‘Cradle of Rebellion’ Celebrates End of East Germany
LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) _ Ilse Mueller on Wednesday gently placed a little red candle next to Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church, considered by many the birthplace of East Germany’s quiet revolution.
″This is to remember all the people persecuted during those 40 years,″ Ms. Mueller said of four decades of Communist oppression.
The gritty industrial city was the cradle of East Germany’s peaceful popular revolt last fall that later swelled into the drive for unification.
To celebrate the merger Wednesday, thousands of its residents shopped and drank as the heart of the city was turned into a huge open-air market. Western business people cashed in on the official holiday by trucking in stalls that offered everything from leather jackets to candy.
But it was a time for reflection as well, especially for tens of thousands in Leipzig who helped free their country by going to the streets to demand an end to totalitarianism.
Those weekly Monday marches began at the Lutheran church and then spread along downtown streets to the headquarters of the once-feared secret police. Demonstrators chanted ″We Are the People 3/8″ - a phrase that quickly became a nationwide motto for pro-democracy groups.
The day of reckoning came Oct. 9, 1989, almost exactly one year ago.
News reports at the time said Communist leader Erich Honecker was considering ordering troops to shoot at the more than 70,000 demonstrators that night, hoping to end the pro-democracy movement.
″The whole city was tense, the hospitals even had extra blood brought in case there was a disaster,″ said Sven Hornig, 25, one of the marchers who gathered at the church that night.
Miraculously, there was no bloodshed.
Leipzig dignitaries, including famed conductor Kurt Masur, and local party officials intervened to prevent violence - breaking the authoritarian hold of Honecker’s government.
Honecker was ousted from power nine days later.
Since then, St. Nicholas Church has become something of a shrine.
On Wednesday, hundreds of tourists and residents milled around on the cobblestone square where the old church stands.
″I marched on Oct. 9,″ said one drunken Leipziger, trying to keep his balance on a bar stool on Sachsen Square.
″For 10 marks, I will tell you all about it.″
Like many Leipzigers, he was proud of his role in changing German history, but the solidarity that brought that change is gone. Many leftists and artists in Leipzig oppose the dissolution of East Germany, saying the nation could have been salvaged as a new democracy.
More conservatives Germans say unity was the only answer.
″At the time (last fall), we were all limiting our demands to democracy because no one knew how bad the economy was,″ Hornig said. ″There would have been a total collapse and chaos without unification.″
Leipzig hopes to take advantage of its role in changing Germany to become one of Europe’s most important cultural and trade centers. It already has impressive musical and stage offerings and an annual trade fair.
But many of the city’s buildings are nearly in ruins after 40 years of Communist neglect. Right-wing extremism is rising in tandem with joblessness and despair among many Leipzig youths.
After church bells pealed German unity at midnight Tuesday, about 100 masked neo-Nazis demolished cars, smashed windows with clubs and fought with police. Six people were injured, and many of the radicals were arrested.
The unrest in Leipzig presents a united Germany with a new challenge: to meet the hopeful expectations of those who took to the streets to bury East Germany.