Wednesday was October 9th, the main day of the Peaceful Revolution. And this year’s commemoration of the Lichtfest was especially meaningful because it was the 30th anniversary of one of the most important events in German history.
The day was hectic, to say the least.
By noon, all of Leipzig had heard of the fatal shootings in the neighboring city of Halle. The media reported that at least one suspect was heading to Leipzig.
Leipzig Police redoubled their efforts and were patrolling the city center with heavy arms the whole afternoon and evening during Lichtfest. Because of the events of the afternoon, the spread of misinformation or panic on social media, and the unfortunate rain that evening, many people did not attend the beautiful ceremony that took place in Augustusplatz.
Before the enduring crowd set off to walk around holding their candles, Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung gave a touching speech about the past and future of the city, and expressed his sentiments for Halle by asking for a minute of silence for the two victims of the attack. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was also present at the Lichtfest and shared some words.
Michael Kretschmer, the Minister-President of Saxony, gave a rather enthusiastic speech. He talked about the people who went to the streets 30 years ago to do something that no one asked them to do. “And because of them, we have peace today!” He finished his speech saying, “Nichts muss bleiben wie es ist!”
Nothing has to stay the way it is!
We are lucky to live in a city with this incredible history and soul. And I’ll tell you why.
Inspired by the deeply emotional commemorations on Wednesday – and a related Free Walking Tour with Matej Eber, Juan Ezequiel Veliz and Svetlana Terassova – I prepared this list with some key places to visit around Leipzig City Center, to know a little more about the history of the GDR and the events that led to October 9th, 1989.
1. Runde Ecke-Stasi Museum
The building was raised in 1911, and was used for 40 years as the headquarters of the Bezirksverwaltung für Staatssicherheit (District Administration for State Security), also known as the Stasi. There, they performed various forms of espionage against the population.
2. June 17th, 1953 (Salzgäßchen)
On June 17th, 1953, there were uprisings in more than 700 locations in East Germany. About one million people protested for better working conditions. Soviet tanks were used to crush some of the uprisings (including the one in Leipzig). As a result, many people died or went to prison.
As a memory of the event, there are tank tire marks on the ground at Salzgäßchen.
3. Century Step
This is one of the most shocking and funny-looking statues in Leipzig. You have probably seen it before. Artistically speaking, I cannot tell you what it means, since everyone has a different interpretation of it. But the name is “Jahrhundertschritt” or “Century Step.” Have a closer look for yourself.
What do the salute on one hand, and fist plus a red band on the other, remind you of? How do you think it might be related to the Peaceful Revolution?
4. Pauline Church
The Paulinerkirche was built in 1231. It was a symbol of pride for the population of Leipzig. The GDR government demolished this church in 1968 because, in the words of walking tour guide Juan Veliz, “Religion and communism don’t walk hand in hand.”
The University of Karl Marx was built in its place. The site was only recently reformed, in 2012.
5. Untimely Contemporaries
“Unzeitgemäße Zeitgenossen”, or “Untimely Contemporaries,” is the name of the other funny statue that you can find in the city center. The statue is complex and ironic. We see three men and two women, all naked. Each of them represents one section of the government. They are standing on what seems to be the handle of a detonator. This sculpture stands right where the detonator that destroyed the Pauline Church was. Coincidence?
6. St. Nicholas Church
The Nikolaikirche (and the court around it) was one of the most important stages during the Peaceful Revolution. People assembled there, and walked together from there to Augustusplatz. The column we see there was added in 1999 as a remembrance sculpture for the 10th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution.
7. Golden Egg
Much like the column at Nikolaikirche, the Golden Egg, found in one of the corners of Augustusplatz, was put in as a memorial for the 20th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution in 2009. The egg makes a sound every Monday at 6:35 am, and also randomly. You can go check for yourself!
8. Peaceful Revolution mural
This is one of the most imposing street art pieces in Leipzig. It was painted by Michael Fischer-Art, also for the 20th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution. You’ve probably seen it, and you’ve probably even taken pictures of it. The mural details the revolution in Leipzig, the flight from Prague to West Germany, and free people in West Berlin.
They are building a hotel that is going to cover the mural up. Such a shame!
If you want to know more about this fascinating time in history and why Leipzig celebrates Lichtfest, visit the local history museums, places mentioned in the article, and stops in the city’s official Peaceful Revolution trail. And don’t forget to take the Free Walking Tour Leipzig to learn more!
More on the Peaceful Revolution and Reunification
- Crossing over from BRD to GDR
- Life back then: Former GDR residents tell their story
- The Peaceful Revolution through a historian’s eyes
- The Peaceful Revolution through a politician’s eyes
- Peaceful Revolution: some key facts and dates
- Walking through the Peaceful Revolution
- Time and the old lady: Leipzig in 1999