Tens of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets of Leipzig to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a demonstration that set the ball rolling for the fall of the Berlin Wall a month later.
Nightfall saw them descend on Augustusplatz, which in 1989 was called Karl-Marx-Platz, accompanied by the presidents of several former communist east European countries.
While Germany’s overall anniversary commemorations are fairly low-key, this was a moment for a proud defence of democracy.
“You just have to believe what can spring from the people, and it is so wonderful to be together here with you to witness the growth of this democratic community. I just want to celebrate!”, Germany’s President Joachim Gauck, himself once a human rights activist in the former east, told a special dinner.
Among the guests were the former US secretaries of state James Baker and the German-born Henry Kissinger – as well as Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the country’s own ex-foreign minister and vice chancellor.
The peaceful protest in Leipzig on October 9, 1989, is seen as a turning point of the former GDR’s fate.
As some 70,000 people marched, some chanting “no violence” and “we are the people”, to the surprise of many neither the secret police the Stasi nor the army intervened.
A month later to the day and the pressure on the East German authorities became too much. The border with the West opened and people were free to travel – the beginning of the end for the GDR regime.
But according to Germany’s president, without the events of October 9 in Leipzig there would have been no fall of the wall in Berlin.