The Words of the Piepenburg Family
Dresden, Germany -- “It was the East Germans who courageously took to the streets and fought for their freedom. The West Germans did not demonstrate against the wall and for re-unification.“ With that statement, Dr. Dieter Schmidt of UPF-Germany summed up the situation before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The setting was a UPF conference in Dresden, a city in eastern Germany where people vividly recall the events of 20 years ago that led to peaceful reunification of their country.
In his welcoming address to an audience of about 80 participants in a conference entitled “20 Years after the Fall of the Wall: A Review of the Reunification of Germany,” held November 6 to 8, he recalled that the months of October and November 1989 were deeply touched by fate. The 'republic weary' citizens of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany) were demonstrating in the tens of thousands, peacefully but with great determination, for freedom and human rights. As Schmidt said, “Who could ever have believed that 20 years later we would have a German chancellor who comes from the East?”
Elke Preusser-Franke, chair of the Dresden Jewish Women's Association and hostess of the conference, offered an overview of her city’s history. “It was mostly Jewish merchants who turned the banks of the Elbe on the trade route from Italy to Bohemia into a solid market settlement." There was always a little rivalry with the much bigger city of Leipzig to the north. “But,” said Preusser-Franke, “in recent history, Dresden was one step ahead: whereas in 1989 demonstrations were still going on in Leipzig, in Dresden there were negotiations with representatives of the government!” Similar developments were taking place throughout East Germany.
Claus Dubisz, manager of a travel agency, recalled his time as an active member of CARP, a student movement that opposed the wall and believed that reunification was possible. Its activities progressed from symbolic protests into outright demonstrations. When CARP spoke out in the 1970s and 1980s against communism and for a reunited Germany, the members were reviled as fascists. Inspired by the words of US President Reagan in June 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” CARP demonstrated at the wall two months later under the motto, “The wall has to go.” So violent was the opposition from the leftists that the demonstration took place under police protection.
The Berlin Wall was only part of the border between East and West Europe, but it was there that the first official opening of the border took place, November 9, 1989, when an official statement was made that from then on, the citizens of East Germany could travel without hindrance to the West.
Dubisz ended with a quote by UPF founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon expressing his admiration that the reunification of Germany had been peaceful and that those in power in the East did not have to fear for their lives in a reunified Germany. Dr. Moon and many of his countrymen deeply long for a peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula and take heart from the key contributions made by religious leaders and civil society in Germany.
Leaders of the peaceful change and eyewitnesses of the process shared their reflections with the audience.
Prof. Dr. Konrad Löw, a retired professor of political studies at Bayreuth University in what was then West Germany, gave a presentation entitled “Reunification, an Unwelcome Present?” In reality, he said, the political parties in the West were just as unprepared for the sudden fall of the wall as was the ruling socialist party in the East. At least in the west, the governing Christian Democratic Union under Helmut Kohl insisted that the ‘German question’ remain open. The socialist party in the west was prepared to accept two separate sovereign states on German territory, but Kohl strongly opposed this, and his opinion was supported by the view of the Constitutional Court that the two divided states belonged to one Germany.
Erich Busse was minister of a Presbyterian church in East Berlin at the time of the “Wende,” or turning point, as the events of 1989 are known in Germany. As one of the founders of the ‘New Forum,’ he made his church available for meetings, resulting in congregations larger than ever before... or since! Busse reproached the churches for their historical failures to oppose exploitation, oppression, racial discrimination, and anti-Semitism. The Presbyterian church even admitted as much in the “Stuttgart Confession of Guilt” dated October 19, 1945. Busse explained that many factors contributed to the peaceful revolution in East Germany and that the seeds had been sown long before 1989. However, the churches played a decisive role by demonstrating uncompromising non-violence and standing courageously against the state security police. Later, Catholic churches also opened their doors to the crowds, after initially offering solely spiritual support with statements such as “We are praying for you.”
Dr Frank Richter, then a Catholic priest in Dresden and now director of the Center for Political Education in Saxony, was a member of the ‘Group of 20’ who were selected by the demonstrators to represent their demands to the then mayor Wolfgang Berghofer for easing the restrictions on life under Communist rule. It all began with daily candle-light prayers in the ruins of the Frauenkirche. “We were ready for anything,” Richter quoted an official saying, “except candles and prayer.” On October 7, political leaders were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the east German republic in the City Hall, while citizens were marching on the streets and proclaiming “We are the people!“ The following day, the 'Group of 20' met with the mayor and secured his cooperation in matters that were under his jurisdiction. Fortunately, there was no bloodshed or violence. “What now?” asked the people. “Now we can go home,” was the answer.
Dr Jörg Wolf, a mathematician at the Humboldt University in Berlin, was in his hometown, Plauen, near Dresden, where 80,000 citizens were assembling day after day at the Theatreplatz. The churches were calling for non-violence. Demands for greater freedom were made, at first quietly and individually but then more and more vociferously and in unison. Suddenly the crowds started moving towards the city hall, where they were confronted by police and soldiers, who, although holding water pistols, were also armed with machine guns. This sight strengthened the determination of the crowd, which demanded to speak to the mayor. Candles were placed in front of the policemen and soldiers, and an attempt at dialogue was made as demonstrators told them, “You are citizens just like us!” Despite all the emotion, incredible discipline was maintained. Nobody behaved out of order; no policeman was attacked; no stone was thrown. And so, in Plauen the demonstrators were also successful in getting the mayor to meet one of their representatives and listen to their demands.
Other conference speakers discussed the need for unifying common values in 21st-century Germany. Insights were offered from various perspectives: political, sociological, psychological, and ethical. Francesco Condidi, a philosopher and language teacher at Cologne University, questioned what fundamental values a united Germany should hold. “Both parliaments decided to have a common constitution,” said Condidi, but the process of creating united structures took time. After all, he added, "one truth is universal: everyone yearns to be happy, because without joy, life is not worth living.”
Dr. Martin Bausche, a theologian and scholar of comparative religions, was so inspired by the idea of a global ethic that he joined theologian Hans Küng’s Global Ethic project and from that point on, as he put it, he didn’t want to merely "circle round my own church tower.” With conviction, he explained in a readily understandable way that the Global Ethic project did not aim to develop a “super religion" but rather to look for common ground that would also be valid for non-believers. One common point is the "Golden Rule” expressed by the saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Indeed, similar concepts are found in nearly every religion and philosophy.
Pastor Lolowengo Botembe, founder of the Ecumenical African church in Berlin and holder of the Federal Cross of Merit, reminded the audience of the important contribution to German reunification made by immigrants. Without the numerous workers from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Turkey, the economic growth experienced by the West would not have been possible. However, according to Botembe, immigrants were often the losers after German unification. Previous generous stipends were suddenly discontinued and development projects were restricted. Botembe himself, despite having a degree in theology, could not find employment by the Presbyterian Church and thus founded his own church.
Hildegard Pipenburg, a committee member of the Family Federation, began her presentation by asserting that without the classical family structure of father, mother, and child, there can be no secure future for society. Therefore, both the German Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognize the need to offer the family special protection. It is not in a child’s best interest to strengthen the influence of the state in opposition to that of the parents, she said, but rather to strengthen parental competence and responsibility. Experiments that sought to abolish the family, such as the kibbutz in Israel, were doomed to failure and resulted in lasting psychological damage to the children. Ninety percent of one's personality traits are shaped by family experiences. Although increasingly acknowledged by psychologists and sociologists, the core value of the family is too little recognized and valued by politicians and economists.
The evening entertainment was rounded off by a fireworks display, a fitting celebration of 20 years of German reunification. On the agenda for the following day was a tour of Dresden, including the restored Frauenkirche and the New Synagogue.
Built in the 18th century, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II. It has been reconstructed and dedicated in 2005 as a landmark symbol of hope and reconciliation between former warring enemies. The project has inspired other revitalization projects throughout Europe. The New Synagogue, completed in 2001, was built on the same location as the synagogue that was destroyed on Kristallnacht, the November 9, 1938 attacks on Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria that marked the beginning of the Holocaust.