authentic border fortification complex serves as a central monument to the division of Germany. It pays homage to the victims who died or were killed at the Berlin Wall.

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Traces of the route of the Wall

The Berlin Wall has disappeared almost everywhere in the city. East and West have now grown together. In the city center a strip of cobblestones marks where the Wall used to run.

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Checkpoint Charlie

This border crossing is among the best-known sights in Berlin. Only foreigners and diplomats were allowed to pass through this checkpoint. In October 1961, shortly after the Wall was built, there was a standoff here as armed Soviet and American tanks stood face-to-face. The situation very nearly escalated.

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The Palace of Tears

It was a place of tearful farewells. Hundreds of people crossed this border post at Friedrichstrasse station when leaving East Germany for West Berlin. The former departure terminal now serves as a reminder of the forced separation of friends and families. Visitors can walk through an original cubicle where passports were checked and relive the border clearance procedure for themselves.

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Hohenschönhausen Memorial

This former Stasi prison has been a memorial to the victims of communist dictatorship since 1994. Visitors are informed about the detention conditions and interrogation methods in communist East Germany. Former inmates lead the guided tours.

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Teufelsberg Listening Station

After World War II, this area was used to deposit debris. Rubble from the war was collected to form the Teufelsberg, the highest elevation in West Berlin. During the Cold War, the US National Security Agency used the hill as a listening station. From here, military radio signals from the Warsaw Pact countries could be intercepted, monitored and jammed.

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Glienicke Bridge

You might imagine that the exchange of captured spies only took place on the silver screen, but this bridge between Berlin and Potsdam was actually the scene of three such operations. Steven Spielberg used this historic place as a setting in his feature film "Bridge of Spies."

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German Spy Museum

This interactive museum right near Potsdamer Platz takes visitors into the world of espionage. Special emphasis is placed on activities in Berlin during the Cold War. Among the more than 300 exhibits is an East German Trabant car with infrared cameras hidden in its doors.

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Berlin Wall Trail

The Berlin Wall Trail follows the path of the former division of the city and covers some 160 kilometers. The Japanese donated some 10,000 cherry trees "to bring peace in the hearts of the people." They were planted in different sections of the former Wall. This avenue is right by Bösebrücke, the first crossing to open on the day the Wall came down.

mkg/ng (AFP, KNA, epd, dpa)

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