This Saturday we ventured to Leipzig, a larger city of about 500,000. We left early in the morning following Frühstuck (breakfast) at the Colleg. Leipzig is the biggest city in Saxony-Anhalt (our state in Germany) and is only about an hour away from Lutherstadt Wittenberg by train. Leipzig has an interesting history, and actually became a prominent city in Germany because it was a center for trade fairs. Many of the buildings in the city center (the Innenstadt) were built to house merchants and their wares and surround central market squares. Anchoring the Innenstadt are the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) and the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). Both are what you would expect of European cathedrals—towering, ornate, and centrally located.
back of Nikolaikirche (doesn't do it justice, having trouble with my zoom)
The Nikolaikirche is particularly central, both within the Innenstadt and in Leipzig’s history during DDR times. During this era any religious affiliations were discouraged, as the socialist party saw religious loyalty as a threat. If a student was known to have been confirmed or was attending regular services they could be kept out of University and were forbidden from any government position. The Minister of State at this time actually created an entire governmental branch devoted to State Security (which really meant socialist party security), tapping phone lines, intercepting personal mail, planting spies within citizens’ families, essentially doing whatever necessary to ensure that the people of East Germany never had enough individual freedom to threaten the authority of the socialist party. The office of State Security was headquartered in Leipzig, in what is now the “Runde Ecke Museum” (round corner museum), a museum chronicling the history of the State Security, or Stadtssicherheit, Stasi for short.
While some citizens were largely unaffected by the infiltrations of the Stasi, others attempted to flee the country. Still others remained in East Germany, and in Leipzig, peacefully speaking out against the government. This is where Nikolaikirche comes back in. Large Monday devotions were, and are, common in Germany, and often attracted those protesting the government, as churches were the only places safe from state occupation. Beginning in September 1989 East Germans joined together in what are now called “The Monday Demonstrations,” standing against invasions of privacy and abuses of freedom. Soon the Church (which seats 1700) was not large enough for the crowds, and demonstrations spilled out into the Nikolaiplatz, the plaza outside the church. On October 9, 1989 the crowd grew to 70,000. Citizens carried candles and chanted “Wir sind das Volk,” meaning, “we are the people.” The Stasi actually occupied the square at this time, and worries that it would result in public massacre thankfully did not materialize. These demonstrations eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the forfeiture of the Minister of State’s power; these demonstrations are now known as the “peaceful revolution.”
Being in Leipzig today it is hard to imagine this past. Only twenty-two years later Leipzig is a thriving trade town, and the Innenstadt is a metropolitan force, attracting students, families, tourists, and citizens of Leipzig to a plethora of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, and yes, clubs. We spent the entire day roaming the city center, shopping and eating, and later eating and dancing. The Nikolaiplatz was perhaps my favorite part of the Innenstadt, and certainly my motivation for rambling so far into historical background in this post. In the plaza is one free-standing pillar, an exact replica of one inside the church, representing how the people brought the church outside of the church during the demonstrations. There are also small lights replacing cobblestones throughout the plaza, lighting up at night to commemorate the candles of those that took part in the peaceful revolution outside Nikolaikirche. I have a few pictures of the plaza, but they hardly do it justice.
The people of Leipzig were friendly and fun, and excited to share their history. Following are a few pictures I was able to snap on our whirlwind tour.
sunlight shining on the back of the Nikolaikirche...
...and on the pillar in the plaza
a better view of the Nikolaiplatz
walking the Innenstadt
inside just one of the many old trade buildings
the oldest coffee house in the world (the coffee was delicious of course)