Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

the berlin wall...its peaceful demise, and the people who brought about change

Today, 30 years ago, the world watched as hundreds of thousands of East and West Germans literally pulled the Berlin Wall down. As inspiring and incredible as that day was, and I remember well the excitement and underage drinking that celebration involved in Canada, at the German Canadian Club,    the story about how this came to pass should mean much more to us now then just the events of November 9, 1989.


The power that people have when they work together for good inspires me greatly, and how a group of  average East German citizens, over a decade got this ball rolling, forcing local, then European, and then international leaders to take notice, enacting significant change for the better, is nothing short of incredible.

Often it takes just one person to have the courage to get things started.


Way back in the early 1980's, Christian Führer (which funnily enough translates into English as 'christian leader'), a new pastor of the protestant Nikolai Church in Leipzig, East Germany, began Monday night prayer meetings at the church. Open to everyone, it was a chance for mostly young people to connect, to pray, and to dream for a better future.

East Germans, at that time, had already been living with the communist GDR regime for decades, and the Berlin Wall was already 20 years old. An entire generation of young people hadn't known freedom.

The GDR was a brutal regime. Uprisings in the '60's had been bloodily quashed, rumours constantly swirled of Stasi spies infiltrating workplaces, schools, and even families. People had gotten used to watching what they said and did, and with they talked too, everywhere, everyday, because enough people had already disappeared without a trace or been imprisoned indefinitely.

Everything was censored, everyone was watched, and almost nobody was allowed to travel. East Germany was just 15% the size of Texas. Just think about that for a minute. Your entire life you are not allowed to travel anywhere. You are locked in, with guards ready to shoot if you try to escape. And many tried.


The Monday night prayer meetings became a fixed event in 1982. Over the years, many who attended weren't from the church, but came to discuss the hot topic of the time, the suppressive and restrictive Cold War.

What surprises me is that the meetings were actually allowed to take place at all. Apparently, in the late '70's the state agreed to recognise churches within the communist system, after decades of repression. The GDR thought they would be able to better control the Volk if they co-opted church leaders...essentially making them an extension of the state. Church leaders were basically supposed to keep dissidence down and rein in any rebellion....essentially they were supposed to spy on their congregations.


But, the Nikolai Church became a safe place for thought leaders, for dreamers, for the courageous. 7 years of coming together, of praying together, of planning peaceful dissidence, of working together, led to some of the largest protests ever seen taking place. Completely peaceful. Completely successful.

The focus throughout the years was always peace...and freedom. In 1987, Führer organised a peace march. In 1988 he led prayers for protestors who had been arrested during regular demonstrations. All the while, the state was watching. And in 1989 the heat from the authorities turned onto the Monday night prayer meetings. Roads were blocked to the church. Random people going in or out of the church were randomly arrested. But, the Monday night peace prayers continued. Unwavering, resolute, and always peaceful.


On October 9, 70,000 people took to the streets after the Monday night session to protest the presence of 1000 military, police and Stasi (secret police) officers standing in front of the church.  The authorities were fully armed and ready for confrontation...but they didn't get it. The leaders of the peace prayers repeatedly appealed to the crowd to remain peaceful, to stay calm, and show no aggression.

A week later, on October 16, 120,000 protestors peacefully took to the streets with slogans of 'No Violence' painted on signs and practiced by the masses. Banners with 'For an open country, with Free people' were waved about by the thousands.

November 6, 500,000 people filled the streets of Leipzig's centre. Peacefully and powerfully.
They were fighting for:

Free elections and the freedom to vote
Freedom to travel and move where they wanted
Freedom of the press

Does this not sound incredibly familiar right now, in 2019? Thirty years later, in almost every country the fight is still real. East Germany won freedom, and the wall came down, because of common folk going to the streets, not giving up, forcing change...and international leaders stepping up to the plate, listening and enacting change.

Peaceful protest is much more powerful than aggression. Throwing pipe bombs, destroying shopfronts, burning cars (and not that I can't try to imagine the frustration, anger, and hopelessness) distracts and creates attention, but with violence the government has a 'bad guy'. They can focus on the 'rioters', the 'hooligans', and the 'gangs' as criminals, instead of focusing on their message.

With peaceful protest, there is nothing to focus on except what the crowd is saying, chanting, moving. There is no bad guy, except those in power who are not listening, not doing, just ignoring.

As difficult as situations are in so many corners of the world right now (Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, Spain), with so many violent demonstrations causing loss of life, chaos and insecurity...go in peace, my friends. Stay. Stay strong. Stay peaceful. The world. Will. Listen.


And, on a lighter a note about Leipzig...one of the most elegant Starbucks I have ever seen is located in the former arrivals hall of the central train station. It is a beautiful art deco delight.

See the church and be inspired, have a coffee and be at rest.
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