In fall 1989 millions of television viewers throughout the world watched night after night, transfixed, as the people took to the streets in East Germany. In early September only a handful of demonstrators marched in Leipzig following the traditional Monday night peace prayers. But Monday after Monday the number of demonstrators grew–hundreds, then thousands, later tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Peaceful demonstrators taking part in candlelight vigils, carrying banners demanding free elections, free assembly, free speech. Proclaiming “We are the people!” and demanding non-violent change.
The demonstrations quickly spread throughout East Germany—to Dresden, Karl-Marx-Stadt, Berlin, Plauen, Erfurt, Jena, Weimar, Wittenberg—and by the end of October to more than 160 East German cities and towns. These popular uprisings climaxed with massive demonstrations on November 4 in Berlin involving one million participants and on November 6 in Leipzig, a city of 500,000 people, with 500,000 demonstrators. On November 9, 1989, just two months after the autumn demonstrations began in Leipzig, the Berlin Wall fell, and East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany. The world had changed.
English-speakers in the West have seldom heard the story of these East German activists. Because the government controlled the press, media coverage of the 1989 demonstrations was limited, and Leipzig was located several hours by car or train from Berlin where most international media coverage originated. Moreover, since calls for German reunification began shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, the emphasis quickly shifted away from the demonstrations.
But their nonviolent demonstrations had prevailed. Erich Mielke, head of the infamous East German security police, the Stasi, later commented, “We were prepared for everything except for candles and prayers.”
Appearing in autumn 2014, 25 years after the East German and East European revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the book provides important insights on non-violent resistance and about how democratic revolutions spread throughout the region and the Cold War ended.