Anniversary of the prayer meeting that brought down the Wall

Twenty years ago today in Leipzig, where Bach used to live, a prayer meeting at a Lutheran church became the catalyst for the anti-communist demonstrations that a month later would bring down the Berlin Wall. Here is the story:

A prayer service for peace in an historic Lutheran church in the East German city of Leipzig 20 years ago triggered the chain of events that exactly a month later led to the opening of the Berlin Wall.

As people gathered after work on the afternoon of 9 October 1989 in the Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas’ Church) and three other inner-city churches in Leipzig to pray for peace and democracy, the signs of potential violence were uppermost in most people’s minds.

Two days earlier, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in East Berlin for the 40th anniversary celebrations of the East German state, pro-democracy demonstrations there had been put down with force.

Many East Germans had fled the country in the summer of 1989. Those who wanted to stay and force reforms at home started organizing peaceful demonstrations and prayer meetings.

The Nikolaikirche had been holding peace prayers each Monday since 1982, a time of tension in Europe over the deployment of nuclear weapons. The prayers became a focal point for East German opposition activists.

After the 9 October services in Leipzig, an estimated 70 000 people poured into the city centre, connect in a full circle on a ring road around the downtown area.

“There were too many of us that night to arrest, the prisons were already full,” Jochen Lässig, one of the founder members of the reformist group Neues Forum in Leipzig told Ecumenical News International.

Before the prayer service took place, however, ominous warnings had appeared in Leipzig’s communist-run media suggesting that armed force would be used to suppress demonstrators. Local doctors and nurses reported that hospitals were building up blood reserves and being put on alert to deal with bullet wounds. . . .

Troops, military brigade groups and the police became engaged in conversations, and then withdrew, said Führer. “It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no winners and no losers. Nobody triumphed over the other, nobody lost face. There was just a tremendous feeling of relief.”

In front of the Leipzig headquarters of the Stasi – the East German secret police – demonstrators gathered, laid candles on the steps and sang songs. What few knew at the time was that inside the darkened building, most Stasi members were present and armed with live ammunition. They had orders to defend a strategic building. They had sandbags under the windows, still displayed today as it is now a museum.

Irmtraut Hollitzer, once curator of the museum, told ENI, “One stone through the window would have been enough to set off a bloodbath.”

The peaceful outcome of the Leipzig demonstration marked a turning point in the democracy protests, which gathered force throughout East Germany. This was followed by the opening of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and free elections in March 1990.

Would you say this was a legitimate work of the church in its relation with the state?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fws

    “Would you say this was a legitimate work of the church in its relation with the state?”

    Strike all words after “legitimate work” and you have a valid question for christian and pagan ALIKE. Because they are alike in this frame. Exactly.

    It is the wrong question and so the wrong frame. And so the answers to THIS question will be wrong. wrongedy wrong wrong wrong. wrong.

    Why? It assumes a visible and knowable difference between christian and pagan. Wheat and tare, sheep and goat, deep and rocky ground.

    man’s will has liberty to choose civil righteousness… and to do WHATSOEVER good pertains to this life. This all depends on the providence of God. In, of,and through Him ONLY, ALL good happens. cf: “…ALL that I need…” (1st article, small catechism)

    These people got their passive resistance ideas from Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who got his passive ideas from his (homosexual) aide named Bayard Rustin, who´s ideas came from Mohatma Ghandi, who drew from Leo Tolstoy´s writings in adoration of Christ´s Sermon on the Mount (which he, in despair, confessed he could not keep).

    Even the person referencing Jesus: was he christian or not? Jesus as example or Jesus as savior from sin? Can´t tell can we? Was this the church in action? or not? Don´t know.

    It DOESN´T matter. Righteousness, christian or not, is ALL the righteous fruit of the Will of God (=The Law), and we christians are privileged to pray, praise and give thanks for this as christians seeing it as God´s hand. Why would it or should it matter?

    Fact: Nothing done in the name of Christ or Holy Church is of faith (and therefore christian), for certain (think crusades), except for the preaching of the forgivness of sins in Word, Water, Bread and Wine. There we are promised is Christ. Only there.

    The just look there (Christ in visible Word and Sacrament) for life, for Holy Church, for forgiveness. The cannot see these things in any action or work of The Law as this post implies is possible.

    In faith alone. In Christ alone. By Grace alone.

  • fws

    “Would you say this was a legitimate work of the church in its relation with the state?”

    Strike all words after “legitimate work” and you have a valid question for christian and pagan ALIKE. Because they are alike in this frame. Exactly.

    It is the wrong question and so the wrong frame. And so the answers to THIS question will be wrong. wrongedy wrong wrong wrong. wrong.

    Why? It assumes a visible and knowable difference between christian and pagan. Wheat and tare, sheep and goat, deep and rocky ground.

    man’s will has liberty to choose civil righteousness… and to do WHATSOEVER good pertains to this life. This all depends on the providence of God. In, of,and through Him ONLY, ALL good happens. cf: “…ALL that I need…” (1st article, small catechism)

    These people got their passive resistance ideas from Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who got his passive ideas from his (homosexual) aide named Bayard Rustin, who´s ideas came from Mohatma Ghandi, who drew from Leo Tolstoy´s writings in adoration of Christ´s Sermon on the Mount (which he, in despair, confessed he could not keep).

    Even the person referencing Jesus: was he christian or not? Jesus as example or Jesus as savior from sin? Can´t tell can we? Was this the church in action? or not? Don´t know.

    It DOESN´T matter. Righteousness, christian or not, is ALL the righteous fruit of the Will of God (=The Law), and we christians are privileged to pray, praise and give thanks for this as christians seeing it as God´s hand. Why would it or should it matter?

    Fact: Nothing done in the name of Christ or Holy Church is of faith (and therefore christian), for certain (think crusades), except for the preaching of the forgivness of sins in Word, Water, Bread and Wine. There we are promised is Christ. Only there.

    The just look there (Christ in visible Word and Sacrament) for life, for Holy Church, for forgiveness. The cannot see these things in any action or work of The Law as this post implies is possible.

    In faith alone. In Christ alone. By Grace alone.

  • fws

    The answer to ALL such questions as posed here are easily disposed of if we remember only one idea:

    There IS, intrinsically NO difference whatsoever between the righteous acts/fruits of a christian or a pagan.

    The command to “Act like a good christian” contains exactly the same things the law demands of pagans and christians alike.

    The difference is in the doer not what is done.

    The difference is tree, not fruit.

  • fws

    The answer to ALL such questions as posed here are easily disposed of if we remember only one idea:

    There IS, intrinsically NO difference whatsoever between the righteous acts/fruits of a christian or a pagan.

    The command to “Act like a good christian” contains exactly the same things the law demands of pagans and christians alike.

    The difference is in the doer not what is done.

    The difference is tree, not fruit.

  • Jonathan

    I think fws nailed it. It’s the two kingdoms at work again. Is it legit? Sure, however, though it looks like work of the church, this is really left-kingdom stuff.

  • Jonathan

    I think fws nailed it. It’s the two kingdoms at work again. Is it legit? Sure, however, though it looks like work of the church, this is really left-kingdom stuff.

  • gordon sheill

    An excellent reminder on the power of united in prayer. Christians in China right now are doing similar peaceful protests, but the father of lies still controls the police and military.
    May this bondage be broken by the Holy Spirit.

  • gordon sheill

    An excellent reminder on the power of united in prayer. Christians in China right now are doing similar peaceful protests, but the father of lies still controls the police and military.
    May this bondage be broken by the Holy Spirit.

  • Sam

    Why do admire prayers for peace in a Lutheran church in Leipzig, yet refuse to do the same in LCMS and WELS churches in the US? Peace in Afghanistan and Africa, peace in our inner cities, etc. [Not just a general plea for peace in the liturgy, but separate gatherings to pray]
    I know why: there’d be an uproar in these politically conservative congregations that praying for peace in America is a ‘liberal’ thing.

  • Sam

    Why do admire prayers for peace in a Lutheran church in Leipzig, yet refuse to do the same in LCMS and WELS churches in the US? Peace in Afghanistan and Africa, peace in our inner cities, etc. [Not just a general plea for peace in the liturgy, but separate gatherings to pray]
    I know why: there’d be an uproar in these politically conservative congregations that praying for peace in America is a ‘liberal’ thing.

  • LAJ

    Thank you for the enlightening info. Had never heard of these prayer meetings before.

  • LAJ

    Thank you for the enlightening info. Had never heard of these prayer meetings before.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    Thank you for the reminder ….
    YES-it follows Christ’s command (LK 19) – to “Occupy til I come”…

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ Carol-Christian Soldier

    Thank you for the reminder ….
    YES-it follows Christ’s command (LK 19) – to “Occupy til I come”…


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