GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for making change possible in East Germany as she visited what was once a fortified border crossing yesterday – retracing her steps on the night 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell.

The Bornholmer Strasse bridge was the first crossing to open on November 9, 1989, following a confused announcement that East Germany was lifting travel restrictions.

Merkel grew up in East Germany and was one of thousands to cross that night.

She lauded Gorbachev, who crossed the bridge alongside her to cheers of “Gorby! Gorby!” from onlookers, for his role in pushing reform in former Soviet Union.

“You made this possible – you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect,” she told Gorbachev.

Merkel also welcomed Poland’s former leader Lech Walesa, saying that his Solidarity movement provided “incredible encouragement” to East Germans.

The bridge crossing was one of a series of events marking the anniversary.

Music from Bon Jovi and Beethoven was to recall the joy of the border’s opening, which led to the swift demolition of most of the wall – which snaked for 155 kilometers around West Berlin, a capitalist enclave deep inside East Germany.

Memorials were planned to the 136 people killed trying to cross the border. Leaders of all 27 European Union countries and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were expected for the ceremonies.

The wall’s opening came hours after a botched announcement by a senior East German official on a cold, wet night in 1989.

At the end of a plodding news conference, Guenter Schabowski offhandedly said East Germany was lifting restrictions on travel to West Germany.

Pressed on when the regulation would take effect, he stammered: “As far as I know, this enters into force … this is immediately, without delay.”

Schabowski has said he didn’t know that the change wasn’t supposed to be announced until the following morning.

East Berliners streamed toward border crossings. Facing huge crowds and lacking instructions from above, guards opened the gates – and the wall was on its way into history.