After 45 years there was reason to crow, and yesterday the cheers could be heard from the White House to Embassy Row.

"This moment has come," an exultant President Bush said of German unification, "because Americans stood by the people of Berlin, from the daredevil pilots of the airlift to a young president who made his bold declaration before the wall.

"Today," Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony in which he signed a proclamation for German-American Day on Oct. 6, "it is the wall that lies in ruins and our eyes open to a new world of hope. The last remnants of wall remain and they are part of free Berlin, a ragged monument in brick and barbed wire, proof that no wall is ever strong enough to strangle the human spirit, that no wall can ever crush a nation's soul."

Describing the merging of the two Germanys as "a wonderful moment delayed for almost a half a century," Bush said that after watching television and seeing the celebrations in Berlin he had called Chancellor Helmut Kohl to congratulate him. "I was very moved."

Returning to the German Embassy on Reservoir Road from the White House, Ambassador Juergen Ruhfus hosted a vin d'honneur for several hundred diplomatic and administration guests. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger put the significance of the occasion succinctly.

"We won! We won! It's a great day," he said. "The only trouble is that with everything else going on in the world now nobody is paying attention to it."

He had a point, what with the United Nations in session in New York, the Iraq crisis going on in the Persian Gulf and a budget fight building steam on Capitol Hill. But National Symphony Maestro Mstislav Rostropovich was there paying attention.

"It's one of the most important days for the whole world," he said, tuning his cello and preparing to play the Sarabande and Bourree from Suite No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach. "It is a new era for our planet and the time is near when we are one family on Earth."

Said a grateful ambassador in introducing him: "I don't think we could have celebrated this day better than with the music you played in Berlin on November 11 last year."

Austrian Ambassador Friedrich Hoess was also paying attention.

"It's a great day because symbolically it is the end of the division of Europe," he said. "That means freedom and democracy work, that the West has won."

The "happy event has to do with the collapse of communism," said retired German air force general Johannes Steinhoff, once chairman of NATO's military committee. "I know that people are afraid of a big military power again and that we'll take our independent way politically, but I think we will stick very close to other Europeans, share our responsibilities, develop as a nation and never return to macho behavior," Steinhoff said.

Ruhfus, like Germany's leaders back home, was anxious to assure his guests that the Nazi past is done with.

"We Germans, to this day, are aware of the sufferings which have been brought about on people and countries in Europe and other parts of the world in the name of Germany, and in particular the suffering of the Jewish people," he said. "I think the Germans united are firmly determined that we will do our best that this will never happen again."

He singled out "our allies" -- the French, British and Americans -- among his guests and paid particular tribute to some who weren't there -- the European Community's president, Jacques Delors, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

"In these days we think of the contributions by the civil rights movements, by Eastern European neighboring countries in Czechoslovakia and Poland and in particular Hungary, which for the first time cut into the Iron Curtain in Europe. And we think with gratitude of the courage of East German compatriots who stood up and did the demonstrations that were so successful in a peaceful way that helped get rid of a dictatorship," Ruhfus said.

Several former East Bloc countries, including Poland and the Soviet Union, whose ambassadors had business elsewhere, sent deputy chiefs of missions to the reception. The Israelis sent their political counselor. The Hungarian ambassador sent his wife, Anna Zwack, who said her husband was meeting with a team from the State Department on arrangements for the Oct. 14-20 visit of Hungarian Prime Minister Jozsef Antall.

She said that as she heard Ruhfus thanking Gorbachev and everybody else, she wondered if he would remember to say "it was the Hungarians who led off the East Germans in the beginning. I was so happy when he mentioned Hungary. It was a very courageous decision for the Hungarians to take."

An embassy spokesman called the midday reception the embassy's "first ever" national day. "Always in the past it was either the emperor's birthday, or somebody else's birthday," he said.

Last night, the German Embassy staff and families plus American friends joined for an ecumenical service at Washington National Cathedral. Today, ceremonies celebrating what is officially known as the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany are scheduled on Capitol Hill on both the House and Senate sides. Then tonight, with Berlin Mayor Walter Momper as special guest, Ruhfus and his wife, Karin, are hosting a reception for 2,000 at the chancery.

That figure could grow, however. The embassy switchboard has been deluged by calls from German Americans in the area.

"If you are German you can come. During these days of joy, we shouldn't close the doors," said Press Counselor Hans-Henning Horstmann.