Christian Fuhrer became pastor here in 1980, when the world outside the church was divided by the Cold War and Germany was split in two, most visibly by the wall the East German government built in Berlin in 1961. The Communist state was determined to keep more of its people from escaping to the free West. In the German Democratic Republic—the GDR—atheism was the norm. Churches like St. Nikolai were spied on, but stayed open….
In the early eighties, Fuhrer began holding weekly prayers for peace. Every Monday, they recited the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Few people came. But in the late eighties, as the Soviet Union opened up to the West, more East Germans began to demand change, including the right to leave, and in Leipzig they gathered at St. Nikolai, which proclaimed itself “open for all.”…
In October 1989, on the 40th anniversary of the GDR, the government cracked down. Protestors in Leipzig were beaten and arrested. Two days later, St. Nikolai Church was full to overflowing for the weekly vigil. When it was over, 70,000 people marched through the city as armed soldiers looked on and did nothing…Just one month after that massive demonstration, the wall between East and West here in Berlin came down. The church had sent a powerful message: the East German government no longer controlled its people.
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