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Dominoes are placed where the Berlin Wall once stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital. ((Herbert Knosowski/Associated Press))

About 1,000 plastic foam dominoes will fall to the ground Monday along the route where the Berlin Wall once stood to mark the 20th anniversary of the crumbling of the Cold War barrier.

The 2.3-metre-high blocks, painted by schoolchildren, stretch for 1.5 kilometres in a path near the Brandenburg Gate and the German parliament.

Former Polish leader Lech Walesa, whose pro-democracy movement Solidarity played a key role in ending communism in Eastern Europe, will tip the first domino at 8 p.m. local time.

That's roughly the time 20 years ago that East Germans rushed to border-crossing points to the West after hearing a government official publicly read the draft of a new travel law.

Excitement grew when Politburo member Guenter Schabowski announced to the world that East Germans would be allowed to travel to the West.

"A reporter [from Italy] said to him, 'When will that happen?' And he made the mistake of saying, well, immediately. And that was it. The word spread, and people surged for the wall, and it came down," said the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault, who's in Berlin for the commemoration event.

Later, Schabowski tried to clarify his comments and said the new rules would take hold at midnight, but events moved faster as the news spread.

Guards confused by rules

At a remote crossing in Berlin's south, Annemarie Reffert and her 15-year-old daughter made history by becoming the first East Germans to cross the border.

Reffert, now 66, remembers the East German soldiers being at a loss when she tried to cross.

"I argued that Schabowski said we were allowed to go over," she said. The border soldiers relented. A customs official was astonished that she had no luggage.

In the days that followed, large sections of the wall were torn apart and kept as souvenirs.

Years later, Schabowski told a TV interviewer he was confused while reading the document and thought the decision to allow travel had already been approved.

For 28 years, the wall split the German capital between parts held by East and West Germany and came to symbolize the barrier separating European communist countries from Western capitalist ones.

East Germans were not allowed to leave their country without permission. Researchers estimate that 136 people were killed while trying to cross the barrier.

With files from The Associated Press