WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ—White balloons lined the stairs leading to Monmouth University’s Wilson Auditorium on November 10 as a nod to Germany’s anniversary festivities commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. The New Jersey school was prepared to celebrate this historic occasion in its own way with a special guest speaker.
Philip Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, visited the college just a day after the official anniversary of the wall’s fall to share his insights with students, faculty, members of the community, and individuals associated with the German School of Monmouth County.
Ambassador Murphy related that there are two main points of relevance now that the wall is gone. The first, he said, is that all of the world’s great leaders “come from the streets” as ordinary citizens who want to make a change in the world. The second is that while obstacles like the Berlin Wall may appear permanent, they do not necessarily have to be—especially when paired with the willpower of ordinary citizens who have the potential to be extraordinary.
The former ambassador’s latter point firmly resonates with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reflection on the Berlin Wall a day earlier in Germany’s capital, where white balloons, 8,000 in total, according to the New York Times, lined the former nine-mile path of the Berlin Wall in the inner city and were released to celebrate Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the fall of one of the most widely recognized symbols of the Cold War.
“The fall of the wall has shown us that dreams can come true,” said Merkel, according to the Daily Mail. “Nothing has to stay the way it is, however big the hurdles are.”
It was the first time Berlin was divided by a barrier since 1989. This time, however, its eastern and western sides were separated by illuminated symbols of hope, rather than discouraging, impenetrable concrete. The balloons, similar to the ones in Wilson Hall, were the anniversary’s main attraction, but they were only part of the open-air “citizen’s party” that took place in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
The event also featured fireworks and musical performances by various artists. BBC News reported that musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel sang a rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and that the celebrated Berlin State Orchestra played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the composer’s famous Ninth Symphony that is the anthem of the European Union.
BBC News also reported that Chancellor Merkel was joined by German President Joachim Gauck, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and other prominent European figures who came to share in the remembrance of the wall’s fall.
“We’re the happiest people in the world, and we’re thrilled that you brought the Berlin Wall down 25 years ago,” said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, according to the Daily Mail, to thousands of native Berliners and visitors to the capital city who watched the white balloons float away with personal messages one by one. “Nothing and no one can stand in the way of freedom.”
Ambassador Murphy, Chancellor Merkel, and Mayor Wowereit’s words came at a crucial time when the world is faced with pressing issues including, but not limited to, the battle against terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East and the Ebola virus in West Africa.
It will be interesting to see if world leaders and ordinary citizens will be able to mirror the spirit and sheer resolve of the leaders and citizens who played such a pivotal role in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and, perhaps most importantly, if they will experience a similar triumph more than a quarter-century later.