Leipzig’s Monday-Evening “Prayer-for-Peace” Meetings – and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
Perhaps the most iconic photos marking the end of the Soviet empire feature the dramatic images of protestors breaking down the Berlin Wall on the evening of 9 November 1989.
There were a number of underlying problems which contributed to the collapse of the East European Socialist states from 1989 to 1991. However, the spark that actually ignited the rapid events that led to that historic night in Berlin was generated by the power of patient prayer -- a process that had first begun in quiet rectitude seven years before.
While similar protest movements were underway in neighboring Poland and Czechoslovakia, the critical event which led to the end of German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the reunification of the two Germanies was a Peace Protest in the square of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig. It was exactly one month before the Berlin Wall came down.
That protest in Leipzig on 9 October 1989, which numbered 70,000 persons, was an outgrowth of the Monday-evening "prayer-for-peace" meeting initiated in quiet defiance against atheist GDR authorities by Christian Fuhrer, the courageous pastor of St. Nicholas, back in 1982.
At the following weekly "prayer meeting" on 16 October, the crowd grew to 120,000, and by Monday, 23 October, the number of peace protestors in Leipzig now praying for an end to the corrupt Communist government had swollen to an estimated 320,000. As the situation across the GDR became potentially more explosive, East German citizens were observed not flocking to the boarders as one would expect, but to Leipzig to attend church.
Leavened initially by a humble weekly prayer meeting, this powerful call for peaceful political change spread rapidly to additional East German cities; and in a few weeks' time, the regime had come to the stark realization that it was all over.
It is clear that the power of prayer played a key role in the collapse of the East German Socialist state in 1989 and led to the peaceful transition of power. This episode in recent European history remains a towering example of how the transformative influence of the Bible, and the people who are inspired by it continue to have positive impact on the world in which we live.
My friend Bruce Slawter, wrote the above. In the fall of 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, he was in the Air Force, and had just been assigned to the Pentagon and tasked with setting up the first policy office for Headquarters, USAF, for establishing cooperative relations with the East Europeans and the Russians.
I will let Bruce take it from here: "Before then, I was teaching Soviet Affairs at the Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had just established relations with his Soviet counterpart, and my first major project that summer and fall was drafting and negotiating procedures for preventing U.S. and Soviet pilots from shooting down each other over the Bearing Sea. The Air Staff, of course, had various intelligence entities for decades dealing with the war fighting aspects of the Cold War; but there were few officers with the experience that might translate into working with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact nations as potential friends. I had completed my first tour as an attaché at Embassy Moscow five years before, when I had traveled to over 35 Soviet cities and 8 of the Soviet republics; and I had just spent a year as a team chief for U.S. inspectors traveling to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to implement the Reagan-Gorbachev Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. At the time, I had not a clue as to where I was to begin – but apparently no one else in the Air Force had either.
"It was just two years later, as relations progressed with the Soviets, that I was in Moscow for discussions with aerospace design bureaus, when the August 1991 coup attempt began. Gorbachev signed the order announcing the end of the Soviet Union four months later on Christmas Day 1991."
PRAYER CENTRAL St. Nicholas' Lutheran Church in Leipzig (photo by Bruce Slawter) where the protesters met and prayed for a peaceable end to the corrupt GDR government in East Germany
(historical note: St. Nicholas' church is the very edifice where J.S. Bach served as choirmaster in the mid-eighteenth century. Some time in the 1740s, while ruminating on the church's great organ--which takes up an entire wall--Bach composed his magisterial Toccata and Fugue in d)