Germany tackles rising tensions 30 years after fall of the Berlin Wall

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)The Bundestag, the parliament of a united Germany, symbolizing the optimism of a united Germany.

The Nicolaikirche in Leipzig was the gathering point for events signalling the end of an era of communist rule in what was then East Germany, 30 years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.

"Monday demonstrations" took place there in 1989 at the Leipzig city and parish church of St Nikolai, reaching a fever pitch before the Wall fell in a time of optimism at the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union.

The western Federal Republic of Germany and the eastern German Democratic Republic, separated since after the end of the Second World War, reunified in 1990.

But strains over the course of the nation exist today. Many in the less prosperous eastern parts increasingly feel badly done by with a fiercely anti-immigrant party and increasing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia permeating their patch.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the German Democratic Republic spoke in a service held at the Church of Reconciliation, which stands where another church once stood in the middle of what was once no-man's land.

Merkel commemorated those who suffered under the East-German regime, and those who died in the Holocaust.

She warned against taking democracy for granted, at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Wall's fall.

"No wall that keeps people out and restricts freedom is so high... that it cannot be broken down," she noted.

Back in 1989, in Leipzig the Monday demonstrations began Friedensgebete (prayers for peace), helping and comforting opponents of the East German regime and its Stasi secret police.

East Germany had 17 million people and the state security apparatus had almost 100,000 official full-time employees and twice as many unofficial or informal informers, working for the secret police.

I remember meeting one of them in Namibia as the wall was falling. He went to South Africa after the wall fell. He could not believe what was happening.

The prayers in the Nikolaikirche led to a protest movement with calls for letting-up on severe government restrictions on freedom of movement and the press.


The security forces tried to intimidate Lutheran pastors Christoph Wonneberger and Christian Führer who had led the protests, but that did not halt them.

The Berlin Wall fell during the actions of a "movement of many people who demonstrated peacefully in the streets," said World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit. "Churches both can and should be the voice and the space for just peace, even when it takes time to see the results."

A seven-day city-wide festival has taken place in Berlin this week to mark the historic occasion. From 4-10 November, the story of how the Wall came down, has rolled out at sites across the city.

Seven open-air exhibitions were set up at locations that played a role in the upheaval era in 1989/1990, including at the Gethsemanekirche, Alexanderplatz, Schlossplatz, Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm, East Side Gallery and the former Stasi headquarters in Lichtenberg, The reported.

An exhibition around the Gethsemanekirche in Prenzlauer Berg shows the building's role in the revolution with text panels and images - as well as with interviews accessible via audio. In it former civil rights activists such as Evelyn Zupke, Ulrike Poppe, Frank Ebert, and the former pastor of the Gethsemanekirche Bernd Albani have spoken.


In early October 1989, the Gethsemanekirche became a focal point of dissent in East Berlin with organized local opposition groups holding a vigil calling for the release of protesters who had been detained by the security forces.

Dr. Stephen Brown, editor of The Ecumenical Review, the quarterly journal of the WCC, and former managing editor of Ecumenical News International was the author of a book about  the role of the churches in the peaceful revolution in East Germany.

He wrote that the opening of the Berlin Wall was one of the most dramatic symbols of the global changes sweeping across the world in 1989.

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Kochstrasse Station at Checkpoint Charlie, demarcating the American zone during the Cold War, advertising a confident Berlin after the fall of the Wall.

"In Latin America, at the same time, the fall from power of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile represented the end of the military regimes that had held sway on the continent for thirty years," he said.

And in South Africa steps were taken that would lead to the release of Nelson Mandela and the first non-racial democratic elections in 1994.


Yet, at the beginning of a week of festivities marking three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, events hint "of a return of the Cold War and the rise of nationalism is dampening the mood", the AFP news agency reported. 

Euphoric optimism for liberal democracy and freedom characterized the event 30 years ago "as Germany grapples with a surge in far-right support in its former communist states."

Chancellor Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor from the East was 35 when the Berlin Wall came down.

In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, she spoke of her dreams as a citizen of East Germany, the divide between Germany's East and West and the rise of the populists during her tenure.

"German unification was shaped by both the East and the West, and Helmut Kohl's political skill and the trust he enjoyed with the allies played a significant role. But the peaceful revolution and Nov. 9, 1989, was the work of the citizens of the GDR (German Democratic Republic). We are happy to share it, including the joy, but it was done by the citizens of the GDR with a huge amount of courage."

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)The Brandenburg Gate, an old German monument, that symbolized the barrier between the two Germany's during the Cold War.
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