25 years since German freedom began


25 years ago, on 9 November 1989, the Wall of Berlin came down. It had separated East and West Germany for almost three decades. It was the frontier of the Cold War in Europe. It split the continent into two. Beyond it, the communist rulers of East Germany had denied basic democratic rights to their people for years.

The 9 November 1989 was one of the best days in German history. It was the first step towards the reunification of our country in freedom. It was also a great day in European history, because it also paved the way to European reunification. In 1989, the European Union had 12 member states. Now it has 28, and close ties with the other countries in Europe as well.

Even until a few months before the wall crumbled, few people believed that it would come down so shortly. Yet so it did. History turned in a most amazing way. In the evening of the9 November 1989, a member of the communist East German bureaucracy confirmed – mistakenly, as it turned out later – that everyone could travel out of East Germany unconditionally and ‘immediately’. Within an hour, masses of East Germans showed up at the borders to exercise their right to travel to the West, a right they had been denied for years.

The wall was open. The separation of Germany was about to be overcome. The Cold War was about to end. Many people including myself who grew up in former Eastern Germany, remember these emotional moments of history as vividly as if they had happened yesterday.

But are there any lessons we can learn today? I think there are.

First, the Fall of the Wall proved the incredible power of freedom. The will to be free was strong enough to bring down a wall that seemed insurmountable. This is a warning to authoritarian regimes around the world. Tyrants may abuse and suppress their people for a time, even for a long time, but never forever. At the end the will of people to live in freedom will prevail and sweep them away.

Second, the Fall of the Wall should inspire us never to lose hope. Even under very difficult circumstances, it is possible to bring about positive change if you believe in it. If the people have the courage to act for their freedom, they can achieve a lot. In former East Germany, an initially small band of courageous democrats was able to unsettle a regime that had a whole security apparatus at its disposition.

Third, no new walls must be built. If we look at what is happening in and around Ukraine today, we must not allow new walls or new dividing lines to be set up in Europe. On a global level, we should do what we can to prevent walls of ideology or religion to come between us. Extremists like the so called ‘Islamic State’ or Al-Shabaab want to make us believe that we cannot live together peacefully. They are wrong, and they must be proved wrong. We must stand up for mutual tolerance and our freedom.

We must not allow walls of poverty or under-development split us apart. That is why countries like Kenya and Germany work together in development cooperation for the joint benefit of their people.

Epidemic diseases like Ebola should not separate us or lead to isolation of the countries that are stricken by them. Instead, we should undertake joint global efforts to eradicate this disease. Germany has offered personnel, material and funds for the fight against Ebola. And we greatly appreciate Kenya’s readiness to offer help and relieve workers to the affected countries in West Africa.

We live in an age of globalisation where new walls would be harmful to all of us. We face challenges that we can only tackle together. Climate change does not stop at any border. Terrorism is a threat to all nations. Illegal wildlife trade and other transnational crimes affect all of us. We must act together.

So the main lesson of the fall of the wall is: no more walls. We live in an age that calls for cooperation, not confrontation. We need to build bridges, not walls. Only if we act together, we can build a good future for our countries.

(Peschke is the German Ambassador to Kenya)

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