Peace Prayers and the Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 17, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Christian Fuehrer talked with the Epoch Times in Leipzig. (Wang Jinzhou/The Epoch Times)
Christian Fuehrer talked with the Epoch Times in Leipzig. (Wang Jinzhou/The Epoch Times)
LEIPZIG—Christian Fuehrer was born in Leipzig in 1943 and has been the pastor at Leipzig's St. Nicolai Lutheran Church since 1980. He became world-renowned after the reunification of the two Germanys as the initiator of the 1982 Leipzig-incepted peace prayers against the arms race between East and West, an effort that culminated in the “Monday Demonstrations” of October 9, 1989.

The Epoch Times: When no one could yet know of the coming miracles for Europe in 1989, in Beijing on June 4, 1989 the Chinese Student Uprising was struck down. What emotions did the images of the Tiananmen Square Massacre conjure in your mind?

Christian Fuehrer:
That was horrid! We had collectively witnessed what communist regimes are capable of: 1953 in the GDR (German Democratic Republic–the former East Germany), 1956 in Hungary and Poland, and 1968 in Prague, and then the 4th of June 1989 in Beijing. While Krenz and Modrow were in China and praised the upholding of socialism we thought they would proceed similarly here. We called it “The Chinese Solution,” to violently shoot people in the streets—that precipitated a horrible fear.

Epoch Times: Berlin held extra church services, to commemorate the victims of the Beijing Tiananmen Square massacre. Did Leipzig do this also?

Mr. Fuehrer: We held the regular peace prayer services. Those peace prayers were the backbone of the whole peaceful revolution, a tradition that began here at Nicolai Church in 1981. And since 1982 they were held continually every Monday, without exception, actually until today!

Epoch Times: Your book (And We Were There, by Christian Führer, Ullstein Publishers, Berlin 2008; ISBN 978-3-550-08746-2) tells of the most important peace prayers taking place on September 4, 1989.

Mr. Fuehrer: Grassroots groups facilitated these prayers—youths, Christians, non-Christians—but with one disadvantage, their numbers were small. What they did was much too dangerous. Then in 1986 a group of people approached me and confessed they had petitioned to leave the country and wanted me to intercede for them. That led me to establish a discussion group for those willing to emigrate. They numbered in the hundred thousands! No one knew the actual numbers.

I held a discussion forum the evening of February 19, 1988. I had invited 50 people, but 600 showed up. From then on those willing to emigrate considered St. Nicolai Church as the place where people take them seriously, where no one berated them, where they could exchange experiences about their dilemmas. From this group emerged many who became the backbone of the peace prayers.

The next event came Monday, May 8, 1989. Police had cordoned off all streets leading to St. Nicolai, as a deterrent, but without dogs, without police batons, without weapons. But it did not work in the police’s favor—people ignored the barriers and proceeded as if they did not exist. That was reason for consternation for the GDR police, to see this happening. Next they blockaded the Autobahn crossing. Those who drove a vehicle without a Leipzig license plate were denied entrance into Leipzig that Monday afternoon. Police checked IDs at the main Leipzig train station—those not residing within Leipzig were denied entry.

The more of these restrictions were put into place, the more people arrived. It was a regular surge, the last one of which happened September 4, 1989. That was when the journalists arrived. They had to have their credentials validated and get all kinds of permits. They had never before got a permit for church-sponsored events. By contrast, for the annual Leipzig Fair they were issued a general permit and could move about freely wherever they wanted to go.

To backtrack, on September 1, 1989 the city governance had ordered us, the church council, to appear at city hall. They interrogated us for two hours. They told us under no circumstances to resume our usual activities on Monday, September 4, [following summer break] but do it a week later. We told them that we always resumed on the first Monday following July and August summer break. Besides, I had already prepared a group to commemorate September 1, the beginning of the World War, and that we wouldn't let them [the authorities] dictate what we needed to do. And then what they had feared happened!

Our exit was a small side door—construction work blocked the main entrance. When we emerged, about 1,500, we encountered a huge semicircle of Western cameramen who filmed us. I was angry at first and said they are taking over the work of the STASI [East Germany’s secret police] by filming all of us. But then it dawned on me how important this was.

A few of the youths removed a banner from inside their jackets. It read, “For an open country with free people.” They held it aloft for about 20 seconds. Then the STASI agents ripped it out of their hands and knocked the youths to the ground; but all before the Western cameras. During the 8:00 pm news from West German TV station ARD we heard journalist Friedrichs say, “…following the peace prayers at Nicolai Church…” and then the footage from the afternoon was shown.

That was the first inkling people in West Germany and the rest of Europe got of what was actually happening here. But the most important impact was for GDR citizens to have seen a report on West German TV, and all of the GDR was witness to what happened here each Monday.

Ever more people arrived here from all over the GDR, making the church on October 9, 1989 a melting pot of people from all over East Germany, not merely the Leipzig folk, not only those from Saxonia. We noticed the previous Monday that the church could no longer hold all who wanted to come, not even in the rear area. That prompted me to beseech all inner city churches to join in the peace prayers. That way we successfully accommodated 6,000 people in the churches.

Epoch Times: Had the SED [the East-Socialist-Party ] cadres already arrived?

Mr. Fuehrer: Yes, they were there, had arrived that afternoon, were supposed to occupy the church. They arrived at 2:30 pm. I gave a speech in church then. They were unaware that I already knew who they were. I had received anonymous telephone tips. I reiterated that a sign outside the church stated that St. Nicolai is open to all, and we are glad they are here and welcome them, but also said, I am puzzled why the working people are already here at this hour when workers traditionally arrive after 4:00 pm. The agents felt visibly uncomfortable and shifted in the pews and must have wondered what would come next. I told them that I would leave the organ loft locked for the moment to permit late working people and a few Christians a place to fit into the sanctuary. That prompted some people to laugh against their own will.

The next day a couple of cadres came to me and thanked me for the peace prayers. That was a complete turnaround. The Party had sent them to the church with the admonition that the pastor is inciting the population to start a street brawl. They called it counter-revolutionary. And because these two [cadres] had never attended a peace prayer service, they believed what the Party minions told them. Now that they had witnessed a peace prayer service they became acutely aware that the Party had dished them a lie, that their propaganda was far from the truth. They became part of the peace process. We readily accepted them into the church's peace process.

I had always thought that God must have a sense of humor to bring cadres into the church. We would have never been able to convince them with our words or a letter or telephone calls. They had to experience the actual event. What they had seen and heard could no longer serve the Party's purposes. But the experience was important for them.

So, [there were] 6,000 people in the inner city church. When we tried to exit through the small side entrance, we couldn’t get out. The square was teeming with people. Through Western media we learned the next day that 70,000 people had been there. It was the largest demonstration ever in the GDR, and the beginning of a movement, a voluntary one. Out in the square they held candles. When holding a candle out-of-doors one needs to use both hands, otherwise the candle might become extinguished. One cannot hold both a lit candle and a rock or a stick. It was obvious these people wanted to remain peaceful.

One member of the ZK (Central Committee of the communist party) and the SED commented later on that the officials were ready for anything but prayers and candles. So, the officers received no engagement orders. That was the most impressive part of all!

The greatest thing for me was that people summarized the teaching of the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jesus into two words, “No Violence." They had grown up since Hitler's time under state-ordered atheism. Under the Nazis, if they were old enough to attend school, they were taught racial hatred, master race superiority, along with preparations for war. Foresight took the place of God, as Hitler liked to say.

Those who grew up with the socialists had to contend with indoctrinations relating to class struggles and paranoia of perceived enemies, and dictums like, “Jesus never existed, it is a myth and superstition, a legend, a fairy tale, and your nonsense about nonviolence is dangerous idealism. The only thing that matters in politics is money, the army, economics, and the media. Forget about everything else.”

Amazing, that people under these decades-old influences have sought out the church and understood Jesus' message in two words, “No Violence!” Not only did they think and say so, but put it into practice in the streets [during the demonstration].

If anything ever deserves the designation “Miracle,” this is it. Never before had any revolution in Germany succeeded. This was the first one; without shedding a single drop of blood; without even one broken shop window, without the beating of even one person, without any loss of life. A revolution originating in a church is new to our history, an unbelievable event.

Epoch Times: What did you feel when you exited through that small door and suddenly saw so many people with candles?

Mr. Fuehrer: First off, the feeling was a great gratitude for the many candles. I knew they would not necessitate a call for forcible intervention, and people took that into consideration; and a joy that people were willing to remain peaceful. At the same time my thoughts revolved around the huge uncertainty of what would happen next because after previous events on other Mondays, people on leaving the peace prayer service where beaten, arrested and taken away; right in front of the church. It would not take long once we emerged from the peace prayers that officials cleared the square. People were simply having a conversation, not doing anything. They were arrested, beaten, put on trucks and hauled off.

When the first ones reappeared at the Gewandhaus [the famous concert hall] and returned to the Nikolai churchyard I had only two emotions inside of me: one was a great sense of relief that it didn’t end up in a “Chinese Solution,” that there was no shooting, that the people had stayed alive, that the demonstrators did not use violence but had conducted themselves according to Jesus' teachings, “No Violence!”

The other feeling I experienced was a sense of precognition, a sense of knowing, that people would be able to proceed unhindered, that no one would detain them, that the GDR this evening was no longer the same it had been this morning. Something extraordinary had happened, the results of which we could not yet fathom.

Epoch Times: The nation awakened?

Mr. Fuehrer: Yes, that was the breakthrough, October 9th. The next day the black and white footage taken by Western cameramen under great risks were smuggled into West Berlin and broadcast the following morning. That is when the whole nation awakened. Other cities had also hosted peace prayer services, but not as regularly as we had and over such a long time. Following the October 9th photo images people all over the country awakened and held peace prayer services, joined demonstrations; and then things happened—blow-by-blow.

On October 18 Honnecker [East Germany’s Head of State] resigned and the Politburo gave up in November. On November 4, Berliners had their 9th of October [one million people rallied in East Berlin on November 4, five days before the wall came down]. That demonstration was huge and grand, but it was a sanctioned one, so no one had to fear a beating or arrest. Leipzig had already dealt with that — that was over.

The Wall was brought down on November 9th, from the East side–not shot down by tanks. That is a fitting parallel to the events of October 9th—the nonviolent defeat of the Wall. Bringing down the Wall marked the first spectacular victory of October 9th. From then on events were irreversible.

Now one could not turn things back. For us it was an important experience. First off, as I mentioned, we had never managed a successful revolution, it was the first one without violence.

In German history we have used violence towards so many other peoples during the two world wars [including] the horrid brutality toward the people of which Jesus was born. And now one event—German unification—without war or victory; without humiliation of other European neighbors or other peoples, to the point where the European neighbors could be happy along with us. That is a huge blessing from God for human beings, for the churches, for our country, for all villages. A self-liberation from a dictatorship, without dollars or DAX [the German stock market], without the Soviet or U.S. Armies. An astonishing event.

We have so many commemorative dates marking terrifying events, and now this one date from which springs hope of democracy and freedom. This we must always remember.

God held his protective hand over us, over all of us, and even over the cadres and those who sat in the tanks, and over those in the streets, Christians and non-Christians, émigrés and all others. I consider this God’s huge mercy towards us, something we Germans, by virtue of our history, are not really deserving of.

Epoch Times:
You were an eyewitness to a miracle. Do you foresee such a miracle to repeat itself?

Mr. Fuehrer: People are unable to imagine a miracle, or something really new. Therefore one need not feel ashamed about that. We could not have imagined the events either. We had expected the Chinese Solution. That was the norm. That’s how it is in the world. Yet something completely different happened.

The Jewish philosopher Ben Gurion once said, “He who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.” One must always keep this option open that very unusual changes might happen which one could call miracles, which take their time to mature. Especially those events that need people who are able to open to those miracles. That kind of thing might happen in China, or North Korea. It can happen the same way it did with us. Because in our [former communist] system, tied to the Soviet Union and the other satellite states, they were militarily so highly developed and strong that no one could have foreseen how this might some day change.

Likewise, people in China may feel that everything is so entrenched and solid, it is difficult for them to imagine how to change that. But as I said, a human being can never imagine the extent of a miracle before it happens or envision something really new. But suddenly, it is here. However, it does require people who will carry the miracle forward and bring it to fruition. That’s the people's legacy!

Epoch Times: The Chinese people are also living a two-faced life, as did the people in the former GDR. What could you tell the Chinese people?

Mr. Fuehrer: It takes two things: one, a free space, like the church, where people, though in secret, are able to freely unfold. The second is the message of Jesus: No violence, change without violence. Because violence immediately engenders new violence. Courage alone is not enough; courage wanes quickly. One has to have a strength, an ever-renewable strength. That is the strength of belief.

Renate Lilge-Stodieck contributed to this article.

Read the original German article.