Germans celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today with a profusion of parties, concerts and high-powered ceremony that recaptured the giddy exuberance of Nov. 9, 1989, and reminded the country of the lingering tensions that have thwarted a full reconciliation between its eastern and western halves.
Germans seemed eager to set aside their differences for a night of revelry to mark their joyous reunion 10 years ago, when East German Communist border guards suddenly lifted all barriers to travel to the west, clearing the way for reunification of their nation.
Despite a steady drizzle, tens of thousands of people gathered near the Brandenburg Gate this evening to hear rock, folk and classical musicians perform on five stages erected on the former death strip that divided East and West Berlin. The Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, 72, who turned up 10 years ago to play a Bach suite, gave an encore performance tonight along with a German rock group, the Scorpions.
The celebrations ended with a massive fireworks display over the city and shimmering magnesium lights that illuminated a line tracing the path of the mostly obliterated wall that once cut through the city.
In an emotional scene at the Reichstag, Germany's newly refurbished parliament building, former president George Bush, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl exchanged words of admiration and reminisced about the difficulties they surmounted to peacefully defuse four decades of the Cold War.
Looking back on his four years as president, Bush said, "In many ways no situation was as dicey as the one we all faced" when the East German Communist leadership bungled an announcement of plans to loosen travel restrictions and thousands of citizens began pouring across the wall.
"In the back of my mind, I worried about a crackdown of hard-liners," Bush said. "We had a major question: Will the army intervene? Might we have another Prague Spring on our hands," referring to when Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to suppress a democratic movement by that country's Communist rulers.
Bush recalled his reaction when the first scenes from Berlin were broadcast on television in the United States 10 years ago tonight. "It was a surreal sight, almost as though Dali had painted it," he said. "Then came the realization of what we were witnessing. The dam had been breached and freedom was literally cascading over the wall."
Gorbachev said by the time the wall fell, he already had reached the conclusion that the democratic rights of Eastern Europe, as well as East Germany, should be recognized and that their demands for freedom would have to be met, if at all possible, without bloodshed.
"When I am asked who the real heroes are, I always say the German and Russian people," said Gorbachev, who was ousted with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. "We took the right actions, and that makes us hopeful for the future."
But Gorbachev did not shirk from criticizing his German hosts for the jail sentence upheld on appeal Monday against Egon Krenz, the last East German leader, who opened the wall. He also chided the German leadership for not inviting any of East Germany's former Communist rulers to the ceremony.
"There are some undercurrents in your life I just don't understand," Gorbachev said. "It's strange right now that those people from the East German leadership who 10 years ago removed the wall are now being sentenced to jail."
Kohl, who steered Germany toward its formal reunification only 11 months after the wall was breached, said the 1989 revolution was a time of "great fortune" that Germans should remember as something for which they owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
"We should treat unity as a gift and a chance for the future," Kohl said. He urged his successor, Social Democratic leader Gerhard Schroeder, to step up his efforts to bring former Communist countries, such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, into the European Union at the earliest opportunity.
Schroeder paid homage "to the brave and fearless people in the east" who brought down a repressive regime. He also exhorted his countrymen to see their unity as a "second chance" for Germany to rectify the "horrors of inhumanity" the Nazis committed.
For that reason, Schroeder said, Germans should remember Nov. 9 as "a day for joy, shame and reflection"--because the anniversary of the wall's opening also coincides with the anniversary of the Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass in 1938 when Nazi thugs launched the pogrom against Jews that foreshadowed the Holocaust.
CAPTION: A German boy watches a fireworks display at Brandenburg Gate during the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall.