Friday, August 30, 2019

Revolution in Leipzig

When people think of the fall of the wall, Berlin usually comes to mind. But one of the most important triggers of change occurred in the East German city of Leipzig - home of the Monday demonstrations, a series of peaceful protests that called for fundamental human rights and the freedom to travel between East and West Germany. The Monday of September 4, 1989 marked the first such demonstration, beginning a transitional period that Germans call “Die Wende” ("The Change"). Next week marks the 30th anniversary of these protests.

The demonstrations began in the 800-year-old old St. Nicholas Church (the Nikolaikirche) where several German dissidents regularly met to discuss religion and politics under the leadership of Pastor Christian Führer. The weekly meetings took place every Monday and soon grew in size as more people expressed their dissatisfaction with the GDR.

The first demonstration was held after the weekly prayer for peace on September 4. Protesters gathered outside the church, chanting "We want out!" and demanded a new government. In the weeks that followed, the protests grew from about 1,200 to more than 300,000 people - despite threats of violence from GDR authorities. But fear was not enough to curb the demonstrations, and hundreds of thousands of people continued to march peacefully in Leipzig until the fall of the Berlin Wall - and even several months thereafter.

"Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people") became the widely-recognized motto of the Monday demonstrations.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has largely overshadowed the Monday demonstrations in history books, but the effect of these protests is undeniable. The demonstrations put immense pressure on the GDR government, ultimately leading to the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989.

"It was a self-liberation," Pastor Führer told Der Spiegel years after the demonstrations. "We did it without the dollar or the DAX, without the U.S. or Soviet armies. It was the people here who did it."

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we'll make sure to keep you informed about some of the most significant events related to a formerly-divided Germany and its reunification. Check out this week's TWIG to learn about our Word of the Week - Stacheldrahtsonntag ("Barbed Wire Sunday").

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

The lights in the ground around Nikolaikirche in Leipzig memorizes where the demonstrators gathered. Read about it in our book Leipzig! One Thousand Years of German History

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Fall of the Wall — 30. Anniversary

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - an important date in German history. But while this year's focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let's not forget how everything began.

During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.

GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn't long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.

To defend their actions, GDR authorities called the barrier the “Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” ("Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart") and claimed that it served to keep fascists away from East Germany.

"No one should think we are in love with the Wall; that is by no means the case... The anti-fascist protective rampart was necessary to stand up to the military adventurers," East German leader Walter Ulbrecht said in a speech shortly after the wall's erection.

But instead, West Germans were able to travel freely across the border, while East Germans were, in most cases, prohibited from leaving. East Germans remained trapped behind the wall for 28 years until it finally fell on November 9, 1989 – one of the most important dates in German history.

It's difficult to imagine what East Germans felt on the day that the wall came crumbling down. But this year, as we celebrate an important anniversary, we are reflecting not just on the fall of the wall, but on how it all came together in the first place. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing Berlin Wall stories from some of our colleagues here at the German Embassy to give you a glimpse into that historic time period. Be sure to check out our new YouTube series “Wall Stories” and subscribe to our channel @germanyinusa to stay up to date when we release new videos.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany


Make a personalized gift at Zazzle.