Berlin Wall still worth a party 20 years after its fall


COLOGNE, Germany -- In celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Monday, Germany will party like it's 1989.

Irish rock band U2 popped the champagne early with a free live concert Thursday in front of Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin landmark that, two decades ago, butted against the squat concrete barrier that split East and West.

In an ironic, somewhat sad twist, concert organizers threw up their own wall around the concert: a fence with plastic sheeting that blocked the view of those without tickets.

Across the German capital, celebrations public and private are scheduled to mark the event that led to end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist dictatorships throughout Eastern Europe. They range from the stuffy (a state ceremony hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a who's who of political A-listers including Hillary Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev) to the silly (former Polish President Lech Walesa will celebrate by pushing over the first stone in a milelong wall of 8-foot-high dominoes).

Speaking of silly, actor and -- according to Germans, at least -- singer David Hasselhoff will provide what might be the only must-miss moment of the historic event when he performs live Monday at Brandenburg Gate.

President Obama won't be making the trip to Berlin -- scheduling conflicts, apparently -- but that hasn't stopped anchors from the top news organizations jetting in for stand-ups and live feeds. Alongside the regular news coverage, broadcasters worldwide are marking the occasion with documentaries.

For the Web 2.0 generation, there's the Berlin Twitter Wall, an online site where users can tweet memories, comments and photos. Launched Tuesday, the site already has about 5,000 entries and gained an online badge of honor: a place on China's firewall black list. That didn't stop Chinese tweeters, though, who filled the site with messages protesting the ban.

The German media has been building up to Monday all year with docs, TV movies and feature films exploring the Wall's history and legacy. One of the best is "The Miracle of Leipzig," a docudrama from Eastern German broadcaster MDR on the almost-forgotten history of public demonstrations by thousands of ordinary East Germans in October 1989.

"At first it was just a few hundred people, but they grew, week by week, until there were 70,000 and more," the film's director Sebastian Dehnhardt says. "It was the first flash mob -- a spontaneous demonstration of ordinary citizens demanding democracy and freedom."

East German filmmaker Peter Timm has a different take on the same period. In his new romantic comedy "Beloved Berlin Wall," a West German girl falls in love with an East German boarder guard.

"We've already had a lot of films about East Germany and the fall of the Wall in a very serious way, excellent films like 'The Lives of Others,' " Timm says. "But I wanted to do a mainstream movie about young people because I wanted to reach the kids in Germany who don't know the history. According to polls, the majority of East Germans under 20 think the GDR was a democracy."

For some, that type of distorted history casts a shadow over the anniversary. Leopold Hoesch of Broadview TV, which produced "Miracle of Leipzig," echoes the view of many Germans that, nearly two decades after reunification, a clear East-West divide remains.

"East Germans smoke East-brand cigarettes, they buy East-brand magazines and they vote for (reformed Communist party) the Left," Hoesch says.

Agrees Berlin-based producer Nico Hofmann, "There is still a cultural barrier, a political barrier and an economic one."

Hofmann uses that invisible barrier as a jumping-off point for his upcoming miniseries "Die Grenze" (The Border), a near-future tale in which a despotic government, voted in by disgruntled West Germans, decides to rebuild the Wall.

It's stirring stuff, but as a look at the crowds in Berlin this weekend will tell you, pure fantasy.

The Cold War ended here 20 years ago: not with a massacre, not with a violent revolution, but with a street party.