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Speech by Federal President Horst Köhler at the reception to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler am Rednerpult Berlin, 9 November 2009 Photo: BPA © Photo: BPA

The Wall was a structure which engendered fear. Twenty years ago on 9 November, it became a site of joyful celebration. For 28 years, East Germans were not even allowed to approach it. But on 9 November 1989, people danced on the Wall. And afterwards the world was a different place.

My wife and I are happy to be commemorating this day with you this evening. At that time, we were both still West Germans and we were astonished to see people dancing on the Wall. Throughout Germany, people fell into each other's arms and they thought of the many in the GDR whose courage, perseverance and refusal to resort to violence had made possible a peaceful revolution.

Those who were no longer prepared to let themselves be intimidated and took to the streets in their many thousands in Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden and elsewhere in the weeks and months before 9 November to demand their rights, gained their freedom and brought about the unity of our country. They shouted, "Wir sind das Volk" - we are the people - thus bringing down a regime which had long since ceased to enjoy the support of the general population.

In hindsight, we can pinpoint many reasons for the peaceful revolution. But it remains a miracle - and everything could have turned out differently if a courageous civil rights movement, astute statesmen such as George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, not to mention a lucky coincidence, had not paved the way.
Unfortunately, Helmut Kohl cannot be here this evening. However, he asked me to convey his best wishes to you.

Many people helped to bring down the Wall: the Solidarnosc trade union in Poland, the valiant government in Hungary, the fierce love of freedom of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, the readiness of Western democracies to stand up for their values, as well as the realization of the Soviet leadership that change was necessary.

The fall of the Wall marked the dawning of a new era: a new era of freedom and democracy. The change which followed fundamentally transformed the face of our continent as well as the lives of millions of Europeans. The European Union and NATO enlarged to the East and the South-East. There are practically no border controls today between countries which twenty years ago were still on different sides of the Iron Curtain. In the eurozone we use a single currency. The EU and Russia have wide-ranging relations and a fundamental new treaty is being negotiated at present. The EU has entered into close partnerships with its neighbours in the East and South.

I believe the good fortune of European integration, the increase in security and the prosperity we have achieved together, also places an obligation on us Europeans to shoulder responsibility in the world. As a unique confederation of states with 500 million inhabitants and enormous economic clout, the European Union has every reason to play a self-confident role in shaping a better world.

For not every hope of the euphoric days following 1989 has been fulfilled. The end of the Cold War by no means resolved every problem facing the world. Rather, it has transpired that the East-West conflict merely deflected attention from fundamental problems such as poverty, hunger and underdevelopment.

The challenges facing humanity can no longer be swept under the carpet in today's interconnected world with all its opportunities and problems. The fight against poverty and against climate change is a common fight for peace and for a world worth living in. And the international financial crisis requires us to ensure that money and capital again serve people. Let us be clear about it: the fall of the Berlin Wall allowed us to embark together upon a new brand of politics. Today the rivalry between competing social systems is no longer to the fore but, rather, the opportunities of a cooperative global governance which benefits everyone.

It was not least the trust of our friends and partners that brought us Germans reunification in freedom. On behalf of all Germans I say to you: thank you, this nation will not forget what you did for us.