Germans are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel led several events Sunday, including the placing of a rose in one of the few remaining sections of the Wall to commemorate the 138 people killed in Berlin alone as they tried to flee the Soviet-allied state.
In a speech at the main memorial site for the Wall, Merkel said that "the fall of the Wall has shown us that dreams can come true."
She called the Wall a "symbol of state abuse cast in concrete" that "took millions of people to the limits of what is tolerable."
Relevance to other countries
But Merkel said the fall of the Berlin Wall also holds relevance in the war-torn countries of today, including Ukraine, Syria and Iraq.
"It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better. That is the message of the fall of the Wall," she said. "It is directed at us in Germany, but also at others in Europe and the world, especially to people in Ukraine, in Syria, Iraq and other regions where human rights are threatened or violated.
"It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it's a message of faith for today's, and future, generations that can tear down the walls - the walls of dictators, violence and ideologies," said Merkel, who is now 60 and has led united Germany since 2005.
Merkel, a young scientist in Communist East Berlin when she got her first taste of freedom on Nov. 9, 1989, said in a speech that the Wall's opening in response to mass popular pressure would be eternally remembered as a triumph of the human spirit.
Merkel, in an unusually emotional speech, said the lesson of November 9, 1989 was that "we can change things for the better - that is the message of the fall of the Berlin Wall."
Merkel recalled that November 9 is also the anniversary of Nazi Germany's 1938 anti-Jewish "Kristallnacht" pogroms that marked the start of the Holocaust, "a day of shame and disgrace."
"How could that date ever become a day of happiness and joy?" she asked.
Thanks 'glasnost,' 'perestroika'
Merkel thanked those abroad who paved the way for the historic events, from the Czech and Polish pro-democracy movements to Moscow's "glasnost" and "perestroika" reforms, saying that in 1989 "the Iron Curtain had already been torn."
"We Germans will never forget that the freedom and democracy movements in central and eastern Europe paved the way for the happiest moment in our recent history," she said.
Merkel was speaking at the Berlin Wall Memorial, which features a 220-meter (720-foot) section of what was once a 155-kilometer (100-mile) concrete cordon encircling West Berlin.
"We have every reason to celebrate," said Mayor Klaus Wowereit, whose city government has been rebuilding small segments of the Wall for posterity and tourists after almost all of the original concrete barrier was hastily torn down over two decades ago.
"We were all happy at the time that it had fallen and (so it) was torn down," Wowereit said.
However, current and former world leaders warned of continued divisions among major powers that threaten a new Cold War.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on Saturday saying Russia's actions against Ukraine are a reminder that there is "more work to do" for Europe to be "whole, free and at peace."
The Berlin Wall divided the German capital and came to define the Cold War, which pitted the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union following World War Two.
Gorbachev: Brink of 'new Cold War'
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Saturday that the world is on the brink of " new Cold War" and that some say it has already begun.
At an event commemorating the Berlin Wall anniversary, Gorbachev said, "Bloodshed in Europe and the Middle East against the backdrop of a breakdown in dialogue between major powers is of enormous concern."
The West and Russia have been mired in tensions over Ukraine for months.
Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall divided the city for nearly three decades. It separated Soviet East Germany from West Germany, which was occupied by the Americans, French and British.
It began as a brick wall and was then fortified as a heavily guarded 160-kilometer (100-mile), double concrete screen that encircled West Berlin, slicing across streets, between families and through graveyards.
Nearly 140 people are said to have died trying to cross the wall from communist East Berlin, but victims' groups say the number is closer to 700.
Merkel on Sunday praised the courageous citizens who peacefully brought down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
It was November 9, 1989, when East Germany's government ended its restrictions on travel into West Berlin after weeks of public protests that began in the eastern city of Leipzig and spread to East Berlin.
Jubilant crowds immediately gathered at the wall, climbing it and crossing through the gates, hammering and chiseling away pieces of it and joining in celebration with West Berliners on the other side. Not one shot was fired.
The opening of the border was a critical moment in the collapse of communism.
Just two years earlier, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan had delivered a speech in Berlin in which he challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
East and West Germany reunited on October 3, 1990.
German authorities said the emphasis of the anniversary this year is on celebrating a unified Germany.
An art project, "Lichtgrenze 2014" (lit. "lightborder 2014") at the Wall Park in Berlin, features 8,000 luminous white balloons that illustrate how the Wall cut through the heart of Berlin. The balloons were set free on Sunday evening - symbolically reenacting the Wall's collapse.
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.