BERLIN (AP) — Germany marked the 30th anniversary Saturday of the opening of the Berlin Wall, a pivotal moment in the events that brought downCommunism in eastern Europe.
Leaders from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic attended a ceremony at Bernauer Strasse — where one of the last parts of the Berlin Wall remains — before placing roses in gaps in the once-fearsome barrier that divided the city for 28 years.
Axel Klausmeier, head of the Berlin Wall memorial site, recalled the images of delirious Berliners from East and West crying tears of joy as they hugged each other on the evening of Nov. 9, 1989 .
Klausmeier paid tribute to the peaceful protesters in East Germany and neighboring Warsaw Pact countries who took to the streets demanding freedom and democracy, and to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of reforms.
The protests and a stream of people fleeing East Germany piled pressure on the country’s Communist government to open its borders to the West and ultimately end the nation’s post-war division.
Thirty years on, Germany has become the most powerful economic and political force on the continent, but there remain deep misgivings among some in the country about how the transition from socialism to capitalism was managed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged this in a recent interview with daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, saying that “with some things, where one might have thought that East and West would have aligned, one can see today that it might rather take half a century or more.”
Speaking at a memorial service in a small chapel near where the Wall once stood, Merkel commemorated those who were killed or imprisoned for trying to flee from East to West Germany and insisted that the fight for freedom worldwide isn’t over.
“The Berlin Wall, ladies and gentlemen, is history and it teaches us: No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high or so wide that it can’t be broken down,” she said.
Merkel also recalled that Nov. 9 remains a fraught date in German history, as it also marks the anniversary of the so-called Night of Broken Glass, an anti-Jewish pogrom in 1938 that foreshadowed the Nazi’s Holocaust.
Light installations, concerts and public debates were planned throughout the city and other parts of Germany to mark the fall of the Wall, including a concert at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.
Follow AP’s coverage of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at https://www.apnews.com/FalloftheBerlinWall
30 years after the Berlin Wall, Cyprus’ division endures
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — As the world commemorates 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bullet-riddled sandstone walls of abandoned, crumbling homes and concrete machine gun nests dotting Cyprus’ no man’s land serve as a jarring reminder of another divided capital — the world’s last — on Europe’s southeastern frontier.
The United Nations-controlled buffer zone that slices across the bustling, medieval center of Nicosia is the most visible scar of this Mediterranean island nation’s 45-year ethnic division, brought about in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece.
Reminiscent of Cold War tensions, Greek Cypriot conscripts still man guard posts on the internationally recognized southern side, opposite Turkish and Turkish Cypriot soldiers looking out from their positions on the island’s northern breakaway part.
Although Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, only its southern part enjoys full membership benefits.
The buffer zone mostly traverses mountains and farmland along its 180-kilometer (120 mile) length, but it’s at its narrowest along the tight, winding streets of Nicosia where it separates opposing soldiers by only a few meters at some points.
Inside the city, the dividing line isn’t so much a single wall in Berlin’s mold, but rather a patchwork of concrete-filled oil barrels, barbed wire-topped fences and a network of sentry posts built up over decades.
The closest point between the two sides was for 25 years a stretch of road that United Nations peacekeepers had dubbed “Spear Alley.” Only about three meters (10 feet) of road separated armed soldiers crouched behind the sandbagged windows of what were once stately mansions built at the turn of the previous century.
It was that proximity that gave the spot its name, as opposing soldiers at times when tensions still ran high would attach their bayonets to sticks and jab at each other, or hurl objects ranging from Molotov cocktails to urine-filled bottles. Soldiers’ deaths resulted in a 1989 deal for a mutual pullback from the spot.
What’s most striking within the buffer zone is the stillness of the place and the range of wildlife that can be encountered, such as a rare species of barn owl that has been allowed to multiply unmolested by human habitation. That stillness is juxtaposed with the bustle of daily life literally a stone’s throw away.
“Our military peacekeepers play a vital role in liaising on a daily basis with the opposing forces to prevent tensions from arising and becoming international security insurgencies,” said Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force.
“Our U.N. police officers liaise with the police authorities on both sides of the island to maintain law and order within the buffer zone. And probably most importantly, our civilian staff are the ones that help bridge the divide to bring the communities together.”
For decades, there was virtually no physical contact between north and south. That ended in 2003 when a political thaw between the sides resulted in the opening of the first of nine crossing points across the buffer zone, and there are efforts to open even more.
The crossings underscore the gravity of this ongoing conflict, but at the same time throw into question the dividing line’s reason for being.
The political complexities of Cyprus’ division have defied the efforts of five U.N. Secretaries-General and a slew of his special advisers in mediating a reunification agreement.
The latest failed bid occurred in 2017 during high-level talks at a Swiss resort that also brought together the diplomats of Cyprus’ ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and Britain.
Officials have been trying to pick up the pieces from that effort and get the two sides talking again. U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres will hold talks with the island’s Greek Cypriot president and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots later this month to scope out changes for a resumption of peace talks. That meeting will take place in — where else? — Berlin.