German 'Hero City' Celebrates Fall of Berlin Wall

On October 9, Leipzig celebrates 20th anniversary of peaceful revolution.

ByABC News
November 2, 2009, 10:49 AM

LEIPZIG, GERMANY Oct. 9, 2009 — -- Pastors Christian Fuehrer and Christoph Wonneberger had never seen so many people in the Nicolaikirche, an 800-year-old church in downtown Leipzig. It was Oct. 9, 1989, and the two young pastors knew they were on the verge of something huge. "There were 8,000 people inside -- more couldn't fit," Fuehrer said. "When we came out of the church there were so many people expressing themselves and demanding their freedom."

This was no spontaneous flash mob. By the summer of 1989, East German dissidents had been meeting at Leipzig's 800-year-old Nicolaikirche for almost a decade to pray and talk politics. At times there were fewer than a dozen people in the church, but all through the 1980s the meetings happened every Monday without fail. Eventually, they attracted people eager to discuss a wide range of causes, from the environment to the right to travel freely.

By the fall of 1989, the prayer meetings had evolved into a nationwide movement centered in Leipzig. And on Oct. 9, Leipzig hosted the largest protest demonstration in East German history: Between 70,000 and 100,000 peaceful demonstrators braved warnings from the feared Stasi, or secret police, and thousands of armed riot cops to march around the city center. In the end, the police did nothing, setting the stage for a peaceful revolution that swept across East Germany.

On Friday, Leipzig is celebrating its pivotal role in the fall of communism with concerts, exhibitions, light shows and an anniversary march tracing the steps of the Oct. 9 demonstration thatrocked East Germany and helped pave the way for the collapse of the Berlin Wall more than a month later.

The events in Leipzig tend to be overshadowed by the sudden collapse of the Berlin Wall, which was photographed and filmed by hundreds of journalists and broadcast around the world. Leipzig was out of the way. There are just a few grainy tapes of the huge Monday Demonstrations, and outside of Germany they have mostly been forgotten.