Today we literally walked along the path of history. Many of you remember when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 - but did you know that while Berlin gets much of the 'credit' for the end of communism, it was actually the 'peaceful prayers' of Leipzig that really led to the fall of the wall? I certainly did not. Leipzig has gained the title of "heroic city" for its role in the change to democracy.
Ms. Irmtraud Hollitzer was our guide today and she was one of the young people who took part in what started out a peaceful prayers (every Monday night at 5pm) and then became peaceful marches through the city streets of Leipzig. From literally a handful of people to over a hundred thousand...peacefully marching. The St. Nicholas Church and its local square where these original meetings took place was about 75 meters from our hotel. In fact, I just poked my head out the hotel window to do the estimate... we have been staying where history was made. I have included a link here to give you more background information: http://www.dw.com/en/peace-prayers-helped-bring-down-the-wall-says-leipzig-pastor/a-3805080
Irmtraud explained her personal experiences (of the info. contained in the link) and walked us through the city streets where significant events took place. Its amazing to stand in these places, hear the personal stories and remember back to watching it all unfold on TV. Today was truly a day when history mixed with current events. Irmtraud
took us to the headquarters of the Stasi (secret police), which is now a museum and displays artifacts about the spying that went on inside East Germany. Sooo many ways they brought fear and spied on their own people. Obvious ones are threats, getting family and friends to turn others in for improved conditions or bonuses, reading all mail, intercepting all telephone calls, and setting up cameras in peoples' homes and areas where people would meet in groups. There were 5 cameras around the Nicholi church to photograph those entering for the 'prayer meetings'. Another trick of the Stasi was to bring people in for interrogation - they would sit them on a chair that had a cloth on it. After several hours the person would be allowed to leave.. The cloth on the chair would be placed in an air tight container for use in the future. The Stasi would use dogs to pick up the scent of people who had been at illegal meetings and they would be arrested. It was very odd to be in a building/offices of the organization that brought such fear and distrust for half a century - it looks so non-threatening. Bells of the St. Nicholas church are ringing right now... its 8am here Monday morning. More info. on the Stasi can be found at this link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/east-german-domestic-surveillance-went-far-beyond-the-stasi-a-1042883.html
We had some free time in the afternoon so a small group of us walked the now busy city streets. Street cafes all around. Interestingly, lots of people smoke here - including young people. I have noticed a slight difference in how we as a group, largely made up of Americans, are being treated. In Regensburg (part of the former West Germany), people were very friendly. Here, in the former East Germany, a little less so. Not particularly rude, but certainly not the same. I'm not exactly sure why, but I have some theories, as you probably do too. It will be interesting to see what its like in Berlin - as it was split during the Cold War into East and West. We head there today via the train - just over an hour away.