Vanquished by the Courage of its Own Citizens - the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR
Enlarge image Steinmeier at the opening of the exhibition in Berlin. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Peace, democracy and a culture of freedom - Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to these three roots underlying the peaceful revolution of 1989/90 in a speech at the launch of an open-air exhibition at Berlin Alexanderplatz. He also commended the many citizens of East Germany whose courage brought the Wall tumbling down.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Governing Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit, Culture Commissioner Bernd Neumann and singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann jointly opened the exhibition "Peaceful Revolution 1989/90" put together by the Robert Havemann Gesellschaft.
The German-English exhibition is made up of five "walls", each measuring 40 meters in length, radiating out from an information pavilion. It will be open around the clock until November 14, 2009.
Some 700 photographs and documents reveal the origins of the political upheaval in the GDR, and provide information about those involved and their goals. Copies of the original banners from demonstrations 20 years ago span the aisles and provide the open air exhibition with a visual ceiling.
Democracy requires constant vigilance
"Democracy lives from the participation of the people. It must be defended and buttressed anew every day", Steinmeier said. In his view, the exhibition is a reminder that we must constantly stand up for freedom and justice, even today. The "successful democracy" enjoyed by the Federal Republic of Germany, a phrase coined by historian Edgar Wolfrum, did not, in the Minister's words, "fall into our lap, nor is it guaranteed to endure in perpetuity."
A venue rich in history
Twenty years ago, on May 7, 1989, local elections were held in the GDR. Steinmeier described the occasion as follows: "The state rigged the elections - as usual. The elections were covered by state-controlled media - as usual. The only goal was to retain power for the SED (the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) and its Common Front of Anti-Fascist Parties - as usual."
Enlarge image Thousands of revelers clambered up the Berlin Wall to celebrate its demise in November 1989. (© picture-alliance/dpa) But this time, in three East Berlin districts and at many other locations across the country, people insisted on their right to a public count of the votes. Opposition groups proved that the results were fraudulent.
Thereafter, thousands of people gathered at Alexanderplatz on the 7th day of every month from June 1989, to remind the populace that the elections had been rigged and to stand up for their rights. And on November 4, 1989, only five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz was the site of the largest unofficial demonstration in the history of the GDR.
Social change on both sides of the Wall
Steinmeier remembered that 1989 saw a surge in civic engagement in both parts of Germany. People campaigned for peace and disarmament, took to the streets on environmental issues, and were openly critical of state authority and rules, especially in the East.
Steinmeier particularly underscored the key role played by the active cultural community in bringing change to the GDR: "Many of us from the West do not know how important the theatre, literary scene and cinema were for the peaceful revolution of 1989. Political cabaret, too!"