The Peaceful Revolution
In 1988, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had been under Soviet rule for more than 40 years, and the Berlin Wall had stood erect for nearly 30. Strict Socialist rule meant extreme limits on speech and action.
Travel outside the country was prohibited, and many East German citizens were separated from family and friends living in West Germany. Dissenters to the government of the GDR and Soviet rule led small protests throughout the years of Soviet rule, though in great fear of punishment from the Stasi, the secret police of the GDR.
A new wave of protests began on January 17, 1988, when an annual memorial march for two Marxist revolutionaries in Berlin turned into a full-scale demonstration for human rights and democracy.
The march, an annual observance held by unknown citizens, transformed into a demonstration after a few protesters joined the march, chanting slogans, and others were moved to join.
By October there were 320,000 people demonstrating in Leipzig alone, and groups of citizens held protests at churches across the country. Resistance groups published “Initiative ‘89,” a pamphlet/petition outlining their vision for a unified German democracy.
On November 9, the East German government announced the opening of the border, allowing free travel in and out of the state. In the following days, citizens took sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall, and it was removed over the following months.
After the barrier between East and West Germany was removed, East German political officials resigned in mass protest of the Socialist government, and as part of the mass movement towards democracy.
In March of 1990, the first multi-party, democratic elections were held, and the demonstrations ceased, their goal fully accomplished.