Berlin celebrates freedom
In biblical times, a trumpet fanfare caused the fortifications around the city of Jericho to tumble to the ground. In the 18th century, a furious mob sacked the Bastille in Paris, sparking the start of the French Revolution and sounding the death knell of the monarchy.
But, in November 1989, not a drop of blood was shed as German citizens stormed across the Berlin Wall that had divided the city and became an icon of repression, marking the end of the cold war and the start of a brave new era.
In previous weeks, hordes of East Germans had slipped through the rapidly crumbling Iron Curtain via Hungary to Austria. As the exodus increased, the East German authorities bowed to the inevitable and finally opened the border gates to West Berlin on November 9. Thousands flocked through the crossing points as the entire city celebrated long into the night, while in the days that followed hundreds descended on the wall to chip off a souvenir. Ironically, just the previous January the long time leader of East Germany, Eric Honecker, had predicted the wall would stand for another 100 years; like the wall itself, his words vanished in a cloud of dust.
Some 20 years on, Berlin will be marking this special anniversary with a series of festivities, while casting a thoughtful eye over two decades that have witnessed the reunification of the country, the introduction of a new currency and the transfer of the capital from Bonn to Berlin. Germany has essentially reinvented itself through force of circumstance in the space of less than a generation.
Grabbing the limelight next month, the Festival of Freedom will take place on both sides of the iconic Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin. The highlight of this event will be the multimedia staging of a symbolic collapse of the wall using lines of outsize dominos. Scores of young people - some of whom were born after 1989 - have been involved in preparing for the domino spectacle, designing oversized tiles which on November 9 will be deliberately toppled by a team of prominent artists, cultural figures and politicians.
The fall of the wall is not being marked just in Berlin. Since May, 20 symbolic bricks from the original wall have been sent on a tour of South Korea, Cyprus, Yemen and other parts of the world where life is characterised by divided or disputed borders. In each destination the bricks have been set up as a blank canvas for artists, intellectuals and young people to display their thoughts and ideas on creating a unified society.
Commenting on the events, governing mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit said: 'The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is an important occasion of remembrance, commemoration and joy at the reunification of the country, for Berlin and for Germany as a whole. At the time it was a momentous occasion for both east and west. And for the city of Berlin, overcoming separation was the beginning of a road towards becoming an internationally renowned metropolis.'
The freedom fest is by no means the first major celebration to be held near the wall. In December 1989, Leonard Bernstein gave a concert in Berlin which included Beethoven's 9th symphony Ode to Joy -with the word 'joy' changed to 'freedom'. The following year Roger Waters of Pink Floyd performed just north of Potsdamer Platz - naturally playing the group's classic album The Wall.
Berlin, home to about 3.5 million people, is Germany's largest city and, since 1989, has prospered substantially to become a major European centre of culture, politics, media and science. Its economy is essentially based on the service sector, embracing a wide range of creative industries, and the city is also home to renowned universities, research institutes, sporting events and museums.
The nominal GDP of Berlin grew by 1.6 per cent last year to Euro83 billion (HK$938 billion), most of which was thanks to the service sector although there were also modest contributions from industry and agriculture. After Germany's reunification in 1990, Berlin experienced a significant measure of deindustrialisation and, in 1991, the German parliament, the Bundestag, voted to shift the capital from Bonn to Berlin, a process that was achieved in just eight years. The city, hemmed in for so many years, now provides a series of contrasting architectural styles that are evocative of its past.
The Berlin landscape has been predominantly shaped by the primary role that it played in Germany's history in the 20th century. Each of the national governments based in Berlin - from the first German Empire up to the reunified Germany of today - embarked on far-reaching construction programmes, each of which was distinguished by the architecture and mores of the day. However, Berlin suffered severely from Allied bombing in the second world war, and many of the old buildings that survived were subsequently eradicated in the 1950s and 1960s in both halves of the city. Much of this destruction was initiated by municipal architecture programmes to build new residential or business quarters and main roads.
Apart from being the political capital of Germany, Berlin also plays a leading role in the country's cultural scene. The Karneval der Kulturen, a multi-ethnic street parade celebrated every Pentecost weekend, and the Christopher Street Day - central Europe's largest gay and lesbian pride event which is held on the last weekend of June - receive a large measure of support from the city's government.
Author Karl Scheffler, at the start of the 20th century, wrote: 'Berlin is a city condemned to be eternally becoming, never to be.' The events of the past 20 years, as Berlin has been transformed from a city split asunder by the rival political systems to a prosperous metropolitan capital, have proved Scheffler entirely wrong.
German, Turkish, others
Protestant, Catholic, Muslim
(US$) 2.9 trillion
Temperate and marine; cool, cloudy, wet winters and summers; occasional warm mountain (foehn) wind
Coal, lignite, natural gas, iron ore, copper, nickel, uranium, potash, salt, construction materials, timber, arable land
Iron, steel, coal, cement, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, machine tools, electronics, food and beverage, shipbuilding, textiles
KEY TRADING PARTNERS
France, Netherlands, Britain, China, Austria, Russia, United States, Spain
HEAD OF STATE
President Horst Koehler
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Source: CIA World Factbook