Tens of Thousands Celebrate 20th Anniversary of Berlin Wall's Collapse

Tens of thousands showed up at the site of the Berlin Wall today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the infamous wall's destruction and cheer former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in the wall's collapse.

"Gorby! Gorby!" Berliners chanted as he was escorted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel across the Bornholmer Strasse bridge, which was the first crossing to open. Merkel, who grew up in East Berlin, first crossed that bridge on Nov. 9, 1989 along with thousands of others who streamed into West Berlin for the first time in 28 years.

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"You made this possible," Merkel told Gorbachev during ceremonies marking the end of the wall. "You courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect."

Merkel is hosting a celebration that is attracting toursts, as well as leaders, from around the world. The leaders of all 27 European Union countries and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are expected for the event.

One of the highlights of the day was having former Poland's former pro-democracy leader Lech Welesa initiate a chain reaction that led to the toppling of 1,000 massive foam dominoes placed along the route of the now vanished wall.

President Obama paid tribute to the moment in a video message that was introduced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying it sent a message of hope to "those who believe, even in the face of cynicism and doubt and oppression, that walls can truly come down."

The fall of the wall two decades ago was an historic step which eventually led to the end of the communist regime in East Germany and the beginning of reunification of Germany after decades of division. It is also credited with contributing the end of the Cold War.

At the time, however, it was a thrilling moment for Germans.

"Today it is just so important for all people and for the younger people," Eva Teske, a 54-year-old Berliner said as she remembered with tears in her eyes the day the wall came down. "It was such a feeling you can't put in words."

"It is a very special day and it is a very special place and we had to be here," Teske added as she stood among tens of thousands of celebrants from around the world in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the most visible symbol for the division of the city of Berlin.

"It's just one more party," Gautier Sessy, a 21-year-old French student, told ABC News. He then noted the significance of the day's events and added, "I'll probably tell my children I was here."

Brandenburg Gate at Center of Berlin's Celebrations

Near the Brandenburg Gate, which for nearly three decades stood just behind the wall in no man's land, Dieter Mohnka, 74, and his wife Helga, 71, shared a bowl of French fries and recalled the night the wall was opened.

"We were shocked when we heard that announced, simply astounded," said Helga. "The next morning we went straight to visit my aunt in the West."

Dieter, a high school teacher at the time, said he had long been fascinated with West Germany.

"I was born in East Germany. I went to school in East Germany. I was supposed to teach the kids about the wonderfulness of the East, when I was secretly watching TV from the West," he said.

Loud music thumped from speakers at the Brandenburg Gate, and at the city's main train station sets of holograms were on display showing streets of Berlin 20 years ago, a potent reminder of things have changed.

Dietrich, 56, a taxi driver from Munich, travelled to Berlin to spend the day remembering and joining the celebrations. "It was such a significant event which changed the world as we knew it. Youngsters may not care about it, but their lives would have been very different if the city was still divided by the wall with fewer privileges they are enjoying now," he said.

Twenty years ago East German politburo member Guenter Schabowski told international reporters at a press conference that East Germans could travel to the West. Asked when the new rule would go into effect, he added, "The new rule was valid immediately," triggering an unstoppable chain of events.

His statement caught everybody by surprise, most of all the East German government that had been planning to make travel to the West easier in time for the Christmas holidays that year, but had not really been preparing for an immediate execution of the new law.

But hardly had the word gotten out when East Germans rushed to the border crossings, totally off limits until then, demanding that the border guards let them through in accordance with the new rule.

This was really the first time the people in the East stood up and would not take no for an answer.

"It was an act of freeing oneself. It went slowly, then we took more and more risks, and when you've gone past a certain point, then the fear diminishes," Pastor Hans Jürgen Sievers, who had been leading previous protests in Leipzig, told ABC News.

Jubilation Still Alive Over End of Berlin Wall

The border guards in Berlin had not received any orders from their supervisors, so they did not know what to do. They were completely overwhelmed by the thousands of people who were gathering outside their posts, so eventually guards opened the first gate and others followed gradually.

By 11 p.m. that evening, the area was a gigantic street party with thousands of jubilant strangers embracing each other, laughing and crying with each other and many thousands came pouring through into West Berlin, some climbing up and dancing on the top of the once-fearful wall.

Most of those just wanted to take a peek at the West and try out the never before experienced freedom of movement before they returned to the East.

The celebration and jubilation over the peaceful victory over the communist state, that had imprisoned its own citizens for so many years, lasted for days. Hundreds of thousands of East Germans crossed over in the following days and the entire country was celebrating.

Division remain between east and west Germany. Unemployment in the former East Germany is still much higher than it is in the West, and there are more people living on social benefits in the eastern parts .

Some opinion polls published recently in weekly Stern magazine show that 57 percent of eastern Germans nowadays defend the former East Germany and agree with the statement: "The GDR (German Democratic Republic as East Germany was called then) had more good sides than bad sides."

"There were some problems, but life was good there," say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germany flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with this statement, "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."

ABC News' Samantha Fields and The Associated Press contributed to this report