Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Church of Freedom; City of Heroes

It began with regular Monday meetings in the early 1980's.

At first it was only three or four people who gathered at the 800-year old St. Nikolai Church to pray and talk politics. The numbers grew slowly. Five or six would show up, then maybe a dozen. But the meetings continued to happen every Monday without fail.

For close to a decade.

Eventually, dozens and then hundreds were attending the Monday meetings at the church where Bach once played. They would discuss a wide range of causes, from the environment to the right to travel freely.

But, in October of 1989, the government said enough was enough.

The bastards cracked down.

Peaceful protesters were beaten and arrested.

Two days later, on October 9, 1989, St. Nikolai Church was overflowing with more than 3,000 people for the weekly Monday meeting. When it was over, 70,000 people were marching through the city as armed soldiers looked on, but did nothing. It was the largest protest demonstration in the country's history, setting the stage for a peaceful revolution that swept across the land.

Secretly recorded footage of the march was broadcast on television from a nearby country, inspiring more Monday Demonstrations. By Oct. 23, more than 300,000 people filled the city center, carrying candles and banners. As one government official put it, ‘We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.’”

And that's how the City of Leipzig, in what was then East Germany, earned the nickname "Heldenstadt," or "Hero City."

Two weeks later, on this day - November 9th, 1989 - the Berlin Wall was torn down, allowing people to travel freely to the West for the first time in 28 years. The fall of the Wall paved the way for German reunification, and triggered the demise of the Soviet Union, ending the communist stranglehold on much of Europe.

In the end, it took civil courage to dissolve a four-decade mental wall of East German fear, before a cement wall could collapse.

Little is left of the Berlin Wall at its original site. Some isolated fragments and a few watchtowers remain. Many fragments of the Wall were taken and were sold around the world. With or without certificates of authenticity, these fragments are now hawked on eBay as well as at German souvenir shops.

So how do the events of more than 20 years ago in Leipzig affect your life today? I guess that depends on the degree to which you are truly unhappy about something and the courage you possess to actually do something about it.

Is there a "Monday meeting" you need to start attending?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has"

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