Did a prayer meeting really bring down
the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War?
The date 9 November 1989 is etched in history as the day the Berlin Wall came down. But was it actually a prayer meeting held exactly one month earlier that made the fall of the Wall inevitable? Ignoring death threats and huge banks of armed police, thousands gathered at St Nicholas Church in the East German city of Leipzig on 9 October to pray for peace.
The congregation then joined an estimated crowd of 70,000 on a protest march against the country's communist regime.
It was the largest impromptu demonstration ever witnessed in East Germany, but this was no spontaneous flash mob. It was the culmination of years of weekly prayer meetings organised by Christian Führer, the pastor of St Nicholas.
So how did the church end up playing such a prominent political role under an atheist regime?
Disillusioned with the Berlin Wall, the physical fault line of the ongoing Cold War and the repressive East German regime, Pastor Führer began organising Prayers for Peace every Monday evening, beginning in 1982.
On many occasions fewer than a dozen people attended the prayer meetings. The East German government strongly discouraged its citizens from becoming involved in religious activities, but the meetings continued each Monday without fail.
8,000 Gather for Prayer at St Nicholas Church
70,000 demonstrators join them in Leipzig
Largest demo ever against East German regime
Authorities ready to crack down violently
'We were ready for anything except candles and prayer...'
Demo walks through police lines, peacefully.
Honecker gone in a week
Berlin Wall comes down in a month
BBC reporter with demonstrators
In 1985 Pastor Führer put an "open to all' sign outside the church. Such a gesture was loaded with symbolism as the church provided the only space in East Germany where people could talk about things that could not be discussed in public.
Meetings were open to everyone. Young people, Christians and atheists all sought refuge there. Attendances soared as word of the peace prayers spread.
Momentum began to build in earnest during the summer of 1989, as Pastor Führer recalled in an interview with the BBC World Service programme Heart & Soul in 2009.
"On 8 May 1989, the authorities barricaded the streets leading to the church, hoping to put people off, but it had the opposite effect, and our congregation grew. There were beatings and arrests of demonstrators at protest rallies in Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden," he said.
By this time the prayer meetings had led to a series of peaceful political protests in Leipzig and other cities which became known as the Monday Demonstrations.
For years the prayer meetings had largely been ignored by the East German authorities, due to the lack of numbers. As the scale of the gatherings grew, the pastor and his followers were threatened and pressure was put on them to stop the meetings, but they remained resolute......read more>>
the funny stuff
Like every Parish Priest, he leads Sunday worship, he ministers to his flock, he visits the sick...but he also negotiates kidnap ransoms between Sunni and Shia gangsters. He is the Vicar of Baghdad...
Vicar of Baghdad...
the most thankless
job in the world?