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.”
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.
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.