HOUSTON (AP) — Houston this year will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by serving as the opening venue for the renowned Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra's U.S. tour.
Former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker III, both Houston residents, were announced Thursday as honorary co-chairs for the event. It will be held Nov. 3, the same week in 1989 when both were in office and when the infamous wall was breached to begin the reunification of Germany.
"During the 40 years of the Cold War, many of us are old enough to remember living with the constant reminder that civilization might perish in a fiery hail of atoms," Baker said at Houston's City Hall. "In 1989 and 1990, that Cold War ended, but most importantly it ended peacefully. The world that I had known for my adult life changed, and changed fundamentally."
The Leipzig orchestra has a more than 250-year history, making it the world's oldest civic symphony. The U.S. tour also includes Boston, Newark, New York and Washington.
Leipzig and Houston are linked through Sister Cities International, a nonprofit organization created in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to build partnerships between people of different cultures.
Baker was "one of the main architects of German unification," said Clemens Kroll, the acting German consul general in Houston.
"It's not just another anniversary," he said. "It's an anniversary that changed our lives."
After formal remarks, Baker inspected an enlarged photo of him, taken in December 1989, peering through a hole in the Berlin Wall and looking into East Germany.
"It was far less improved than West Germany," he recalled. "The differences in living standards were really dramatic."
Baker said a united Germany wouldn't have been possible "without first and foremost the indomitable spirit of the people of East Germany and the other captive nations of Eastern and Central Europe."
"Their undying desire, yearning for freedom, simply would not be indefinitely contained."
He also said Russia's recent takeover of Crimea was "inconsistent with any concept of stable world order."
"You wonder, are we going back to where we were?" he said.