Living History: Leipzig’s Festival of Lights on October 9

October 9, 1989
Plaque recalling Leipzig's peaceful revolution. Photos © hidden europe magazine

Make a date for this time next year. But, even this year, October 9 is surely the most memorable evening of the year in Leipzig. The East German city catapulted to international prominence in October 1989 as its citizens agitated for political and social renewal in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Horst Sindermann, one-time member of the GDR politburo, recalled the events of fall 1989 in Leipzig a few years later. “We were prepared for everything,” he said. “But not for candles and prayers.”

Leipzig city center with the tower of St Nicholas' Church in the background.

Leipzig city center with the tower of St Nicholas’ Church in the background.

Praying for change

The peace prayers at Leipzig’s St Nicholas’ Church have a history that dates back over 30 years, but it was only in late 1989 that they caught the attention of the international media. Here was a grass-roots revolution in the making. On successive Mondays there were arrests of activists and others involved in the peace prayers. On October 7, 1989, the GDR celebrated the fortieth anniversary of its foundation. Two days later, the Leipzig evening vigil with candles and prayers attracted huge crowds as never before.

Demonstrations on the streets of Leipzig

Amid an atmosphere of remarkable calm and intense concentration (but coupled with anxiety about how the authorities would react), thousands of Leipzig citizens peacefully demanded a new future for their country. The fragile flame of democracy and change was tended in the small candles carried by each participant.

If there was one turning point in the fate of their country, it was that Monday evening in Leipzig. Violent confrontation was averted, and the more intelligent members of the politburo quickly realized that power was slipping inexorably from their hands.

Recalling the peaceful revolution

Light filled the streets of Leipzig that Monday evening, and the events of 9 October 1989 are nowadays recalled each year in Leipzig’s Festival of Lights. This evening will be something special in Leipzig, but as nothing compared with 9 October 2014 when the GDR’s peaceful revolution will be recalled 25 years on. The city’s inner ring road will be closed to traffic and a series of performances and processions will recall the strong sense of community daring that characterized October 9, 1989.

An echo of 1989: the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig still take place.

An echo of 1989: the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig still take place.

For more details about the 2014 events, go to www.leipziger-freiheit.de/lichtfest.

Monday evening demonstrations continue

This evening’s events in Leipzig will be more modest in scale. If you cannot make it today, you can still catch the spirit of protest in Leipzig by visiting Leipzig any Monday evening. The peace prayers still take place at St Nicholas’ Church, perpetuating a long Leipzig tradition. It is a strong reminder that social injustice was not eradicated by the events of 1989.

About the author

hiddeneurope
About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.
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One Response to “Living History: Leipzig’s Festival of Lights on October 9”
  • Heinrich Lizinski says:

    I was there on Wednesday this week. Already booked 2014. Thank you for this post about an event that is often ignored by the main media. But I am sure the press will flock to Leipzig for Oct 9, 2014.

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