30 years ago today, the “Wende”, the peaceful revolution in East Germany, truly started. After the brutal crack down of police on protesters and bystanders alike in Magdeburg two days earlier, everyone knew that something would happen. October 9 was a Monday, and hence I was at school (EOS Humbodt) in the morning hours. Directors and staff leaders in pretty much every institution and company approached their staff or students or even children at kindergarten, threatening that if they went out into the streets tonight their (or their parents’!) safety could not be guaranteed.
The director of my school, J.W., months later turned out to be a high-ranking secret service agent, which explained why he out of all English teachers I knew was the only one who’d ever been in England. On what mission I do not know … He entered classroom after classroom to tell every student to stay home at night, or else? I am still proud that he made sure to address me and one other classmate by name: you too! Yup, I’d made name for myself 😉
In the late afternoon I was on my scooter/moped, and on my way to Magdeburg cathedral where protestors would meet in the evening I scanned the area for signs of police, and they were on stand-by all over the place, although in some distance to the cathedral. There were trucks and armoured personnel carriers of the military; the stadium was brightly lit so that people could be incarcerated in their thousands if necessary, and so on. All in all, police reports state that the security forces deployed in the area around the cathedral and some strategic places numbered around 6,000 – some of them police, some military, some paramilitary and secret service.
We know now that the pastor and his team had arranged some guarantee of safety with the powers that be for everyone who’d come to their Monday evening (protest) prayers. Some 4,000 people did come, which was a huge increase from previous weeks, and yet another sign that things were getting serious. True, not quite like in Leipzig, where some 70,000 (150,000?) took to the streets that evening, but then again – Leipzig was Leipzig, the heart of it all, and also with all the media attention.
With the police brutality two days earlier still quite present in our memory, we feared the worst. After all, the vice-leader of the state Egon Krenz had voiced his approval of what the Chinese had done in Tiananmen Square in March, and with all the Soviet troops in the country anything was possible. In hindsight I know that our fears were justified. At least high-ranking police and army officials were prepared to crack down on the protests violently (the responsible officer in Magdeburg was quite explicit in his will to do anything – “immer druff!” – let’em have it), and things could turn bloody. If it were not for Russian hesitation or even signals not to go violent, this could have turned into a bloodbath. It didn’t, never did. A few weeks later, the government stepped down, and it looked as though we’d be able to reform our country. But then the slogan that dominated early protests, “we are the people”, turned into “we are one people”, and the late-comers to the demonstrations increasingly blamed foreigners for all kinds of problems and wanted a big Germany. Since West Germany always ignored our East German citizenship, or in fact the existence of the G.D.R. as a political entity, they thereby made the feared political brain-drain of qualified East Germans and the further economic decline of East Germany possible in the first place. Thus what started as an attempt at a revolution of those that had stayed became an opportunistic political assimilation to the other German state, the one with more money and better advertising – of things, and of more things, and also blooming landscapes. We got all of this, notably and more and more blooming landscapes and empty villages. And then?
No actual pics, though the secret service must have loads – we could see their cameras. Here’s from a police protocoll (in German)