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Leipzig Nikolaikirche — St. Nicholas Church

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The Leipzig Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) is one of Germany's most important architectural monuments.

It is, besides the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), the most well-known church of Leipzig.

It was the starting point of the peaceful revolution of the GDR in 1989 with following fall of the Wall in Berlin Germany and the German reunification on October 3, 1990.

The Leipzig Nikolaikirche (Saint Nicholas city- and parish church) was founded in about 1165. It was dedicated to Nicholas, the medieval patron saint of merchants and wholesalers. Even today it is still situated amongst office buildings in the city centre with its doors open to visitors from all over the world.

The Leipzig Nikolaikirche was originally built in the Romanesque architectural style what is proved by the western façade. In the early 16th century, the building was extended and formed a Gothic hall church, and has retained this shape up to the present. The three steeples received their Baroque decoration in 1731. Sandstone extensions altered the outside appearance of the church once again in 1902.

Leipzig Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) end of 18th century
Nikolaikirche

The interior of Leipzig Nikolaikirche is even more fascinating. It was reconstructed between 1784 and 1797 in a classical (classicistic) style according to French examples by the architect J. C.F. Dauthe. The reconstruction was thought to demonstrate to the world self-confidence and high cultural standards of the citizens.

Johann Sebastian Bach's activity and creativity as master and organist of the choir in the years 1723 through 1750 were a highlight in the history of the Leipzig Nikolaikirche. Distinguished compositions by Bach were released for the first time at St. Nicholas. The organ was built by F. Ladegast of Weißenfels in 1858-1862. It is an important example of the "Romantic” school of organ-building and has been modernized with electric-pneumatic equipment in the 20th century.

Unforgettable events in fall 1989

"Leipzig Nikolaikirche - open to all" became reality in autumn 1989. After all, it united people from the whole former GDR: those who wanted to leave the country and those who were curious, regime critics and Stasi (State Security Police of GDR) personnel, church staff and SED (sole admitted party of GDR) members, Christians and Non-Christians beneath the outspread arms of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. In view of the political reality between 1949 and 1989, this defies all imagination. It became reality. Exactly 450 years after the introduction of the Reformation in Leipzig, 176 years after the Battle of Nations in Leipzig. Now it was Leipzig once more.

From May 8th, 1989, the driveways to the Leipzig Nikolaikirche were blocked by the police. Later the driveways and motorway exits were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during the prayers-for-peace period. The state authorities exerted greater pressure on us to cancel the peace prayers or at least to transfer them to the city limits. Monday after monday there were arrests or "temporary detentions" in connection with the peace prayers. Even so, the number of visitors flocking to the church continued to grow to a point where the 2,000 seats were no longer sufficient. Then came the all-deciding October 9th, 1989. And what a day it was!

There was a hideous show of force by soldiers, industrial militia, police and plain-clothes officers. But the opening scene had taken place two days before on October 7th, the 40th anniversary of the GDR, which entered into GDR history as Remembrance Day. On this day, for 10 long hours, uniformed police battered defencceless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds of them were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. In due course, an article was published in the press saying that it was high time to put an end to what they called "counter-revolution, if necessary by armed forces."

October 9th, 1989...

Moreover, some 1,000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the St. Nicholas Church. 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 p.m. They had a job to perform like the numerous Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly at the peace prayers. What has not been considered was the fact, that these people were exposed to the word, the gospel and its impact! I always appreciated that the Stasi members heard the Beatitudes from the Sermon from the Mount every Monday. Where else would they hear these?

Leipzig Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) Nowadays [Photo: Dirk Goldhahn]
Nikolaikirche Nowadays

Thus, these people and Stasi members heard Jesus Christ's gospel which they didn't know, in a church they could not do anything with. They heard from Jesus words like,"Blessed are the poor!" And not: Wealthy people are happy. Or, "Love your enemies!" And not: Down with your opponent.

Thus, the prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration. Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who supported the call for non-violence, were read out. The solidarity between church and art, music and the gospel was of importance in the threatening situation of those days.

The prayers for peace ended with the bishop's blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. More than 2,000 people leaving the church were welcomed by ten thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands. This was an unforgettable moment. Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you can not carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred.

Jesus' spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power.

Troops, military brigade groups and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. A parish said, "It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no winners and no defeated, nobody triumphed over the other, nobody lost his face. There was just a tremendous feeling of relief."

This non-violent movement only lasted a few weeks. But it caused the party and ideological dictatorship to collapse.

A parish further, "He dethrones the mighty ones and enthrones the weak ones." - "You will succeed, not by military power or by your own strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord."

There were thousands in the Leipzig Nikolaikirche. Hundreds of thousands in the streets around the city centre. But: Not a single shattered shop window. This was the incredible experience of the power of non-violence.

Horst Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said before his death: "We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers."

The St. Nicholas Church remains what it was: A house of Jesus, a house of hope, a place and a source for a new beginning.


Most words on this page I took from the official website of the Leipzig Nikolaikirche.

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