Reviewing the historic events of the autumn of 1989

Police cordons on Nikolaikirchhof

On 11th September 1989 the Bereitschaftspolizei, a kind of paramilitary riot police unit, and the state security service Stasi had almost hermetically sealed off Nikolaikirchhof square in Leipzig. The attendants of the church service were faced with massive barriers. On that day, 104 people were arrested. The East German regime wanted to make an example and therefore acted mercilessly. Some people had to remain in custody until the amnesty at the end of October. In summary proceedings based on penalty orders they were sentenced to four to six months of imprisonment without having had a hearing in advance. The charge: riotous assembly.

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First major demonstration on the ring road

25th September 1989 was the day of the first major Monday demonstration where people marched along the Leipzig city ring road. St. Nicholas’s Church was filled to capacity during the peace prayer meeting at 5 p. m. On that day the church had to be closed because it could not fit any more people. Outside Bereitschaftspolizei, a kind of paramilitary riot police unit, and state security forces had taken up position again, sealing off Nikolaikirchhof hermetically, just like on the previous Mondays. Despite this presence, approximately 1000 people assembled in front of the church.

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People chanting: ‘We are staying here!’

After the first big Monday demonstration on 25th September, when more than 5000 people had for the first time marched from Karl-Marx-Platz via Georgiring to Friedrich-Engels-Platz, the nerves of many officials of the ruling SED party regime were raw. In a rush, measures were taken to fight back ‘antisocialist activities in the city of Leipzig’ allegedly controlled by the West.

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Police employing water cannons

Among the people things had long been bubbling beneath the surface, yet in Berlin the ruling SED party and the government were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. The evening before 100,000 young people had paraded past SED General Secretary Erich Honecker and the guests of honour. There was also a military parade. In Leipzig the security level was at a maximum on the republic’s anniversary day. Even the Kampfgruppen combat groups were on standby. A peace prayer meeting, however, had not been scheduled for that day – the 7th October was a Saturday. Markt square was filled with cheerful crowds - during the annual Market Days.

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The date of decision

The 9th October 1989 is the date of decision. Since the early morning hours bed sheets have been hanging at St. Nicholas’s Church. ‘Folks, no mindless violence! Hold yourselves in check!’ says the writing on them. Civil rights groups around Pastor Christoph Wonneberger have drafted an appeal, 25,000 copies of which have been produced with great effort and are distributed later. It calls on people to renounce violence.

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