Christian Führer: His part in the the Wall's fall

Pastor Christian Fuehrer

This aptly named East German pastor led weekly prayer sessions that grew into huge demonstrations that helped bring down the Berlin Wall, writes The Telegraph.

Christian Führer, East German Pastor

March 5 1943 -  June 30 2014

Christian Führer, who has died aged 71, was pastor of the St Nicholas Church in Leipzig which, in 1989, became the focus of the demonstrations that brought down the Communist regime in East Germany (GDR).

Führer became the pastor at the city’s 16th-century Lutheran church in 1980 at the height of the Cold War. In the GDR, although atheism was the official ideology, churches were spied upon but allowed to stay open, providing a modicum of 'free space' where people could discuss things they could not discuss in public.

In 1982, Führer began holding weekly prayers for peace on Monday evenings, which were tolerated by the authorities because, at a time of intense controversy in western Europe over the deployment of US Pershing missiles, it was thought to be helpful for church-based peace groups to make connections with their counterparts in the west. Few came at first, but attendance grew as the Soviet Union began the process of reform under Mikhail Gorbachev.

In February 1988, however, Führer invited 50 people who were part of a movement that advocated the right to leave East Germany to a discussion at the church. In the event about 600 turned up and many began attending his regular prayer sessions. Over the following year the prayers and the open-air vigils that followed attracted more and more people.

In May 1989, police attempted to cut off the church by barricading the surrounding streets, an effort which backfired when even more people turned up. As word spread, people in other East German cities began repeating the Leipzig demonstrations.

On October 7, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, St Nicholas was closed, but some 4,000 people gathered outside and tried to march on the city’s ring road. The demonstration was broken up violently by police.

In preparation for the weekly vigil scheduled to take place two days later, police warned that protests would be put down' with whatever means necessary.' In anticipation of violence, paratroopers were flown in and hospitals cleared for an expected influx of patients, specifically ones with gunshot wounds.

On the evening of October 9, what began as a few hundred gatherers at the church swelled to more than 70,000 in the streets outside. At the urging of Führer and other speakers, however, the protest remained nonviolent and the crowd, clutching candles and flowers, marched through the city in a peaceful demonstration, chanting the slogan Wir sind das Volk! ('We are the people!') as armed soldiers looked on.

'We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer,' an East German official was quoted as saying.

The following week, 120,000 people turned up for the vigil and the week after that, 320,000. On November 9, the Berlin Wall tumbled down.

Read full obituary: Christian Führer - obituary (The Telegraph, London)

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