German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday as part of the ‘Pan-European Picnic’ anniversary, DW reports.
The symbolic event 30 years ago was a show of support for a united Europe that led to the first exodus from behind the Iron Curtain.
“The picnic was the biggest mass exodus from the GDR since the construction of the wall in 1961. The picnic turned into a world event and reflected the values of “solidarity, freedom and a humane Europe,” Merkel said, thanking Hungary for playing its part in opening the borders.
Merkel and her Hungarian counterpart attended a service at the Protestant church in Sopron, a city near Hungary’s border with Austria, where hundreds of East Germans took advantage of the picnic and fled West.
“Sopron is an example of how much we Europeans can achieve, if we courageously stand up for our indivisible values,” the German Chancellor added.
What began as a political, symbolic gathering by the border fence ended up seeing several hundred East Germans crossing over from Hungary to the West. They stormed the flimsy wooden gate at the border and stumbled to freedom in the Austrian town of Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland.
Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration policies made Monday’s commemoration all the more significant, particularly as his opposite number has taken a very different strategy.
Their last major bilateral meeting was in July 2018 when Orban made his first visit to Berlin since 2015.