Huge street parties are planned in the German capital this weekend to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In contrast to previous anniversaries, authorities say the emphasis this year will be on celebrating a unified Germany.
For older generations, memories of the wall – and its destruction – are still seared in the mind.
Burkhart Veigel walked down the steps into the basement at 36 Heidelberg St. It hides a secret of the Cold War.
Between gas and water pipes are the remains of a tunnel that used to extend under the Berlin Wall. In the 1960s, Veigel was part of a small West Berlin team that dug the tunnels and smuggled East Germans out to the West.
Luminous white balloons line the former route of the Berlin Wall to mark 25 years of German reunification, Nov. 7, 2014.
"I asked every escapee if they were scared, and not a single one said that they were frightened during the escape," Veigel said. "They think: This has to work and I will behave correctly."
Inventive escape efforts
Hundreds escaped to the West, thanks to Veigel's ingenuity. While holding down a job as a doctor, he became an expert forger of passports. He modified an American Cadillac to hide a person inside the dashboard.
"That was my life's work: I wanted people to be free. So they could think freely. So they could speak freely. And that came to be," he said, recalling the moment he learned the wall had come down. "And it was, of course, for me a very moving experience."
Officially, 138 people died trying to breach the wall. Victims' groups say the number is closer to 700.
By the late 1980s, momentum was building against the East German government. Protests that began in Leipzig spread to East Berlin.
When authorities announced an easing of travel restrictions, tens of thousands gathered on the eastern side of the wall. On November 9, 1989, it was breached and not a shot was fired.
Twenty-five years on, the memories still trigger strong emotion.
Isolde Nedbal, who lived in East Berlin, recalled her family getting into their German-made car, a Trabant. "We drove off, we took the children with us and just watched it all happen," she said. “It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it."
The 25th anniversary marks the destruction of the wall and the end of the terror and misery that it brought. But, it's also a chance for Germany to celebrate a successful reunification.
"I think it is a success story of historic proportions," said Rudolf Seiter, who was chief of staff for West Germany’s then-chancellor, Helmut Kohl. "Many areas are flourishing, the population has come together, people have moved from east to west and west to east, and young people feel German."
This weekend, a line of illuminated helium balloons will light the path of the former wall. Huge street parties are planned, mirroring the celebrations 25 years ago – the dawn of a new chapter in history.