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Remembering the Berlin Wall and Kristallnacht in a New Germany

Twenty years ago today, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, history proved that what seems to be impossible or fated to continue eternally can collapse in an instant, irrevocably.

Twenty years ago today the freedom-seeking masses marched to the Berlin Wall and shattered it. The 156 kilometers of concrete that had divided the city for more than a quarter-century - that had deprived the residents of the city's eastern, Communist half of basic human rights - collapsed like a house of cards. It happened on the night of November 9, 1989. In January of that year, East German dictator Erich Honecker had declared that the wall, which the East Germans called a defensive wall, would still be standing in "50 or 100 years."

Twenty years ago today, history proved that what seems to be impossible or fated to continue eternally can collapse in an instant, irrevocably.

The night of November 9, 1989 proved that leaders have the power to change the face of history - though the leaders who do so are not always the ones expected. It was the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev and South Africa's F.W. de Klerk - two rather dull statesmen, not charismatic leaders who give fiery speeches - who brought freedom to their peoples, even though no one expected this to take place while they were in office.

Fifty-one years before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, on precisely the same date, Nazi Germany was the site of Kristallnacht. And here's another astounding historical consideration: The unified Germany of today is a real democracy, a central player in the European Union and a true friend of Israel. Who could have imagined such a thing on that blackest of nights in 1938?

The thousands of Israeli tourists who have chosen to visit united Berlin over recent years should heed these lessons as they stroll through the streets of both parts of the liberated city. Just two decades ago, this city was torn and divided, with part of it ruled by a totalitarian regime. The Berlin Wall symbolized the Cold War and the struggle between the West and the Eastern bloc, which at the time seemed unending.

But force, violence and the trampling of human rights - like accumulated despair and the absence of hope that things could change - could not withstand the winning combination of a resolute public and courageous leadership that came together at the right moment to change history.