“Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform,” he writes.
“The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the ‘peaceful revolution’ that ended communism.”
Heneghan spoke with East German theologian Richard Schroder about the German media’s role for Reuters’ religion blog:
Most politicians and journalists come from western Germany, he said, and had no experience of the underground activity bubbling below East Germany’s calm surface during the 1980s. Because 3/4 of eastern Germans belong to no church, the westerners underestimate the influence the churches had, even among the non-religious. This is the image that is now being repeated in speeches and television documentaries around Germany, Schroder said.
In 1982, Heneghan explains, Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church mixed Gospel readings with political debates in their services, and because police did not break up church services, it offered freedom of speech that dissidents couldn’t find anywhere else. It’s temping to blockquote the entire post, but read for yourself. Heneghan also has a separate post focusing on his interview with Shroder. The Wall Street Journal also offers a look at their archives with the following article headlined “Prayer Services Opened Door for Peaceful Street Protests.”
“Often these protesters were protected by the church. At the Gethsemane Church in a working-class district of East Berlin, recently, the church’s role in the protest was clearly evident: Politics and prayer marked the evening, and the walls of the church were covered with fliers promoting political causes,” the Journal wrote.
Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly reporter Deborah Potter profiles the Rev. Christian Fuhrer who was pastor of St. Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church in the 80s.
“(East German officials) said, ‘We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer,” [Fuhrer said].
Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount were Fuhrer’s primary motivations, but he also drew inspiration from German pastor and Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fuhrer said King “prepared and executed this idea of nonviolence, peaceful resistance, in a wonderful way. Then it became our turn to apply the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount here in Leipzig.”
PBS also has an extended interview with Fuhrer. A month ago, The Independent offered another extensive profile, and the Christian Science Monitor also looks at the church’s influence. The New York Times profiled Fuhrer two years ago, but I find it odd that they don’t include him or mention any church in their extensive coverage of the anniversary.
Among all the coverage of the anniversary celebrations, it’s good to see a nod to the importance of religion in the wall’s fall. Let us know if you see more.
I took the photo of the Berlin wall when I was traveling in September on a journalist’s study tour with Atlantik-Brucke.