This week, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated across Germany and beyond. Construction of the Berlin Wall, which cut the city in two, began August 1961 to stop the fleeing of nearly 1000 people a day from Communist-controlled East Germany to the democracy of West Germany.
Earlier this year, while on sabbatical, my wife Linda and I spent nearly three weeks in Germany. One week of our travels was based in Berlin. One of those days we toured the area of the former wall. It was quite moving to visit. A city divided for 28 years. A wall 96 miles in length. Only 13 feet tall. 136 died at the wall. Sobering. Impactful.
I wrote in my journal at the end of our visit to the wall on May 30, 2014, “A reminder once again of evil men and their capacity to inflict suffering on others. Horrible suffering of the people. Lavish living by the leaders. Powerful to see how a small wall could lead to such a huge barrier for so long.”
I found it interesting this week to read and hear conversations about President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech near the wall just shortly before his death in 1963. Other’s wrote about the famous speech of President Ronald Regan 24 years later at the Brandenberg Gate as he thundered, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Some have spoken about concerts on the west side of the wall but overheard on the east side by rock and roll greats such as David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. Still others have pointed to the roles of world leaders like Pope John Paul II and Margret Thatcher. All likely had at least a small influence.
However, during our visit to the former Berlin Wall, I found it most intriguing to learn of a Monday night prayer meeting at St. Nicholas Church in the East German city of Leipzig. This weekly Prayer for Peace started in 1982, a full seven years before the wall crumbled. A recent BBC article outlines all the details (see “Did a prayer meeting really bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War?”). Pastor Christian Fuhrer opened the doors of his church to all people—Christians, atheists, young, old, anyone. A month before the fall of the wall, the momentum built to 8,000 gathering at St. Nicholas for prayer. Other churches in Leipzig held the overflow until an estimated 70,000 people amassed for prayer followed by a peaceful march through the city. This groundswell of non-violent ordinary East Germans astounded the heavily armed and helmeted riot police. They didn’t engage. Later the East German officials admitted “we were ready for anything, except candles and prayer.”
Commonplace, typical, East Germans motivated by prayer and peace with a desire for freedom, were the tipping point–spilling energy into the people of Dresden and Berlin over the next weeks. Peaceful demonstrations grew to 120,000, 300,000 and more until November 9, 1989 when an estimated one million Germans flooded the streets and start chipping away at the wall—the world watching on live television.
Peaceful people praying. They make a difference. They really do. Just maybe, more of a difference than all the most powerful politicians in the world. That thought, makes me want to practice the three thousand year-old words spoken by God himself, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).