Houston’s sister city Leipzig played a significant role in the reunification of Germany. As part of East Germany at the time, the Peaceful Revolution began in the city centered around St. Nicholas Church, bringing about the end of the East German government and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1989, citizens of Leipzig began protesting the rule of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The first protests in January involved 500 people and resulted in 53 arrests. Over the coming months, there would be additional demonstrations and sometimes violent clashes with police, each time the size and scope of the protests growing to 20,000 people by September.
This led to the local combat group commander publicly threatening the demonstrators: “We are ready and willing to protect effectively the work we have created in order to end these counter-revolutionary activities finally and effectively. If necessary with weapons our hands!” When, however, on 9 October 1989 over 70,000 citizens took to the streets holding candles in their hands and shouting “We are the people” and “No violence”, it was the beginning of an historic change with worldwide consequences. The 8,000-strong security forces were opposed not as expected by a few “gang leaders” but by a great part of the population. This made violent dispersal of the demonstration impossible. The Monday demonstrations remained peaceful and set the course for fundamental change in Europe: The Berlin wall fell only one month later.
These remarkable events played out on television sets across the world including Houston. While many who were alive at the time likely remember the incredible photos of people breaking the Berlin Wall with sledgehammers, the peaceful demonstrations in Leipzig almost 100 miles away were the catalyst for the revolution that ended the oppressive rule of the GDR.
Each October 9, the city celebrates these incredible events with the Leipzig Festival of Lights. The event includes prayers at St. Nicholas, speeches and artistic performances commemorating the accomplishments of the Peaceful Revolution. In addition, there are numerous sites throughout the city that tell the story of how the people of Leipzig brought an end to the GDR and the reunification of Germany.
Following Germany’s Reunification, Houston and Leipzig officially established a sister city relationship back in 1993.