Berliners Rejoice At Open Gate
BRANDENBURG GATE. German leaders emphasize peace, as crowds cheer the breaching of the 28-year-old wall
EAST BERLIN — TO the merry accompaniment of an accordion, a jubilant crowd of East Berliners sang their way through the Brandenburg Gate last Friday. ``Such a day, such a wonderful day as today,'' they sang. ``Such a day, it should never be allowed to end.''
The East Germans could just as easily have called it a wonderful week. First, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl came to visit, then French President Fran,cois Mitterrand - both leaders bringing cooperation and a welcome sense of stability with them. The opening of the wall at the historic gate for the first time in 28 years was the icing on the cake.
It didn't matter that rain was coming down in sheets - faces in the throngs on both sides of the wall were beaming. People beat drums, tooted horns, and cheered. The soft, but steady ``chink, chink, chink'' of souvenir chiselers was heard up and down the stretch of wall that wasn't removed.
``We had to be here,'' said an East German retiree, her husband nodding in agreement. ``It's symbolic, not only for me, but for all Berliners.''
West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper told the crowd, ``Berlin is still divided, but the people are no longer separated.''
As the Arc de Triomphe is to Paris, so is the Brandenburg Gate to Berlin. Nearly 200 years old, the 12-column, sandstone structure is modeled after the Propylaea in Athens.
It was built as a monument to Prussian power.
The gate straddles the former main thoroughfare to old Berlin, which is now mostly in East Berlin. Heavily damaged in World War II, the gate was restored in 1958.
But just three years later, the wall dividing East from West Berlin went up and the gate was locked in on the East side, just inside the wall. Because of barriers, however, even the East Germans couldn't walk up to it - they could just look from a distance.
``When you went for a walk to look at the gate, the desire was always so strong to keep on going right through it,'' recalls Rudi Nemitz, an East Berliner.
But it's still not possible to walk from the gate, straight ahead on the boulevard into West Berlin. Instead of knocking down the wide swath of wall directly behind the gate, East German construction crews worked all last Thursday night to cut out two smaller sections on either side - one for westbound pedestrians, the other for eastbound.
Cars are not permitted to pass through the gate.
``These are proper border crossings,'' said a border guard. ``We still have to have a customs control.''
Non-Germans, until now limited to the crossings at Checkpoint Charlie and Friedrich Strasse, will also be able to use the Brandenburg openings.
Not only were the Berliners elated, but so were the mayors of the city's two halves and the leaders of the two Germanys, who emphasized ``peace'' in brief remarks at the opening.
Avoiding talk of German unity, Chancellor Kohl said, ``Let us be patient and prudent in the steps we have to take to walk forward into our common future.'' But he added, ``This is one of the happiest hours of my life.''