1989 – The fall of the Berlin Wall

By 1988 the German Democratic Republic had been under Soviet rule for more than 40 years – 30 of which had been lived in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Free speech and dissent were outlawed and many were separated from family in West Germany. A wave of peaceful protests changed all of this – not only bringing down the wall but also securing democratic elections and forming part of a wave of protests that brought down Soviet dictatorship.

Germany’s protests were part of a wave of peaceful revolutions that started with strikes in Poland and spread across the whole of Eastern Europe – and even inspired change as far away as Mongolia. The campaigns were all based on peaceful civil resistance.

In Germany in May 1989, during the annual municipal elections, activists distributed pamphlets urging citizens to ‘vote no’, or to spoil their ballot card. Thousands did, and when party officials announced that 98.5% of the population had voted for their ‘Socialist’ representatives, it was clear the election had been rigged.

Four months later, after a weekly prayer for peace at the church in Leipzig, people began holding anti-government rallies and protests. Strengthened by the Lutheran Church’s support of their resistance, demonstrations began to accompany the weekly prayers. Groups around the country followed suit. The Initiative for Peace and Human rights joined with New Forum, Democracy Now and Democratic Awakening, among others. Together, they published a pamphlet outlining their vision for a unified German democracy.

On November 4, over a million people gathered in East Berlin, chanting, singing and waving banners, to call for the end to the Socialist Regime. On November 9, the East German government announced the opening of the border prompting a surge of its citizens to cross into West Berlin. In the following days, citizens of both sides took sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall, and it was removed over the following months.

In December, citizens peacefully occupied government buildings, officially reclaiming democratic governance of their society. In December of 1989, the leader of the Socialist Unity Party, Egon Krenz, resigned, and the party disintegrated. In March 1990, the first multi-party, democratic elections were held, and in October Germany was reunified.  In December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.