As Germany celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel honored the memory of the 138 people who died there and paid tribute to those who helped bring down the Wall, calling its collapse an example of the human yearning for freedom. On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, thousands of East Berliners streamed through the once-closed border crossings after communist authorities caved to mounting pressure. "It was about reclaiming freedom, about being citizens, not subjects," Merkel said at the main memorial site for the Wall on Bernauer Strasse. "The fall of the Wall has shown us that dreams can come true," said Merkel, who grew up in East Germany. "Nothing has to stay the way it is, however big the hurdles are."
Activists staged a small demonstration during the memorial event, holding up a banner with the words "No wall around Europe" to protest the treatment of refugees trying to reach the continent. A million people were expected to attend today's festivities in Berlin, which included an open-air party at the city's Brandenburg Gate and the release of hundreds of helium-filled balloon strung along a 9-mile stretch of the former border. Merkel noted that Nov. 9 is also the day when, in 1938, Nazi paramilitaries launched a pogrom against the country's Jewish population in what became known as Reichskristallnacht—the "Night of Broken Glass." "That was the opening note for the murder of millions," said Merkel, adding that on Nov. 9 each year "I feel not just joy, but the responsibility that German history burdens us with."