This is the fourth post in our series recounting the events of 1989 that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
An 800-year old church in a city 118 miles southwest of Berlin. It’s an unlikely epicenter for one of the great democratic movements of the 20th century, but on October 9, 1989, it was exactly that. That day, thousands of dissidents gathered at Nicolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) in downtown Leipzig and proceeded to march through the city, holding candles and chanting “We Are The People” in protest of the East German regime.
“This was no spontaneous flash mob,” Der Spiegel reports. In fact, it was years in the making:
“By the summer of 1989, East German dissidents had been meeting at Leipzig's 800-year-old Nicolaikirche for almost a decade to pray and talk politics. At times there were fewer than a dozen people in the church, but all through the 1980s the meetings happened every Monday without fail. Eventually, they attracted people eager to discuss a wide range of causes, from the environment to the right to travel freely. By the fall of 1989, the prayer meetings had evolved into a nationwide movement centered in Leipzig.”
Despite their growing numbers, these dissidents had good reason not to take their cause to the streets. Remember, this was only four months after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The potential for a crackdown was very real. In many homes, one parent stayed behind in case the worst came to pass. But when the day came, and the crowd swelled to at least 70,000, the police stepped aside. Thus the protest became known as the “Peaceful Revolution.”
German President Joachim Gauck said, “The images of the peaceful march around Leipzig's city center ring road became an inspiration which encouraged more and more people in more and more towns and cities … to come out and protest in public.”
Indeed, two weeks later, more than 300,000 people filled the city center. Two weeks after that, the Berlin Wall fell.
Today, we pay tribute to the men and women of the Peaceful Revolution, especially those believers who met every Monday in that old church in that old city. The risks they took and the faith they kept made Europe – and the world – safer for democracy.
The House’s celebration of the Revolutions of 1989 will culminate on Wednesday, November 19, when we dedicate a bust of Vaclav Havel, the playwright turned dissident who became Czechoslovakia’s first elected president.
June 4: 25 Years of Freedom in Poland
August 19: 25th Anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic
September 10: 25th Anniversary of the Opening of Hungary's Border