German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday publicly thanked former
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for allowing changes two decades ago
that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall.
Flanked by Mr. Gorbachev and former Polish President Lech Walesa, Ms. Merkel expressed her gratitude at ceremonies in Berlin marking the 20th anniversary of the wall's opening.
"You made this possible," the chancellor said as she addressed Mr. Gorbachev in front of hundreds of cheering people gathered at the foot of Berlin's Bornholmer Bridge.
The bridge was the first crossing between East and West Berlin to open on November 9, 1989. The opening led to the reunification of the country, and was a key milestone in the collapse of communism across eastern Europe.
Officials say 100,000 were expected at Monday's festivities, dubbed the "Festival of Freedom."
European heads of state and dignitaries from the United States have joined Ms. Merkel for the celebrations.
In addition to Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Walesa, guests in Berlin include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the presidents of France and Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitri Medvedev. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a host of former diplomats are among the U.S. officials present.
A solemn vigil was honoring the 136 people killed trying to cross the border between 1961 to 1989. Separately, 1,000 giant foam dominos placed along the route of the former wall will be toppled Monday evening.
Communist East Germany's fortified border crumbled after weeks of pro-democracy protests. Thousands of East Germans surged past checkpoints into the west on November 9, when East German guards suddenly opened the border.