Courage – strength in the face of fear, pain or danger.
Courage is admired universally throughout all cultures of the world because of how difficult it is to stand up against the things we fear the most. On my last day in Leipzig, Germany, I was able to understand the amount of courage it took for thousands of brave individuals who marched to bring an end to an era of injustice.
Sunday in Leipzig was the first free day for our TOP 6 tour group- while it was a tremendous educational experience so far, it was definitely great to take a break and truly take in the culture of the country. Leipzig was perfect for this because it was full of amazing historical landmarks and cultural experiences. Unfortunately it was our last full day there as well so we had to make the most of our limited time.
In the morning, we took a walking tour that showcased major landmarks and attractions in the city. One of the most significant buildings in Leipzig is the Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church. Built in 1165 at the same time Leipzig was originally founded, the church was a famous performance space for Johann Sebastian Bach. It was also the home for the Monday demonstrations in 1989 that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1989, Christian Führer was the pastor of St. Nicholas Church and helped to organize peace prayer meetings every Monday night there against the Cold War. Soon citizens from Leipzig gathered to hold nonviolent demonstrations in the Augustusplatz Square to ask for more freedom in the GDR. Protest leaders pleaded with protesters to remain peaceful but resolute, for as their numbers grew, several thousand police were sent to Leipzig with firing orders if the crowds got out of control. On top of the threat of violence, protesters had to march against the very real possibility of prison for their actions as well, as it was illegal to publicly assemble to protest during this time.
But despite these threats, the people of Leipzig continued to assemble every Monday evening. In order to keep them from being shot by the police, candles were handed out to each person by protest leaders as they marched the streets surrounding the church. On top of the unifying and inspiring appearance of all the candles lit at night, they were also perfect to show that each citizen was not holding any weapons because one hand had to hold the candle, while the other protected the flame from being blown out by the wind. What started as a few hundred protesters quickly swelled to thousands, and other cities in East Germany began to mimic the Monday protests themselves. At the height of the protests in Leipzig, around 320,000 people marched through the streets to demand change, risking their lives for their beliefs. After less than two years of protest marches, the Soviet government in East Germany collapsed under rising public pressure and the Berlin Wall fell.
Today a festival of lights is held every year in Leipzig in honor of the courageous demonstrators who marched to secure freedom for their people, no matter the danger they faced. During the festival, the inner ring road they once walked is filled with commemorative performances, events, and artistic projects. And Augustusplatz, once a symbol of pain and suppression, brims full of people and lights to remember the bravery and determination of the people who stood together against a government they did not support.
Another interesting stop along our tour was to the University of Leipzig- this building replaced the University church after it was destroyed in 1968 by the Communists, who wanted to expand the university and eliminate churches throughout the country. Today, the modern building is built to look similar to the original church. If you look closely you can see the front is actually built off center, an homage the the last picture of the church as it was dynamited and the top slid down at an angle before collapsing.
Later on we visited the top of the Panorama Tower that overlooks the city.
Inside there were several restaurants offering a 360 degree view of the city from 40 stories high, and also a tour area to take pictures of the sights. We stayed for a drink, and Tony, our bartender, was incredibly helpful in giving us some great locations to visit once we reached Berlin. I found that everywhere we went, people were incredibly friendly and helpful to us in this way. It was great being able to catch up on our first full week together and take in the breathtaking views. However, we were getting hungry so it was time to move along.
For lunch we went to the main cafe area of town and had Italian. The server spoke to us in Italian, because in Germany everyone is legitimately from the country of origin for their restaurant. No one in our group spoke Italian, but the game quickly was on for who would find a common language. The server was able to switch from German to Italian, to French, to Spanish when Christine finally stepped in and could communicate. It was amazing throughout Germany to see the ability of the people to fluently speak so many languages. I decided there that for my next journey to a foreign country I’d make sure to take the waiter with me for support.
Following lunch we found a place that had decent souvenirs- the earlier cities were not as big on tourism so the selections were much more limited. I chose here also because it was more likely cheaper than Berlin would be as well. *Note to future self- leave more space in your luggage for souvenirs! I might have ended up 10 pounds over at the airport…
Once we finished shopping, we stopped for gelato because we can. *Another note to self – spaghettieis is amazing. What is it you ask? Basically it is gelato pressed into the shape of spaghetti noodles, covered with strawberry topping crushed to look like pasta sauce and finished with white chocolate shavings in lieu of Parmesan cheese. Why I’ve never found this in America is worrisome – clearly this is more proof we need to pay greater attention to the European way of life.
Though we decided to split up for the remainder of the afternoon in order to relax, we got back togteher later for dinner at the Pilot restaurant, a recommendation of our tour guide Nuschi. Pilot was in a different area of town then where we were staying, so it was nice to get out and walk to a new neighborhood before the end of our visit. Inside, the atmosphere was very relaxed but classy, and the food was very good albeit a bit unusual. Though we all felt comfortable ordering without a guide, I had to laugh at Shaw, who ordered something she assumed to be similar to an American Greek salad, but instead was all green beans. Always good to completely know what you are ordering, or you may regret it!
After our walk back to the hotel, we couldn’t resist taking a few last photos of the square out front of our hotel. All along the ground, bricks lit up all over the square at night, so we had some fun over the two evenings trying to capture some great photos. Eric’s photo looked good, but my favorite by far was Christine re-enacting “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson.
Leipzig was one of my favorite stops because it was the first time we got a peak into the bustling streets of a larger city in the country. Though a small city in the big picture of things, Leipzig was full of cultural experiences. From the beauty of Bach’s renditions at the church to the protests that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, their past is important to their identity today. Now, 25 years later, Leipzig still shines as the city of light, its people commemorating their past to remind the world that nothing is more important than our freedom. How brave the citizens were to stand up and march in peaceful protest with the threat of suppression and violence at every turn. Though we were only able to stay for a few short days, this city and its history will be hard to ever forget.