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Autumn '89 - History was made in Leipzig

On the trail of the Peaceful Revolution

The hundreds and thousands Leipzig citizens, who moved into the city centre in 1989, after the traditional prayers for peace in the St. Nicholas Church, were no longer satisfied by superficial changes. The pivotal day of the Peaceful Revolution was 9 October 1989 in Leipzig, when 70,000 protesters, crying "We are the People!” and "No Violence!" overthrew the SED regime. With their courage, their strong will and their renunciation of violence, they made history. The poignant images from the "Monday Demonstrations" in Autumn 1989 reached every corner of the world: Determined people demanded fundamental democratic rights in an unyielding society.

Leipzig, the stepchild of the GDR state, found its voice using peaceful means. Through this, national history was made in Leipzig and the foundations of German Reunification were laid. During the night from 9 to 10 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell.

In keeping with the motto, "Autumn '89 – Birth of Democracy", the city commemorates the events around the Peaceful Revolution every year. On 9 October - the municipal remembrance day - the Festival of Lights is always the emotional highlight of this collection of events. Thousands of inhabitants and visitors to the city meet in Augustusplatz and remember the events of 1989 against the backdrop of atmospheric illuminations.

Impressions

Crowds of people in Karl-Marx-Platz, which, today, is called Augustusplatz, with Leipzig's Opera visible in the background, peaceful revolution, history of Leipzig, culture
Monday demonstration on 9 October 1989 © Martin Naumann
Demonstration on 30 October 1989 in Karl-Marx-Platz, today dubbed Augustusplatz, in Leipzig, peaceful revolution, history of Leipzig, culture
Demonstration on 30 October 1989 © Martin Naumann
Historic Monday Demonstration on 9 October 1989 in Karl-Marx-Platz, which, today, is called Augustusplatz, peaceful revolution, history of Leipzig
Historic Monday Demonstration on 9 October 1989 in Karl-Marx-Platz © Martin Naumann
In this contribution by "Deutsche Welle" („Hin & Weg - das Reisemagazin"), guide, Karin Schäuble (Leipzig Erleben GmbH) leads visitors to sites of the Peaceful Revolution, history of Leipzig, sights, culture
Leipzig - City of the Peaceful Revolution © Deutsche Welle

Review of January to September 1989

First unauthorised protest of the 1980s in the GDR. In Leipzig, approx. 500 citizens protest for reforms. There are 53 arrests.

Hungary removes the safety zone which obstructs the route to Austria. This is the first step which was to lead to mass exodus.

Fraudulent elections at the communal elections in the GDR. Approx. 1,000 citizens in Leipzig protest against the deception.

The first Street Music Festival in Leipzig, organised by grassroots groups, is forcibly suppressed by the police. The musicians, along with their instruments are brutally loaded onto lorries and "taken away".

Beginning of the mass exodus of GDR citizens, through Hungary, towards Austria.

Around 700 GDR holidaymakers in Austria use an event taking place on the Austrian/Hungarian border as an opportunity to flee to freedom.

Demonstration at the Leipzig Autumn Trade Fair – Stasi employees destroy banners with slogans such as "For an open country with free people". These proceedings are filmed by western cameramen and transmitted all around the world.

Hungary opens the border to Austria for GDR emigrants.

The initiative group, "Neues Forum" (New Forum), is founded by opposition groups.

Erich Honecker advises the 1st secretaries of local SED authorities, "that these hostile actions must be nipped in the bud, that no multiplying of these on a mass basis is to be authorised".

The "Neues Forum" is prohibited by the Ministry of the Interior. 5,000 people protest at the Leipzig Monday Demonstrations. The Federal Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, declares in Prague that the 6,000 GDR embassy refugees are allowed to travel to the FRG.

Approx. 8,000 protesters sing "We shall overcome" after the prayer for peace, in the St. Nicholas Church, where it has been held since 1982.

Review: October to December 1989

On this Monday already, approx. 20,000 people are protesting for reforms in Leipzig. This is met by brutal police intervention.

More than 7,600 refugees travel in special trains from Prague, through Dresden, to the FRG, following the suspension of visa-free traffic between the GDR and Czechoslovakia.

40th anniversary of the GDR - Protests break out all over the GDR. The state use dogs and water guns against approx. 4,000 protesters. 200 people are arrested.
Gorbachev gives a speech in Berlin to the Politbüro and says: "When we lag behind, life punishes us immediately".

The pivotal Monday Demonstration - Despite great fear of armed conflicts - 8,000 policemen are at the ready - over 70,000 citizens gather in five of Leipzig's churches after the prayers for peace.

On this Monday, 150,000 people protest. Several television teams are present. Even the "live camera" briefly reports on events.

Erich Honecker is replaced by Egon Krennz as SED chairman. This failed to tame the demonstrations, which spread across the country.

"We are the People!" - The voices of the protesters become ever louder. The number of protesters in Leipzig reaches approx. 300,000 participants, arriving from all parts of the GDR.

The largest Monday Demonstration - This took place in the pouring rain. Approx. 400,000 participants demand consequent reforms of the societal system and cry "Stasi in the National Economy!"

The GDR government resigns.

The wall is opened for GDR citizens. Politbüro member, Schabowski, declares unrestricted freedom to travel, with immediate effect. This signifies the fall the of the border fences and exclusion areas.

Former West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, declares a ten-point programme for reversing the division of Germany.

The People's Parliament discard the SED's leadership claim from the Constitution.

Egon Krenz retreats as Chairman of the State and National Defence Council.

The "Runde Tisch" (round table) meets for the first time in (East) Berlin.

Approx. 200,000 citizens bring events to a "silent closure", with burning candles and torches, at the first authorised Monday Demonstration of the Leipzig Monday Demonstrations of 1989. The bells of all Leipzig churches ring to commemorate the victims of psychological oppression and violence.

German inner borders open - visa requirements and compulsory exchanges when travelling to the GDR for citizens of the FRG are dropped.