Subject: The Fall of the Iron Curtain
THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL - The Iron Curtain June 8, 2004

Every news report this week makes the connection between Ronald Reagan making the remark " Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall" in June 1987, and the wall coming down in Nov., 1989. The wall came down alright, but did Gorbachev heed Reagan's admonition, or were other events in play.

In the early 80's the "peace decades" began in Europe, and youth began to gather in churches,(including St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig) for 10 days each November to pray for peace. There were also huge demonstrations all over Germany to protest the arms race, but the arms race continued. In the late 80's, the young people of Leipzig decided to hold peace prayer services every Monday evening, week after week. They sought to stir the public's conscience and encourage them to take action. The meetings were not always peaceful. Both Christians and non-Christians had different ways of protesting the lack of freedom.

The crowds grew. Many of those who were applying to emigrate were arrested and mistreated. In Sept. 1989, over two years after Reagan's demand, the meetings became more rowdy, with some shouting they wanted to leave and others saying they wanted to stay. The meetings began to take place every night. The leaders in the church sought to teach the young people, including prophecy from the Old Testament and the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount .

Meantime, In May 1989, people trapped behind the iron curtain came to the area around the Danube River in Hungary and began to slip through the fences into Austria. For the first time, nobody shot at them or tried to stop them. When a few of them were free, then more and more came and crossed through the iron curtain at that place. Our guide on a previous trip showed us the place where they crawled through the fence to freedom, not knowing if they would be shot or arrested and sent back.

>From May 8 , 1989 the police began to block the driveways to the St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, conducting large scale c hecks and closures of the roads around the church during the " prayers for peace " period. Monday after Monday there were arrests or detentions. But the number of people flocking to the church continued to grow until the 2,000 seats were no longer enough. Members of the Stasi were secretely on hand regularly at the peace prayers. What the officials had not thought of was that now these "enemies" were exposed to the gospel and it's impact. They heard the Beatitudes from the Sermon from the Mount every Monday !

"In this way the Stasi heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, which they didn't know, in a church they could not do anything with."

There was a hideous show of force by soldiers, militia, police and plain clothes officers. On October 7 the 40th anniversary of East Germany (GDR,) Gorbachev came to East Berlin to meet Erich Honecker, as the guest of honor at the celebration. Demonstrations were brutally stamped out, and for 10 hours, police battered defenseless people who made no attempt to fight back, and took them away in trucks. Hundreds were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. Even the newspaper had called for the revolutionists to be put down by the armed forces.

One thousand arrests were made and during the ceremony the people pleaded "Gorbi, help us!" Gorbachev then announced that "whoever comes too late is punished by life." (whatever that may mean.) He said this for the benefit of the SED leaders, who then ousted Honecker, etc.

On October 9, 1989 as people once again gathered in the St. Nicholas Church, the police sent 1,000 SED party members in addition to the Stasi who were already secretly attending, to create havoc in the prayer meeting. But a spirit of peace suddenly reigned throughout and spread from the hundreds who gathered in the churches to the thousands who flocked together in the city squares and streets.

Unbelievable calm came over the meeting on October 9; it closed with the bishop's blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. More than 2,000 people leaving the church were welcomed by tens of thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands - an unforgettable moment. There were thousands in the churches and hundreds of thousands in the streets around the city centre, yet not a single shop window was shattered. This was the incredible experience of the power of non-violence

Military troops and the police and the Stasi already attending, were there to put a stop to the demonstrations, but they became engaged in conversations with the people, then withdrew. Horst Sindermann, who was a member of the GDR, said of that night, "We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers."

The non-violent prayer for peace movement had only lasted a few weeks, but it caused the party and dictatorship to collapse. "He dethrones the mighty ones and enthrones the week ones." "You will succeed, not by military power or by your own strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord."

And so the hated Iron Curtain erected in 1961, fell by the will of the people and on November 9, 1989, the borders between the two Germanies were officially opened. Four days later the party leaders resigned en bloc, but they tried to avoid the collapse of East Germany by satisfying the demonstrators' main demand - the right to move around freely. Gunter Schabowski, head of the Berlin SED, announced that they had just decided to allow East Germans to travel freely into West Germany - immediately.

Did Gorbachev "tear down the wall?" It would seem that he actually did not, but when it was breached in Hungary in May, 1989, and when the SED announced freedom to the residents of east Berlin on November 9, 1989, he did not retaliate. Perhaps the seed Reagan had planted over two years before accomplished its purpose. Senator John McKain stated this week that the people trapped behind the wall had found in Ronald Reagan's words the courage to resist their oppressors.

I found these facts in some of the information on the internet before we traveled to Germany and Austria in 2001. The information about the prayer meetings in Leipzig came from our guide, and from a flyer from St. Nicholas' church in Leipzig. I have condensed it a great deal.

Rosemary Perkins