This summer, Ohio University students and faculty celebrated the 20th Anniversary of a partnership with Leipzig University in Germany. As a part of the celebration, 16 students taking part in the travel writing program in Leipzig this summer completed this, and number of other stories.
St. Nicholas Church and the Peaceful Revolution
St. Nicholas' Church is the oldest church in Leipzig. Even with the rich architectural history, it made national history in 1989 when its' Monday prayer services became known as the Peaceful Revolution, a precursor to the wall coming down. We conducted an interview with the current parish, Mr. Stief about the significance of the church to the community and history. The original interview is in German without subtitles. The translation below was provided to us by the staff of Mephisto Radio at the University of Leipzig.
Mr. Stief: The main point about the Church and the GDR was that it was a safe haven and that meant it was a place where you could speak what you think. You didn't have any freedom of speech outside, you don't have free press and so on. So all that you wanted to say you could say it in the church because it was safe. So there was the youth group who especially valued this, so in September of 1982 they started this. They wanted to have prayers for peace so they went to the church allowed them to have them here.
It was at first just this youth group but from time to time since 1982 more and more groups joined the freedom prayers. So there were women for peace and also people who cared about the environment and people who did not want to go to war so there were more and more people who came to the freedom prayers. Up to 1989 then the Government Party tried to stop it and went to the Church and asked them not to have the prayers once again after the summer break but they denied that and said they were still going to have them. So in September 1989 it was the first freedom preach after the summer break and there were about 1,000 people. They spontaneously decided to have a little protest outside the Nicolai Church.
This was the first time the youth group handed out a sign that said, "we want a free country, an open country, free for all the people." After ten seconds it was taken down by the Stazi. There were TV teams from West Germany for the Leipzig Fair so they filmed that and showed it in West Germany and there was this huge uproar that they found out the people wanted to be free. So these prayers took place every Monday and they got bigger and bigger until the 9th of October where everyone warned the people not to go because the police came and the military came and though it would be taken down violently. But they still went and they had to close the church because it was too full. Four thousand people were here and four other churches also had these prayers.
So in the end after this prayer they all gathered and marched around. They circled the inner city once and there was about 70,000 people and more and more people came until there were about 100,000 people who took part in this demonstration. That was a crucial hit to the system of the GDR. That is why St. Nicholas is so important. And since 1982 they are still having these prayers every Monday.