Germany marks 20 years of unity

Germany is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its
reunification.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading the celebrations,
hosted by the northern city of Bremen, where tens of thousands of people have
turned out.

Capitalist West and communist East Germany merged on 3
October 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sunday is also the day Germany makes the last payment on
debt stemming from reparations imposed after World War I.

Mrs Merkel has been joined by many leading German and
international figures in Bremen to mark one of the 20th Century’s historical
turning points.

German President Christian Wulff told the assembled
dignitaries: “We remember the momentous day that a people experience only
rarely. I bow before everyone who fought for freedom… your courage moved the
world.”

He called for a “new solidarity” that
encompassed Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“We must not allow the cementing of prejudice and
exclusion,” he said.

On the eve of the anniversary, US President Barack Obama
passed on his congratulations and said Germany was “one of our closest
allies and greatest friends”.

He said the US honoured “the courage and conviction
of the German people that brought down the Berlin Wall, ending decades of
painful and artificial separation”.

Mrs Merkel, who was brought up in the East, praised
former East Germans for fighting for their freedom.

She added: “At the same time, there was a huge wave
of solidarity from the people in West Germany. It is thanks to these joint
efforts that we have been able to rebuild so quickly and make Germany a country
that is respected in the world.”

Since the two countries became one, more than 1.5 million
people have migrated west.

The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Berlin says opinion polls show
some unhappiness in the west about the so-called “solidarity tax” on
incomes to pay for eastern reconstruction but on both sides of the country the
polls indicate a big majority in favour of a united Germany.

However, not everyone has welcomed the reunification
festivities.

Thousands of police were deployed in Bremen on Saturday
as some 1,800 mainly left-wing activists marched through the city in protest.
The demonstration passed off peacefully.

Sunday also marks the final day of German reparations for
World War I.

A last payment of 70 million euros (£60m) will draw the
debt to a close.

In 1919, the victorious allies wanted to ensure Germany
would not be capable of war for many years and set reparations at the
equivalent of 100,000 tonnes of gold.

But the plan backfired, with modern-day historians
claiming the Versailles decision was a key factor in the lead-up to World War
II.