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

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 J├╝rgen 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

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