LEIPZIG: Some 200,000 people joined a candlelight procession on Thursday marking a watershed mass protest 25 years ago that helped bring down the Berlin Wall a month later.
European leaders and former dissidents joined local residents in a day of celebrations culminating in a reenactment of the iconic march in the eastern German city of Leipzig, while warning of the recent rise in Cold War-style tensions with Russia.
The ceremonies came one month to the day before the reunified capital marks a quarter century since the communist authorities threw open the despised barrier in Berlin.
In that momentous autumn of 1989, successive Mondays saw mounting demonstrations against the Stalinist state.
The peaceful protest in Leipzig of 70,000 people on October 9 that year was met with stunned disbelief from the East German authorities and Soviet troops.
It proved a turning point after months of unrest which had sparked fears of a bloody crackdown as seen in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that June.
German President Joachim Gauck, who was himself a pro-democracy pastor in the communist East, called the night of October 9, 1989 “magical” and paid tribute to the demonstrators’ courage.
“They were familiar with the arrogance of power — an order to shoot would in no way have been unthinkable,” he told a ceremony at the city’s Gewandhaus concert hall.
“But they came anyway — tens of thousands overcame their fear of the oppressors because their longing for freedom was bigger.”
He was joined by his counterparts from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as former US secretaries of state James Baker and Henry Kissinger, who was born in Germany.
The opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 brought the long-demanded liberty to travel for Easterners and would usher in the end of the regime, and Germany’s reunification the following October.