On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall separating East from West fell, as East Germany allowed its citizens to travel to West Germany unfettered. A great deal of unrest had preceded this decision. I was 15 at the time and followed the story closely, but I had no idea about what led up to the dramatic events surrounding the sudden collapse of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War that had paralyzed the world for 40 years.
Starting September 20, 1982, East German pastor Christian Fuhrer began "Peace Prayers" that were held every Monday in the Nikolai Church in Leipzig. The prayers focused against the Cold War. This went on for seven years and was seen as sedition by the East German government, while the Lutheran Church approved. By 1989, more and more people were joining the "Peace Prayers" and peaceful, candlelight marches began to flow out of the church in September. These prayer meetings turned to peaceful marchers were called the Monday Demonstrations and the world was forever changed. Alan Nothnagle explains what happened:
Before the Revolution of 1989, Leipzig was best known as the city of Bach and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. But in 1982, Pastor Christian Führer of Leipzig’s historic St. Nicholas' Church had begun conducting “Monday prayers for peace” at five p.m. in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He conceived this event as a non-violent protest against the nuclear rearmament programs of both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, which had been planning for decades to unleash full-scale thermonuclear war on German territory if the status quo in Central Europe were disturbed. Non-church members (along with a generous sprinkling of Stasi informants) also used to take part in this peaceful protest, where concerned citizens met to discuss matters of current interest. After all, the church was the only remaining institution that was largely free of direct government supervision and interference.
Führer had scheduled his prayer service carefully. By five o'clock, most ordinary people were already off work and could thus spend their leisure time as they wished. Monday evening was ideal, since nearly all communist party members were busy attending their weekly meetings at the factoryor office. Moreover, downtown shops were still open, which meant that groups of people congregating in the streets outside the church did not stand out to the police and the Stasi. This would later prove to be a convenient time for West German TV journalists to smuggle footage of the demonstrations across the border and broadcast it on their evening news programs.
"We are the people!"
On September 4, 1989, the traditional Monday prayers for peace swelled into a demonstration by several hundred participants for freedom of travel and political reform. Two other Leipzig churches joined in, and the authorities did nothing to stop them. 10,000 assembled on October 2.2 Then, on October 9, following the debacle in Prague and the departure of the first "Freedom Trains" to West Germany, the event exploded into a demonstration by 70,000 citizens in this city of half a million. And these demonstrators were armed, too, but not with knives or guns. No, these counterrevolutionaries (as Honecker called them) came equipped with the most dangerous weapon of all: a brilliant slogan.
“Wir sind das Volk!” (“We are the people!”3), the demonstrators chanted. They passed out lighted candles and began parading through the streets. They sang protest songs, including the communists' own Internationale, and marched right past Stasi headquarters itself shouting “No violence!” These “enemies” certainly didn't look very violent. As Pastor Führer pointed out in an interview for Deutsche Welle earlier this year, when you carry a candle, you need two hands – one to hold it, and one to protect the flame from the wind. You have no hand left in which to carry a weapon.
The next Monday, 120,000 demonstrators met in Leipzig. The next Monday? Over 300,000. The peaceful demonstrators put so much pressure on the East German government that by November 9, the Berlin Wall came down and Communism was effectively dead in Eastern Europe. It all happened without the firing of a shot. After the West spent billions of dollars on armament and military defense, the Iron Curtain came down as a result of the rising tide of peaceful demonstrations of people who met under the threat of violence and death. It all began with a prayer meeting to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
This story is rarely told. Today, on the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, it needs to be told again and again. It all began with prayer. Who would have thought it? Who would think it now?
All things are possible with God.