I was just 9, but I remember what a good day it was.

The great philosophical divide of the 20th century was crumbling before our eyes. Hammers, chisels, even nail files whacked away at the Berlin Wall that day 20 years ago, reducing parts of it to dust. The symbolic front line of the Cold War, which snaked around the city for nearly 100 miles, claimed the lives of 136 East Germans who attempted to escape to freedom. And suddenly, after nearly 3 decades, an offhanded remark by a Communist apparatchik altered the course of history. On the night of November 9th, 1989, East German Politburo spokesman Guenter Schabowski announced travel restrictions between east and west would be lifted -- the genie was out of the bottle. “When?” asked stunned reporters. “As far as I know,” he stammered, “Immediately, without delay.” Jubilant East Berliners wasted no time.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev crossed a former fortified border on Monday to cheers of "Gorby! Gorby!" as a throng of grateful Germans recalled the night 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall gave way to their desire for freedom and unity.

Within hours of a confused announcement on Nov. 9, 1989 that East Germany was lifting travel restrictions, hundreds of people streamed into the enclave that was West Berlin, marking a pivotal moment in the collapse of communism in Europe.

Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and was one of thousands to cross that night, recalled that "before the joy of freedom came, many people suffered."