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April 2019
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Peace and Security

Dresden Forum On the Fall of the Berlin Wall 20 Years Earlier

Dresden, Germany - “The East Germans courageously took to the streets and fought for their freedom.” With that statement, Dr. Dieter Schmidt of UPF-Germany summed up the situation 20 years earlier. The setting was a UPF conference in Dresden, a city in eastern Germany where people vividly recall the events of October and November 1989 that led to peaceful reunification of their country.

In his welcoming address to participants at a Nov. 6-8, 2009, conference about reunification, Dr. Schmidt described an era that has been deeply touched by fate. Citizens were demonstrating in the tens of thousands, peacefully but with great determination, for freedom and human rights. Few of them would have dreamed that within two decades a woman from East Germany, Angela Merkel, would be elected chancellor of a reunited country.

Eyewitnesses of peaceful change

Rev. Erich Busse was a pastor in East Berlin at the time of the “Wende,” or turning point, as the events of 1989 are known in Germany. As one of the founders of the ‘New Forum,’ he made his church available for public meetings, resulting in congregations larger than ever before ... or since! While in the past churches had failed to oppose exploitation, oppression, racial discrimination, and anti-Semitism, they were key agents in this time of change. Seeds that had been sown long before 1989 blossomed, and many Protestant churches and pastors played decisive roles in their uncompromising commitment to non-violence and courageous opposition to the state security police. Catholic churches, which had initially issued only statements of support, eventually also opened their doors to the crowds.

Dr. Frank Richter, then a Catholic priest, was a member of the ‘Group of 20’ in Dresden who were selected by the demonstrators to present their demands to the then mayor Wolfgang Berghofer for easing the restrictions on life under Communist rule. He described protests that began with daily candle-light prayers in the ruins of the Frauenkirche, the city’s landmark cathedral that had been destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II. One official had said, “We were ready for anything,” Richter recalled, “except candles and prayer.” On October 7, political leaders in the City Hall were celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of the East German republic while citizens were marching in the streets and proclaiming, “We are the people!" The following day, representatives of the people were able to meet with the mayor and secure his cooperation in matters that were under his jurisdiction. Fortunately, there was no violent confrontation, and the crowd dispersed.

A mathematician at Humboldt University in Berlin, Dr. Jörg Wolf was in his hometown of Plauen, where 80,000 citizens were assembling day after day at the Theatreplatz. The churches there were also calling for non-violence. Demands for greater freedom were made, at first quietly and individually but then more and more vociferously and in unison. Suddenly the crowds started moving towards the city hall, where they were confronted by police and soldiers, who were armed not only with water canons but also with machine guns. This sight strengthened the determination of the crowd, which demanded to speak to the mayor. Demonstrators placed lit candles in front of the policemen and soldiers and sought to dialogue with them by stating, “You are citizens just like us!” Despite all the emotion, incredible discipline was maintained and no violence erupted. As in Dresden, representatives eventually met with the mayor, who agreed to their demands.

Prof. Dr. Konrad Löw, then a professor of political studies at Bayreuth University in West Germany, said that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Constitutional Court had remained convinced that the two divided states belonged to one Germany. However, in 1989 the political parties on both sides were unprepared for the sudden dismantling of the wall.

Claus Dubisz recalled his youthful conviction that reunification was possible. He was among the demonstrators of the CARP student movement that quoted US President Reagan’s words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Berlin Wall symbolized the entire border between Eastern and Western Europe. On November 9, 1989, a statement was issued that citizens of East Germany could travel without hindrance to the West. Citizens joyfully dismantled the Wall.

Dubisz reported UPF founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon’s admiration that the reunification of Germany was peaceful. Like the Germans, Dr. Moon and many of his countrymen deeply long for a peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula, noting the key contributions made by religious leaders and civil society in Germany.

Other conference speakers discussed the need for unifying common values as the nation moves forward. Insights were offered from various perspectives. Dr. Martin Bauschke, a theologian and scholar of comparative religions, described theologian Hans Küng’s Global Ethic project based on the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Pastor Lolowengo Botembe, founder of the Ecumenical African church in Berlin, reminded the audience of the key contributions of immigrants to German economic growth. Hildegard Piepenburg, a committee member of the Family Federation, described the classical family structure of father, mother, and child as essential for social stability and deserving of protection.

The evening entertainment was rounded off by the fireworks display that illuminated Dresden and cities throughout Germany celebrating the drama of the country’s reunification.

Note:

Some churches and religious leaders played important roles in the process of peaceful change not only in Berlin, Dresden, and Plauen but throughout East Germany. Churches became meeting places where prayer walks and peaceful demonstrations were organized. Demonstrators would march to the City Hall, where pastors and other courageous civil leaders would approach the policemen, talk softly with them, and insist on meeting the mayor to present the demands of the people to him. There were discussions among police and army officials about how to deal with the ongoing demonstrations. Hardliners stated that only a display of strength could bring the situation under control, while others pointed out that the protestors were not aggressive or violent. Advocates for nonviolence won out, and the nation’s division ended without bloodshed. The West Germans knew that reconstruction and reintegration would be expensive, and they were willing to make the sacrifices. Initially, thousands of East Germans migrated to the West. Now, economic growth in the West is stagnant, and better job opportunities are sometimes found in the East.

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