Chapter Three

The Fight for the Ring

REVOLUTIONS CAN BE HARD not only on dictators but also on documents. After the East German regime’s collapse, investigations into its abuses began. Researchers scoured former GDR archives, only to find that files related to the use of violence had disappeared. Among the archives with noticeable gaps were ones detailing the official planning for the night of October 9 in Leipzig.1 Enough evidence survives, however, to sketch at least the outlines of the party’s plan to stop the Monday march and to maintain control over the ring road on that night.

By October 9, three more churches within walking distance of the ring—the Michaelis, Reformed, and Thomas Churches—had all agreed to hold Monday prayers at the same time, 5:00 p.m., as the original Nikolai session. The expansion of the prayers meant more marchers.2 The October 9 demonstration thereby promised to reach an unprecedented size, but no one knew how large it would be. Monday, September 25, had seen possibly as many as six to eight thousand march. Monday, October 2, had seen closer to ten thousand.3

The party ramped up its preparations accordingly. Before the GDR’s fortieth anniversary on October 7, the Leipzig Stasi chief, Manfred Hummitzsch, had complained to his subordinates about how the anniversary was “hindering our ability to make decisions. We cannot act the way that we want. We cannot use all available means” to stop marchers.4 The center of East Berlin had become a battle zone, however, almost as soon as the scripted events on October 7 had ended. Security forces had used force to disperse unapproved demonstrations there and throughout East Germany. In the first eight days of October alone, more than three thousand people had been arrested.5 Now, on the eve of the first Monday march after the anniversary, West German television channels noted an even more “raw” tone of authority in East Germany toward foreign journalists.6The goal was clearly to get all prying eyes out of the GDR, and out of Leipzig in particular, before what could potentially become the German Tiananmen.

That the SED regime had the capability to carry out a Tiananmen-level event was not in doubt. There were an estimated six hundred thousand men in the armed forces ultimately under the control of the ruling party. Even if some of those armed men disobeyed orders and refused to attack protestors, the odds remained daunting. If fifty thousand people took to the streets on the night of October 9—the highest internal party prediction—the regime could still, in theory, field multiple armed men for every single protestor.7The question was not if the SED regime could crush the Monday march but whether it would choose to do so.

For the fateful night, the regime did indeed position portions of its armed forces in Leipzig with instructions to prevent the protestors from circling the ring road by force. The goal was to quell the rising revolution in as much secrecy as possible, in order to limit the damage to the GDR’s international reputation. Keeping the domestic media quiet would be no problem, as they were all still firmly under the regime’s control at the start of October.8 If evidence from the fight for the ring was going to make it out—most importantly to Western television stations—it would have to be through surreptitious photos and videos, made at great risk and smuggled out of the country, so the regime also focused on keeping anyone with a video camera or even simply connections to Western media away from Leipzig on October 9. As a result, not only outside reporters but also foreign journalists based in the GDR were intimidated into avoiding Leipzig on October 9—or, if they went anyway, found themselves escorted out of the city.9

THE REGIME’S PLANS for stopping the protests had four major components. The first, the National People’s Army, readied itself to fight the people in Leipzig after having already functioned as a reserve force in Dresden.10 The precise details are difficult to pin down, but soldiers apparently received live ammunition and gas masks as part of the preparations.11 The police chief in Leipzig, Gerhard Strassenburg, would later say that he did not know exactly how or why the army got involved and that he himself did not request its presence; indeed, his only goal that night, he later insisted, had been to prevent violence. Strassenburg’s claim matched a similar assertion by another of the second party secretaries in Leipzig, Roland Wötzel, according to whom no one in the district had the authority to command army units to move in. Their presence in Leipzig must have been ordered by someone in Berlin, he concluded.12

The second component, the Stasi, also made extensive preparations both at its headquarters in Berlin and at its district office in Leipzig. The Stasi minister himself, Erich Mielke, personally supervised a strategy session in Berlin on Sunday, October 8.13 After this meeting, he sent a long telegram to the relevant subordinates with instructions. Mielke instructed Stasi employees authorized to carry weapons to start doing so immediately and to keep doing so until told otherwise. He called up various groups of the Stasi’s euphemistically named “unofficial co-workers,” or agents, to duty en masse. He also instructed the relevant offices to update the Stasi’s lists of names of political undesirables, meaning people who were to be watched and most likely prevented from participating in the march.14 The list for Leipzig represented a who’s who of the local protest movement. Names of Nikolai Church activists were plentiful on this list and included those of both Uwe Schwabe and Christoph Wonneberger. Katrin Hattenhauer was already in jail, so the Stasi did not think it necessary to have her name on the list.15 Mielke was still not done. He addressed the risk that demonstrators might gain access to Stasi weapons by instructing that necessary precautions be taken to prevent unapproved access to them. He also told his ministry to block the work of foreign correspondents. Getting wind of this, the West German television channel ARD reported that the city of Leipzig was completely closed to journalists.16 On top of all of Mielke’s instructions, a live video feed from rooftop cameras in Leipzig was prepared, in order to allow the party bosses in East Berlin to watch the events on the streets of Leipzig in real time as they unfolded.17

The third and fourth components, the police and the paramilitaries, also made their own plans for October 9. The distinction between police and paramilitary is not always meaningful, since the party ultimately controlled both, just as it ultimately controlled the army and the Stasi.18 In the field, however, the organizational structures were at least somewhat separate; the People’s Police, an established force, reported to the Ministry of the Interior, headed by Friedrich Dickel (who was of course also a party member). In contrast to the standing police forces, the paramilitaries, called “fighting groups,” had to be called up in an ad hoc fashion. There were internal concerns over how many of their members would actually appear for duty and how well trained they really were.19

Finally, above and beyond these four armed branches of the GDR’s own security forces, there were the roughly 380,000 Soviet troops stationed in the country. By October 1989, Gorbachev had established himself as a supporter of peaceful reform. There was, however, no small number of Soviet party and army leaders who disagreed with his hands-off approach to change in Eastern Europe. Later, many of them would be involved in a coup against him.20 Thus on October 9 it was unlikely, but not impossible, that the Soviet troops in East Germany would intervene in events, possibly against Gorbachev’s wishes. Indeed, the Soviet ambassador and de facto proconsul in East Germany, Vyacheslav Kochemasov, later claimed that he was concerned enough that day to call the commander of the Soviet forces in the GDR, Boris Snetkov. The ambassador reportedly told Snetkov to make certain that his troops stayed in their barracks that night. Kochemasov said that Moscow later backed him up, but only the next day.21 And even though Gorbachev was not in a bellicose frame of mind, he was hardly willing to abandon his German ally.22 In short, it was assumed that the Soviets would stay out of the Leipzig conflict, but that was not a given.

For his part, Erich Honecker gave clear overall instructions to his security forces about what they were to do. He informed his party’s first secretaries, which included Helmut Hackenberg as acting first secretary in Leipzig, that “we should expect that there will be further riots. They are to be choked off in advance.”23 The day before the march, Sunday, October 8, Honecker met with senior party leaders to finalize the plans for accomplishing that goal.24 Their meeting appears to have brought together all SED leaders in the realm of security, including the still-resentful Egon Krenz. From indirect evidence, it seems that Honecker asked Krenz, the head of security questions for the party’s central committee, to go to Leipzig. This request appears to have caused Krenz to panic and to call Kochemasov for confidential advice. Krenz allegedly said he feared that he was being set up as the scapegoat. After the German Tiananmen, Honecker then could presumably rid himself of his troublesome former crown prince by blaming Krenz and stripping him of his power, in order to curry post-bloodshed public favor. Although Kochemasov was vague in his account of this conversation, he did note that “I understood why he [Krenz] called me . . . he understood well that the main blow was being aimed at him.”25 Honecker was right to be wary of Krenz. Krenz apparently used the “face time” with all of his significant fellow party leaders at the October 8 meeting to begin talking about a potential coup against Honecker.26

Lacking the resolve to launch a coup immediately, however, and perhaps not seeing a way to refuse Honecker without coming under suspicion, Krenz avoided going to Leipzig but still handled various security questions from his office in East Berlin. He received, for example, a summary of preparations from Hackenberg, who, because of the Leipzig first secretary’s sick leave, would have operational control on the ground as the man in charge of the party’s “district deployment command” that night.27Hackenberg told Krenz that he had decided to implement a new idea. On top of all of the other preparations, up to five thousand “societal forces,” meaning party members and trusted sympathizers, would be instructed to pack the Nikolai Church early on the afternoon of October 9. The goal was to prevent the activists and their sympathizers from attending the 5:00 p.m. prayer session at all.28

In short, because of the preparations of the army, Stasi, police, paramilitaries, and party leaders themselves, a large armed force under the command of the party was ready and waiting on October 9. The exact number of armed men involved is not known but was clearly in the thousands. Fifteen hundred army soldiers appear to have been present. An unclear number of Stasi agents and employees had been activated. More than three thousand police officers would be on duty. More than half of them were not from Leipzig and therefore were more likely to attack the demonstrators, a sign that SED leaders had absorbed the lessons of Tiananmen, where local troops had refused to fire on crowds that might contain friends or family. Troops from other regions had been brought to Beijing to replace them, with bloody results.29 Finally, about six hundred members of the party’s armed paramilitary organizations were present, in addition to the five thousand party members and sympathizers who were supposed to pack churches.30 These forces had an array of equipment and weapons at their disposal: armored vehicles, dogs, heavy machine guns, live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannons. A spray with a long-lasting color tint was also prepared, so that it could be shot by some of the water cannons on to demonstrators for their later identification and arrest.31 In order to deal with the consequences of the crackdown, hospitals were reportedly told to make appropriate preparations.32 Horse stalls on a large property in nearby Markkleeberg, used as holding pens for detainees on the October 7 anniversary, were once again readied to hold humans instead of horses.33 On the night of October 7–8, the security forces had jammed ten prisoners into each narrow horse stall and left them there overnight.34

The overall plan was apparently as follows: According to Strassenburg, the chief of Leipzig police, his forces would break up any gathering of people starting at 10:00 a.m.35 If that failed to work, police should clear any demonstration that formed in the area around the Nikolai Church immediately after the Monday prayers ended at approximately 6:00 p.m. If a group of people formed and made it to the ring road nonetheless, security forces should “not allow any more movement in the direction of the main train station” but instead “force this movement of people back.”36

Strassenburg confirmed on October 9 that the police were authorized “to commence all measures” necessary to carry out this mission.37 Written instructions confirmed by the interior minister, Dickel, reiterated that the “disruptions from the starting point of the Nikolai Church are to be blocked, along with other provocations and disruptions,” and that the police should “fight them with no compromises.” The distribution of live ammunition, the provision of medical treatment, and the locations to which detainees should be taken were all spelled out as well.38 On top of these written instructions, individual policemen heard their superiors say, in essence, Today it will be decided, it is either them or us.39

Among those hearing such words were draftees, because young men who had been drafted could perform their mandatory service as so-called riot police. Some were so upset at what was happening that they found ways either to leave their barracks despite a lockdown or to get messages out, all in order to warn family and friends in the area. For example, one draftee, Silvio Rösler, later described how he had heard at an assembly at 11:00 a.m. on October 9 that the day would be “comparable with Tiananmen Square in China.” As motivation, the draftees at this assembly were forced to look at photos of a badly burned policeman, presumably from the Dresden violence. “The motto was, it’s us or them. They really used fear propaganda” to make us afraid, Rösler recounted.40He warned his family members in Leipzig “that the order to shoot had been given out” and that his relatives should “stay back.” Uwe Chemnitz, also a draftee in Leipzig, got word to his brother that “things looked really serious.”41 And Leipzig residents Gisela and Wolfgang Rähder received a warning from their son by phone that “the artillery is rolling” and there was “an order to shoot.”42 Similarly, Jens Illing, a draftee who helped to dispense weapons and ammunition, warned his parents that “today on October 9 the worst will happen, stay home.” His unit had gotten “an order not to allow a demonstration to take place, to break it up,” and that “tonight it will be decided, them or us.” Following orders, Illing had subsequently issued 9 mm Makarov pistols with at least two magazines of live ammunition per weapon to officers.43 There was a rumor that these officers would aim their pistols at the heads of draftees who refused to do their duty that night.44 Illing was also ordered to load numerous cases of Kalashnikovs onto trucks, and did so.45

Fear gripped the city. A church administrator who was number six on the Stasi’s Leipzig most-wanted list, Johannes Richter, wrote a note in his calendar on October 9: “Fear. What will happen? Chinese solution.”46 Führer later described the dominant feeling of that day as “similar to a civil war.”47 In an effort to head off the bloodshed, a Leipzig professor with personal ties to Krenz, Walter Friedrich, decided to drive to East Berlin to try to convince Krenz to take action. The professor carried with him a twenty-page letter that he had written to Krenz, arguing that the time had come for Honecker to go.48 Friedrich hand-delivered the letter to Krenz partly because of its urgency and partly because such information could hardly be trusted to the mercies of the Stasi agents in post offices who read the mail.49 The letter predicted that “if the wrong decisions are made today . . . they could lead to the rapid decline of socialism in the GDR.” Krenz received Friedrich on the morning of October 9 and indicated that, in fact, an unspecified “we” was indeed already thinking of “introducing a change in the leadership of the GDR.”50

Friedrich was not the only prominent Leipziger who actively tried to head off bloodshed. Handmade banners calling for nonviolence began appearing in the city, such as a yellow cloth that was tacked on the outside of the Nikolai Church at about 3:30 p.m. The words on the yellow cloth called for the crowds to stay calm: “People, no senseless violence, pull yourself together, leave the stones on the ground.”51 In a similar spirit, Kurt Masur, the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, reached out to local party leaders. The musician organized a meeting on that fateful Monday with three of the party’s secretaries—Hackenberg’s colleagues, but on this night his subordinates, since he was the acting leader—along with the actor Bernd-Lutz Lange and the theologian Peter Zimmermann. Masur apparently did not know at the time that Zimmermann was a Stasi agent.52The six men, including Zimmermann, agreed to issue a public call for dialogue.53 Their hope was to convince Leipzigers with their appeal for nonviolence, which became known as the “Appeal of the Six,” to refrain from the use of force on the streets that night.

The most sustained effort on behalf of nonviolence, however, came from Wonneberger and the activists with whom he worked. Dreading the threat of violence, and inspired by the example of the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whom Wonneberger greatly admired, they tried to figure out what they could do to prevent bloodshed. They decided to print tens of thousands of leaflets, exhorting everyone to refrain from the use of force, on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine in Wonneberger’s parish office.54 The text of the leaflet lamented that “in the past weeks, repeatedly and in multiple cities of the GDR, demonstrations have ended in violence.” Admitting that “we are afraid,” the authors of the leaflet nonetheless called for demonstrators to remain peaceful. “Violence only ever yields violence. Violence solves no problems.” Pledging to hold “the party and state responsible” for their actions, the appeal concluded with these words: “Tonight it is on us to stop a further escalation of the violence.” To bypass church rules prohibiting use of its printing equipment for non-church-related purposes—a rule meant to prevent exactly what they were doing—Wonneberger put a laughably inaccurate note at the bottom saying the memo was “church internal.” Wonneberger and the dissidents then cranked out leaflets by hand for forty hours straight, producing more than thirty thousand. Since the last demonstration had included ten thousand participants, it seemed as if three times that number of appeals would be enough. The activists then started handing out leaflets on the street, despite the massing security forces and the risk of arrest.55

JUST ABOUT THE only certainty in Leipzig on October 9 was that there would be a showdown that night. What its outcome would be, and whether people beyond city limits would have the chance to see any images from it, remained open questions. Just as the party made its preparations, so too did a very small, clandestine band of smugglers make theirs. For years they had run risks to record, and then to smuggle out of East Germany, audio and video recordings of the crimes of the regime, whether against the environment or against its people. They knew that October 9 represented their biggest challenge yet.

The organizer of this band of “information smugglers” was not in Leipzig, or even in East Germany, but in West Berlin. His name was Roland Jahn. From the West, Jahn had organized what was essentially an underground journalistic network. The East German regime would not let him in, and his main sources of photos and videos from the GDR, the East Berliners Aram Radomski and Siggi Schefke, could not get out.56 Jahn, a former East German himself, had never met Radomski and Schefke in person. Rather, they had been connected through mutual acquaintances, and had found trusted couriers to ferry their materials back and forth across the Iron Curtain. The best couriers came from groups that enjoyed a legal status enabling them to cross borders without a search; for some, that privilege was a result of a diplomatic posting, but for others, such as Western journalists working in the Warsaw Pact countries, it was a result of the human rights provisions of the CSCE. In addition to this covert courier service, Jahn had camera teams from the West on assignment in East Berlin “forget” to bring their equipment home with them. Radomski and Schefke, who would miraculously happen to be in the area where the expensive equipment was left behind, would quickly grab it for themselves.57

The two East Berliners would then, at times with the help of others but often by themselves, use the equipment to film, record, or otherwise collect material from locations all over the GDR, particularly from Leipzig. One of their greatest successes had unintentionally been made possible by Honecker personally. In a moment of hubris, Honecker had once speculated about proposing Leipzig to host the Olympic Games. This statement would have been risible had Honecker not been serious. Jahn, Radomski, and Schefke decided that Honecker’s unwise proposal provided an excellent opening to alert the world to the environmental and urban decay in Leipzig. Radomski and Schefke grabbed the video cameras smuggled to them by Jahn and headed south from East Berlin to Leipzig to film an undercover mini-documentary. Their video included not just images of crumbling buildings blackened by pollution but also interviews with brave, disbelieving Leipzigers willing to say on camera that it was unthinkable that the city could host an Olympics. When the video reached Jahn in West Berlin, he ensured that it appeared on the television show Kontraste,to the embarrassment of the would-be Olympic host Honecker. Leipzig, of course, did not go on to host the Olympics.58 In addition to this mini-documentary, Radomski and Schefke repeatedly filmed in Leipzig during the trade fairs. They knew that it was harder for the Stasi to crack down either on protestors or on the two of them personally when foreign reporters were in the city.59

By the night of October 9, 1989, because of their many contacts and trips there, Jahn, Radomski, and Schefke were all familiar with Leipzig.60 Jahn had taken pains to develop connections to the Leipzig dissident scene in particular. He was in close contact with Jochen Lässig, the man with the strong voice who had read aloud over organ noise at the watershed Nikolai prayer session in June 1988, as well as with Gesine Oltmanns and Uwe Schwabe. Jahn had even arranged (as the Stasi learned) to meet with the Leipzig activists in Czechoslovakia.61 Now he, Radomski, and Schefke wanted to ensure that, regardless of the risks, they filmed video of the events of October 9 and then smuggled the footage out. The two East Berliners had taken their video camera to the Monday march a week earlier, on October 2, but had felt so threatened by the armed forces that they had returned to East Berlin without ever taking the camera out of the shoulder bag that concealed it.62

Three images from a longer sequence of Stasi surveillance photographs taken of Siegbert “Siggi” Schefke (the tall, bearded man with long hair) on the day of June 3, 1989. The Stasi spied on Schefke for years in an effort to uncover all the members of the dissident ring in which he was involved. (MfS, from file BStU, BV Bln Abt. XX 4948, 1/1,2; 5/2)

The two East Berliners and Jahn had deep-rooted motivations for their work, although it was not as if they had all been born enemies of the state, plotting away in their cribs as infants. Rather, as Jahn would later explain, life had started normally for them and “the sun had shone, even in a dictatorship.”63 As young men, however, they had all suffered the experience of being “shoved into a corner” by the state, often with violence. Such “shoving” was yet another way that the ruling regime “created its own enemies,” Jahn believed.64

The shoving of Radomski had come while he was still a young man. Born in 1963, Radomski was the son and grandson of writers. His grandmother’s writings had been favored by the regime, but his father’s had not, so as a child Radomski had experienced the surveillance of his father.65When he was a teenager, the relevant officials refused to let Radomski study at any institute of higher education, so he found another way to spend time at one in Plauen—as a heating maintenance worker. There, in the early 1980s, he had met his “princess,” a Mongolian exchange student. They fell in love; he asked her to move in with him, and she did.

One day in January 1983, his boss called Radomski into his office, saying, “You will separate yourself from this woman.” Shocked, Radomski responded, “I do not think that I will do that. I do not think that you can dictate to me whether or not I have to do that.” His boss responded, “Nonetheless, Aram, I recommend that you do so.” His boss concluded the interview by telling him, “I am giving you four weeks. Say goodbye.” Radomski left the conversation thinking, What kind of conditions am I living under here, if my employer can tell me whether I can be together with a woman or not? He and his Mongolian girlfriend guessed that her politically well-connected parents, who disapproved of Radomski and his family, had used their contacts in the East German regime to attempt to separate them. The two ignored the warning.

Four weeks later to the day, as he was out at a bar with friends, Radomski was assaulted and beaten severely by unknown men. Afterward, with the outline of the boot of one of his assailants still visible on his face, he was taken into custody. A court convicted, fined, and jailed him. He realized that the state had thereby achieved by “Gestapo methods” what it wanted: he was now separated from his girlfriend. The arrest deeply unsettled his father, who blamed himself for it. Radomski’s Mongolian girlfriend did not visit or contact him in prison, presumably because the state prevented her from doing either. When Radomski got out six months later, she was gone. He heard a rumor that she had been forced to end her study abroad and to leave East Germany. Instead of searching for her, however, Radomski realized that something had changed. He was now filled with a sense of rage, and what he most wanted was not his “princess,” whom he never saw again, but payback.66

Radomski drifted from location to location over the following years, but his desire for revenge would eventually lead him to the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of East Berlin, the only place in the GDR where he figured he had a chance of finding like-minded souls. There, Radomski indeed found a number of them, most important among them Siegbert Schefke, known to all as Siggi. They became friends and even held a joint birthday party one year. More than two hundred people attended, not least to hear the music provided by friends who would later form the rock band Rammstein.67 Radomski and Schefke recognized that they both had scores to settle with the state. When Schefke asked the younger man if he wanted to make and smuggle videos out of East Germany, Radomski agreed on the spot, realizing that he had found his payback.

As for Schefke, he had initially played by the rules, completing his military service and studying construction engineering in Cottbus. He came under Stasi observation, however, after the secret police became convinced that his then-girlfriend was considering an escape attempt.68Although she was the one initially under suspicion, Schefke became forbidden to travel at all. Out of resentment, he began to question the state that he had served, and in doing so earned his own Stasi case name: “Satan.”69 At first Schefke was a “free-time revolutionary,” working on building projects for the state by day and then finding ways to protest against the state by night. The Stasi instructed his employer to assign him work that would make it difficult for him to pursue his moonlighting activities. Schefke quit in response.70 Reduced to living hand-to-mouth by giving tours to students in East Berlin and by receiving support from his parents, Schefke became more and more involved with projects such as the East Berlin “Environmental Library,” a collection of forbidden literature stored in a Protestant church in East Berlin.71 Through the library, Schefke became better connected in the protest movement, and also more active.72

The shoving of Radomski had been his beating and time in jail; of Schefke, his loss of travel privileges. The shoving in Jahn’s case involved a death. A close friend of Jahn’s, a healthy young man named Matthias Domaschk, had been hauled in by the Stasi for questioning in 1981 and then, unaccountably, died in custody. After a series of protests by Jahn, the authorities in Jena arrested not only him but also Petra Falkenberg, the woman with whom he was living and raising their four-year-old daughter, Lina. Threatening Jahn and Falkenberg with jail terms and a lengthy separation from their child, the authorities convinced Falkenberg that she should emigrate to the West with Lina. The Stasi hoped that Jahn would follow and that the East German authorities would thereby be rid of all of them. But Jahn would not go. At the cost of his relationship with the mother of his child, who accepted the deal and moved to West Berlin with Lina, Jahn refused to leave. It was a shattering sacrifice. Decades later, his daughter Lina would still blame him, saying, “The fact that you did not come with us back then, that was really a decision against me, wasn’t it?”73

The party then took more dramatic measures against him. On the orders of Mielke himself, Jahn received a summons from a city housing office to appear late on the afternoon of June 7, 1983, ostensibly in response to Jahn’s request to move to a new apartment now that his child and her mother had moved to the West. At the housing office, the Stasi informed him that the state had rescinded his citizenship and would expel him to West Germany that same day. A police escort took him home briefly, where he was supposed to collect a few personal items, but Jahn managed to escape to the apartment of a friend. The security forces tracked him down and put him in handcuffs for the two-hour drive to the border. When Jahn made comments—written down by the Stasi in his file—such as “I demand a phone call with the interior minister of the GDR,” the Stasi report noted that its men “did not let themselves be provoked and dealt with him politely and considerately.”74 Jahn remembered that, for his comments, the Stasi agents jerked and twisted the handcuffs forcefully and repeatedly until he feared that his arms and wrists would break.75

Jahn’s transport vehicle arrived at the border at 9:00 p.m., but he was held in a room until the middle of the night, presumably in order to conceal better from the public what was going on. In the early hours of the morning, he found himself being shoved into the small entry corridor of a sleeping car on a 3:10 a.m. train to the West. The security forces then sealed the doors to the entry, which had neither a window nor an emergency brake. They told the conductor of the sleeping car that Jahn was mentally ill and should not be let out under any circumstances. With Jahn hammering against the sealed doors, the train crossed into the West, where Western authorities heard his banging and managed to pry him out.76 Jahn moved to West Berlin, where he could at least see Lina, although he and Falkenberg never again became a couple.77 The decision that he had made to stay in the East had ended their relationship for good.

Jahn’s forcible expulsion made him a media celebrity in the West; he appeared on television and in newspapers and magazines. He skillfully capitalized on that celebrity to create his smuggling network and in the course of the 1980s enjoyed a number of successes. When, for example, the courageous East German activists Bärbel Bohley and Ulrike Poppe were arrested for protest actions in late 1983, Jahn’s network informed the world of their detentions and pressured the regime to free them. Bohley and Poppe were released in January 1984.78 Jahn could not rest on his laurels, however. Since he was always losing his “correspondents” to arrest, expulsion, or betrayal, he continually needed to add new ones.79 By the late 1980s, he had recruited Radomski and Schefke, and they soon became his main source of video of East Germany.80

The Stasi were aware of Jahn’s connection to Schefke by July 1987 but chose not to put either Schefke or Radomski in jail immediately.81 The officer in charge of Schefke’s case felt instead that it was essential to conduct “further investigation into the contact partners” of the two East Berliners.82 The secret police assumed that their two targets had a vast network of helpers, and so they wanted to hold off on any arrests until enough surveillance had been carried out to catch them all. Undercover Stasi agents infiltrated Radomski and Schefke’s group of friends, and the secret police interrogated the two repeatedly.83 Not knowing at the time that the Stasi was holding back because of the search for their nonexistent horde of helpers, Radomski and Schefke lived in fear of being sent to prison.84 But the Stasi’s mistaken assumption that two men could not cause so much trouble on their own kept them out of jail during the critical months of 1989.

Jahn, Radomski, and Schefke guessed that the October 9 demonstration would surpass all others in size and significance. They also knew that there was a good chance that the German Tiananmen might unfold, and they felt a special obligation to try to record it, despite the personal risks involved. As Radomski put it, “If there are going to be pictures, then let them be ours.”85 First, Radomski and Schefke had to get from East Berlin to Leipzig, which was no easy task on October 9. Because of the anniversary, the Ministry for State Security had been observing Schefke around the clock since October 3. The ten Stasi agents assigned to observe him around the clock did not even bother to conceal their presence. They smoked cigarettes in the courtyard of his apartment building and followed him every time he walked out the door. “They always came with me,” he remembered. This was “extremely unpleasant,” because it meant that Schefke could not carry the video equipment supplied by Jahn out his front door; the risk that the Stasi would confiscate it was too great.

He and Radomski devised a plan to evade the Stasi on October 9. They bought a number of timers for the lights, radio, and television in Schefke’s apartment and set the devices to turn on about two hours after Schefke actually woke up and got dressed in the dark. They hoped that the Stasi would think that Schefke was still asleep and would not notice him sneaking out of his apartment via the roof of his building. At first the plan worked. Schefke climbed out on the roof, holding his equipment close to him. Managing to get from his building’s roof to another and then another, he climbed down to street level about a third of a mile away, where Radomski was waiting with a car.86

They were spotted and followed. The two managed to evade their pursuers, but realized that they needed a different vehicle to get out of Berlin, otherwise the Stasi would find them again. They parked their car and went by tram to a friend of Schefke’s, Stephan Bickhardt, a Protestant minister. Schefke told Bickhardt that he needed to use his car to get out of the city. Bickhardt agreed to lend it to him, even though he needed the vehicle that week for his own wedding.87

As Radomski and Schefke drove down to Leipzig in the borrowed car, they realized that even if it had been their first time making the trip, they could not possibly have gotten lost—all they had to do was to follow the convoy of armed men and vehicles also heading to Leipzig. Radomski was sure that at any moment someone from a convoy would pull them over and arrest them, but it did not happen. “I have never understood how we got through, but we got through,” he would remark decades later. The two videographers got close enough to the convoys at times to see individual soldiers sitting in some of the armed transports, but the troops were apparently not charged with investigating other travelers on the way.88

When Radomski and Schefke arrived in the city, they were amazed at the sheer mass of people there. Security forces and onlookers were all crowded into the city’s center. The two men quickly began trying to find a concealed location from which they could film. Given that at the Monday march a week before, they had never felt safe enough to take their video camera out of its bag, they decided that this week they would not fall in with the marchers again. Instead, the two decided to select a tall building overlooking the ring road. The idea was to climb up to a useful vantage point, conceal themselves, and film.

At the first tall building they chose, however, Radomski and Schefke were chased away by the building superintendent. After considering a number of other places, they tried a residential apartment building and stumbled upon a door with stickers on it. In their experience, stickers, which were officially discouraged, meant that someone sympathetic lived inside. They knocked and were delighted when a man with long hair—another sign of rebellion—answered and said that they could use his window. Radomski and Schefke thought that they were set, until they entered and noticed a child sleeping in one of the rooms of the apartment. They did not want to draw the attention of the security forces or, even worse, gunfire, especially if that endangered a child. And even if there was no gunfire, it was not uncommon for the Stasi to seize upon remarks by children to persecute their parents. An innocent word from the child in school later about the two men with the video camera might be sufficient to condemn the father. They decided to leave the apartment, even though there was no guarantee that they would find another.89

Eventually Radomski and Schefke ended up at Leipzig’s Reformed Church, which had a tall tower and stood directly on the northern arc of the Leipzig ring road. The staff of the Reformed, unlike at the Thomas Church, left the front door to the ring road unlocked in case marchers needed refuge. The two East Berliners entered the church and, once inside, knocked on one of the internal doors, which turned out to be the entrance to the residence of Hans-Jürgen Sievers, a forty-six-year-old minister at the church, and his family. The two Berliners were lucky that they had chosen Sievers’s door. Other Reformed Church staff exhibited the same kind of antipathy toward activists as some of the leaders of the Nikolai Church, but Sievers, a former mechanic who had later studied theology, was sympathetic to dissidents.90

Sievers recalled that when he opened the door on October 9, two very anxious young men were standing there. Intuitively, the minister did not ask their names, either then or at any other point in what was to come. It was only later that he would find out who they were. Radomski and Schefke figured there was no point making small talk and so came right out with their blunt question: could they use his church tower to film that night? Sievers, shocked, took a moment to think.91 He was scared—the two men could be undercover Stasi agents—but he also had an inner conviction that if blood was going to flow that night on the streets in front of his church, then it should be seen. It should be broadcast as widely as possible, “seen as far away as America and Japan and everywhere else—otherwise nothing will ever change here.”

Sievers, taking a significant risk, decided to trust the two strangers and to let them use the tower that night. Thinking of the potential consequences for his family, he requested that, if they were caught, they not say he had let them in. Radomski and Schefke agreed, then asked if they could hide their equipment in his home temporarily—its presence alone would be sufficient grounds for arrest on that day—so that they could assess what was already happening in the city and get some food and other supplies.92Sievers let them do so, as long as they promised to climb the tower well before the doors opened for the 5:00 p.m. peace prayers that would be held in the Reformed Church that night as well as at the Nikolai and other churches. The two young men vowed to return in time and departed. Sievers became petrified when one of his sons unexpectedly appeared immediately afterward, and he did his best to keep the boy away from the concealed video equipment, since he did not want his son implicated in any way.93

Radomski and Schefke headed toward the Nikolai Church to see if they could pick up any useful information about the coming crackdown. Although they thought they had already used up their share of luck in meeting Sievers, at the church they found that they still had some to spare: they ran into their most trusted courier, Ulrich Schwarz.94 Schwarz was a West German who lived in East Berlin as a correspondent for Spiegel magazine.95 He had first arrived in 1976, once the original CSCE Final Act had made it possible for Western correspondents to work in the GDR, but had been thrown out roughly a year later for publishing materials from dissidents.96 However, under pressure in the Gorbachev era, East Berlin authorities had reluctantly let him return, and Schwarz had established contact with Schefke. Schwarz was particularly useful because, thanks largely to the CSCE accords, he could cross checkpoints without a search. For its part, the Stasi found that a half dozen of Schwarz’s new neighbors were willing to spy on him.97

Schefke had not told Schwarz that they were going to Leipzig, but Schwarz had independently had the same idea: to get to Leipzig, despite the ban on any journalistic activity there. By way of subterfuge, Schwarz had driven his car to the parking lot of Schönefeld Airport, outside of East Berlin, but instead of boarding a flight, he had boarded a train to Leipzig. When he arrived in Leipzig, like Radomski and Schefke, he figured that he would head for the Nikolai Church. The church seemed to be acting like a magnet, drawing onlookers all day long—including yet another acquaintance of Radomski and Schefke, a young American woman named Belinda Cooper. The two knew Cooper through mutual friends in East Berlin who were running their own protest group, for which she was a courier.98 These mutual friends had asked Cooper to go to Leipzig and to be prepared to provide eyewitness testimony of the Monday march and the potential bloodshed. As a US citizen, she could assume that she would be able to return to the West afterward and get the message out. Until she arrived in Leipzig, however, she had no idea of how dangerous her mission actually was.

After their chance meeting at the Nikolai Church, the four came to the conclusion that, given the massive security presence, matters looked grim and there would be safety in numbers. They agreed to meet at the end of the day in the lobby of Leipzig’s Hotel Merkur, to make sure everyone was still safe, and to travel back to Berlin together in Radomski and Schefke’s borrowed car. Since the hotel catered to foreigners, there was less chance of violence spilling over into it, and Cooper and Schwarz could wait there without being conspicuous.99 When the four parted, Radomski and Schefke headed back to the Reformed Church in order to climb the tower well before the start of the peace prayers at 5:00 p.m.100

IT SEEMED THAT everyone had the same thought that day—go to, or call, the Nikolai Church—and so the church was frenetically busy, inside as well as out. In a city without freedom of assembly, press, or speech, Leipzigers used the church’s phone lines as a kind of substitute news center. From all over the city, Führer and other church staff received calls, some anonymous, alerting them to new developments. As soon as one call ended, the telephone would immediately ring again. Führer pressed his wife into service to help with the challenge of continuously answering the phone.101 They learned that workplaces were dismissing employees early and telling them to exit the city center as soon as possible, to go home, and to stay there. Schools let children out early as well. The Nikolai also received numerous reports of uniformed officers, including army officers, appearing and congregating in ever larger numbers throughout the city. And Führer got word that party members were being told to pack the church to keep out actual prayer participants.102

Führer and his Nikolai Church colleagues were thus not surprised when more than a thousand party members started arriving at their doorstep at about 1:30 p.m. for a prayer service that would not start until 5:00 p.m. Later, Helmut Hackenberg would recognize that this action had backfired. The crowd of loyalists cramming into the Nikolai Church only served to keep more people out on the street, where they became harder to contain than if they had been inside.103 As Hackenberg admitted at the end of October: “We went into the church, comrades, and I have to say, it was wrong. We sat inside and they stood outside.”104 It backfired in another way as well. Thanks to some quick thinking by Führer, it produced new converts to the cause—from within the party’s own ranks.

Führer saw the church filling up with a large, grim-faced crowd reading multiple copies of the party’s newspaper, Neues Deutschland. There were not five thousand loyalists, as Hackenberg had ordered, but it was still a good-sized crowd, already well on its way at 2:00 p.m. to filling the church.105 Führer thought he could not allow such tension to last for three hours, because it might escalate to something worse. He decided that he had to do something to decrease the chances of a confrontation. Indicating that he knew who the early arrivals were, he announced, “You are welcome here.” He informed the group that he was going to close off parts of the church to ensure that there would be room for “workers and a few Christians” to fit in once they got off work, since “the working proletariat can only arrive, at the earliest, at 4:00 p.m.”106 One of the party members present reported that after these remarks the tension decreased, and during the roughly three-hour wait that followed, party members remained seated and spoke quietly to one another.107 Führer later remembered that party members seemed moved by his words and by the experience of spending time in the church. Some contacted him later to thank him for his handling of the potentially explosive situation. Führer recalled it as “an unbelievable event. We could never, with letters or any other way, have reached so many of the comrades” and shown them that they were not the “criminals” that their party made religious leaders out to be.108

By 5:00 p.m., not only the Nikolai but also the other three churches that had agreed to hold peace prayers were all packed and ready to begin. The Leipzig police estimated that there were two thousand attendees in the Nikolai Church, fifteen hundred in the Thomas Church, and a thousand at the Michaelis Church and Sievers’s Reformed Church combined, but staff members at the Reformed Church put the numbers at closer to double that.109 The police also did not know about two extra attendees at the Reformed Church, hunching down in the open-air tower. Radomski and Schefke were doing their best to get comfortable in the damp and to avoid the worst of the pigeon dung.

Beneath them, Sievers prepared to speak to what he counted as 1,500 people jammed into a space built for 450.110 He opened his remarks with a famous passage from Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child.” He then told the assembled, in simple but powerful words, that the time had come for them to put away childish things and to become adults. Sievers knew that the two men in the tower above his head—the two men he had let in—would do their best to ensure that, whatever happened, the world would see that Leipzigers would no longer allow the dictatorial regime to treat them like children.

The East German minister then invoked the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., since Sievers, like Wonneberger, admired him deeply. In 1964, Sievers had even enjoyed the privilege of singing in a choir at a service King attended during his visit to both halves of divided Berlin. The moment was one of the high points of Sievers’s life, because the way King drew from his faith the strength to carry on his own political struggle had inspired Sievers profoundly. In memory of that event, Sievers had later hung a banner with sayings from King on the inner wall of his church. Now, as evening fell on the night of October 9 in Leipzig, with armed forces massing on the ring road outside his windows, Sievers felt that his own moment of adulthood had arrived, and decided to let the words of King guide him as he stepped forward into it.

King had stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.” Sievers exhorted the crowd to follow King’s example. He warned, “It will be a long process, it will be a long road . . . but on our road, there will be no going back.”111

Across town, the prayer session at the Nikolai Church was interrupted when messengers delivered Kurt Masur’s appeal for nonviolence, which he had coauthored with three party secretaries and two others. It was read aloud at the church and, later, broadcast over loudspeakers scattered around the city. The fact that some, but not all, of the Leipzig party secretaries had signed the appeal with Masur and that its delivery to the Nikolai had been permitted was a hint of a potential split within the party’s district leadership about how to proceed that night.112

The prayers came to an end in all four churches around 6:00 p.m. Despite the heavy police presence, participants then managed to make their way to Karl Marx Square. This square had become the impromptu start for ring marches because it was a natural staging area: a large open plaza, just off the ring road on the eastern side of the city center, and only a couple of minutes by foot from the Nikolai Church. There was, as a result, no mystery about either when or where the demonstration would start, which made it easier for security forces to ready themselves to block it.

On the night of the ninth, Schwabe remembered it as taking much longer than a couple of minutes to get to the square, however. The sheer press of the crowds heading there made him realize that the march that night was going to be like nothing he had ever seen in his life.113 As they streamed eastward from the multiple churches and side streets of the city center and coalesced into one mass on the square, the marchers became conscious of their own enormous number for the first time. The previous Monday they had been in the thousands. Now they were closer to a hundred thousand, if not more.114

Before too long, the front of the massive group began to arc slowly around the ring to the northwest, in the direction of the main train station, even as the rear of the group was still in the process of swelling with other participants.115 Hattenhauer, listening from solitary confinement in her cell on Harkort Street just off the southeastern section of the ring, began hearing a distant rumbling that sounded to her like thunder, or tank treads. She wondered what it meant for her. Her chief interrogator had made clear that once the shooting started outside the prison where she was being held, it would start inside as well, and the teenager would be put against a wall again, this time for a real execution.116

Among the marchers, her friend Schwabe found the lumbering movement of the crowd “simply overwhelming.” For years, he thought, “we had tried to convince people to take their own destinies in their hands,” and all of a sudden “our wish was coming true.” He felt a deep sense “of pride that we had not let ourselves be intimidated by this state and by its security system.”117

As the enormous mass of people moved slowly toward the main train station, it drew nearer to the so-called Eastern Knot, an area of the ring just before the station where the main road bent sharply to curve past a small pond and the station itself. Although Schwabe and the other marchers did not know it, this knot represented the most dangerous point on their route. There were security forces all over the city, but apparently that part of the ring, just before the train station, had been designated as the critical area to defend; according to a police officer on duty that night, security forces believed they had the best chance of stopping the march as it narrowed and slowed around the curve.118 It was likely that the front line of the march would reach the Eastern Knot and the train station sometime after 6:30 p.m.

Hackenberg, the local party leader in charge of the deployed forces, tried to contact East Berlin as the marchers moved toward the knot. Technically, his attempt to call his superiors was unnecessary. He was the commander on-site and had received clear instructions from the man at the top, Honecker, to stop the demonstration. If all previous measures had failed to stop the march—and by that point they had—Hackenberg had full authority to use force to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the main train station.119 No further consultation with East Berlin was required, but Hackenberg called anyway, specifically for the purpose of speaking to Krenz.

Why Hackenberg wanted to talk to Krenz at this critical moment is not entirely clear, but hints of the reasons survive in the remaining evidence. His main motivation seems to have been the news that a coup was coming. Word of Krenz’s planned ouster of Honecker most likely came to Hackenberg’s ears indirectly, from Krenz’s friend Walter Friedrich, who had driven back to Leipzig after hearing about the potential putsch from Krenz himself. In Leipzig, Friedrich had informed Roland Wötzel, one of the party secretaries who signed the appeal with Masur, and Wötzel subsequently spent much of the evening with Hackenberg, so Wötzel probably passed on this sensational news.120 Hackenberg’s instructions to stop the demonstration with all means necessary came from Honecker—but there was now a chance that Honecker might not be in power much longer, so with his phone call the Leipzig commander most likely wanted to cover himself, in case the power hierarchy above him was about to crumble.

With the crowd approaching the Eastern Knot, Hackenberg managed, in Wötzel’s presence, to get Krenz on the phone. In a later interview, Hackenberg recalled that he described the march to Krenz and estimated that there were “approximately one hundred thousand” protestors, a number that Krenz found shocking. Apparently the live video feed was not conveying the full size of the protest to East Berlin. Hackenberg added that he had spoken with Strassenburg, the head of police in Leipzig, and that it was apparent to both of them that any action by the security forces “would certainly not be bloodless.” Hackenberg suggested letting the demonstration pass. Krenz was so stunned that he was unable to speak, Hackenberg recalled. When Krenz finally responded, he said that he was “unable to confirm” Hackenberg’s suggestion. Instead, Krenz said that he needed to consult with someone—with whom was not clear—and that he would call back soon.121 Hackenberg, Wötzel, and the other party secretaries in the room in Leipzig assumed Krenz meant he would confer with others quickly, most likely with Mielke, and call back within minutes, since time was running out.122

Krenz would later say that he did in fact call back immediately and that he ordered the troops in Leipzig to pull back.123 There is no evidence of such an order from Krenz, however, or from any other leader of the SED in East Berlin. The evidence and testimonies that do survive tell a different story: for a long time, Krenz simply did not call. As Wötzel remembered, “A very, very long while passed, a very complicated time,” until Krenz phoned again, at least half an hour later.124 Hackenberg estimated that it was more like forty-five minutes until he heard again from Krenz, an eternity during the crisis.125 During the interval, Police Chief Strassenburg called more units from outside Leipzig to the city in light of the size of the demonstration; the fresh police units began to move in.126Krenz still had not called back when the moment of decision arrived: the demonstrators were about to go through the Eastern Knot.

Hackenberg and the other party secretaries in the room with him hastily reviewed their options. While the surviving evidence is frustratingly thin and Hackenberg has died, it seems likely that at the critical moment he sought to balance a number of conflicting pressures. He had instructions to stop the progress of the march—but from Honecker, perhaps soon to be ousted by Krenz.127 Hackenberg also knew that the East German regime was a centralized one and that all significant decisions had to come from East Berlin, not from second secretaries such as himself.128Even though, as acting first secretary, he notionally had the authority to start the attack, he would be unwise to do so without checking with party leaders—which he was trying to do, but without success. On top of his concerns about what was going on in East Berlin, he additionally had to deal with dissent in his own ranks in Leipzig. When some of Leipzig’s secretaries had signed Masur’s “Appeal of the Six” without seeking unanimity among all of the comrades, they had revealed to the public that the local party leadership was divided.129 Hackenberg therefore knew that he did not have unanimous support for using force and must have worried that he could become a scapegoat, depending on who came out on top in the internal party struggles not only in Berlin but in Leipzig as well.

Finally, he knew that the odds that night were not in the SED’s favor. He had around ten thousand men under his command. The highest internal prediction of the maximum size of the demonstration had been fifty thousand, but now he was facing double that number, if not more.130 Of course, the marchers were unarmed, and a full-scale army deployment with parachutists and tanks would even out those odds. But for that kind of deployment he would need East Berlin’s support, which at that moment was not forthcoming.131 There was also no time to organize such a deployment before the march reached the train station, although Honecker would in fact propose an airborne attack on the October 16 march.132 The large number of marchers was thus of overwhelming significance. As one party leader later put it, “None of us was expecting to deal with masses” of that size.133 And now, with the demonstrators closing in on the critical point, he and the other Leipzig secretaries were, as Wötzel later recalled, “left solely to our own devices.”134

Marchers flood the ring road around the city center of Leipzig on the night of October 9. Aram Radomski took this photograph from the tower of the Reformed Church, which stands on the northwest arc of the ring. The video that he and Siegbert Schefke made of the same demonstration was subsequently smuggled across the Berlin Wall to a West Berlin television broadcaster. (RHG Fo HAB 21002; photo by Aram Radomski)

In the absence of a call from Krenz, and with the crowd closing in, Hackenberg found himself forced to make a decision on his own. At about 6:30 p.m. he issued an order to assume a defensive position. A written version of this order survives; it states that “all deployed forces” should “begin the switch to self-defense.” They should attack only if either they or nearby buildings came under assault. If that happened, then they should “fight back with all means,” but unless and until an attack by the crowd began, they should stand down.135 In other words, contrary to their expectations and Honecker’s still-existing instructions, Hackenberg instructed the security forces to let the demonstration pass.

Some members of those security forces had a hard time comprehending the sudden about-face. Apparently the use of fear, propaganda, and the threat of violence to make policemen do their duty had worked. A week after October 9, East German documentary makers managed to film interviews with police in Leipzig while memories were still fresh. These interviews revealed that the men under Hackenberg’s command had been on a hair trigger. One police unit commander, Wolfgang Schröder, told the filmmakers that the arrival of the order to assume a self-defensive stance “was very close.” The stand-down order arrived “just before our order to attack would have started.” If it had not arrived when it did, he assured the filmmakers, he would have had his men “stop or break apart the demonstration” by force.136 Another officer remembered hearing a sudden and unexpected command to “open the Eastern Knot, let the demonstrators go by, and step into the shadows.” He was surprised, and knew then that there would be no bloodshed, but he also suspected that there would not be a GDR much longer.137 One of the youngest members of the police, twenty-five-year-old Toralf Dörre, was also one of the last to get the order to pull back. “We had already received the order to start running in the direction of the demonstrators, and we had gotten to about thirty meters in front of them,” he later recalled.138 “There could not have been more adrenaline” surging through his system, “and then all of a sudden: Company halt! Turn around!”139Some members of the police were totally confused by what was going on and remained ready to charge. One complained that earlier that same morning their leaders had “made us hot like never before, and now absolutely nothing is happening?” He could not comprehend it: “I do not understand the world anymore.”140

As the police stood down, the march began surging past the train station with Hackenberg still waiting for a call from Krenz or any other top party leader in East Berlin. According to Wötzel, Hackenberg finally exclaimed, “Now they don’t need to call back anymore.”141 When Krenz finally did phone again, the Leipzig forces had long since taken up their defensive positions.142 Krenz said that he approved of what Hackenberg had done. By then, there was little else that Krenz could do or say. Hackenberg had, in the end, made the decision to pull back in the presence of one hundred thousand protestors and in the absence of guidance from the center—a decision, Wötzel concluded, “for which one has to give him credit.”143

FROM THE OPEN-AIR tower of the Reformed Church, Radomski and Schefke scanned the distance for a sight of the demonstration. Finally the march curved around the Eastern Knot, flowed past the train station, and came into view. “Oh man, oh man, oh man,” Radomski would remember thinking. As he described it later, the atmosphere “intensified.”144 The two young men in the church tower looked down on a “river of people.” All at once, they became conscious of the “outrageousness” of it all, of the sheer power of protest.145 The two East Berliners also became aware that irreversible events were under way, and felt grateful that they had found a way to film them. Radomski and Schefke agreed that if they could get the images out, “and if they run on Western television tomorrow, then that will change not only East Germany, not only all of Germany, but the world.” They even speculated on whether or not their images might help to bring down the Berlin Wall.146

The march was so large, it took over two hours to pass by the tower of the Reformed Church. Within the body of the march itself, Schwabe was amazed that “there were so many people,” yet he could feel “no aggression” at all. He soon broke off to go to a telephone and to call fellow dissidents in East Berlin, along with Solidarity colleagues in Poland and a host of other people.147 He had good news to convey: the multiple appeals for nonviolence—whether written on a yellow cloth, circulated by Masur and his coauthors, handed out by Wonneberger and his colleagues, spoken aloud by Sievers at the Reformed Church, or from other sources—had worked. Even members of the ruling regime had to acknowledge that the repeated calls for nonviolence by the leading figures of Leipzig and of the peaceful revolution had been decisive. Operational notes from the Stasi, made at 7:00 p.m. on the night of October 9, recorded that it was the “leaflets” that “were providing for the peaceful unfolding” of that night’s march.148 And in an interview years later, Hackenberg expressed praise for those people “who were in the demonstration and took pains to avoid any clashes, took pains to bring the demonstration to an end.”149

If the calls for peaceful protest had failed and if the demonstrators had provoked the security forces, violence would have erupted in Leipzig, given Hackenberg’s order to respond to any assault.150 The self-discipline of the crowd ensured that such an outcome did not arise, however. Some of the security forces shared in the relief at the lack of bloodshed. As one deployed paramilitary trooper, Theo Kühirt, put it, it was almost unbelievable that a march of such size could stay as peaceful as it did. Earlier that night, upon taking his position, Kühirt had realized to his horror that no senior party officials had actually had the courage to come out on the street. As if that were not enough, a “sensible officer” gave him “a tip: disappear as soon as possible.” Once the security forces had switched to a defensive posture, however, and the demonstrators started passing, Kühirt and company realized that while they had been expecting a “mob,” they were instead confronted with “perfectly ordinary folks . . . shouting, ‘We are the people.’”151Spontaneous and even friendly conversations broke out between members of the security forces and the demonstrators all along the ring, greatly improving the atmosphere.152

One demonstrator, Rainer Tetzner, recalled walking very close to the security forces. He could clearly see their clubs, helmets, shields, tear gas, and water cannon equipment, yet he and other protestors refused to be intimidated and shouted to them, “Not another China!” They also yelled to the security forces and to anyone else on the streets not yet in motion, “Join our ranks!” The shouts worked. People sitting in streetcars stalled by the march clambered out and joined the crowd. The ranks of onlookers became smaller and smaller as many decided to become marchers. As Tetzner recalled, by the time the demonstration got to the northwest arc of the ring “everyone was demonstrating with us, on the sidewalks, in the ten lanes of the ring road, on the tracks of the three streetcar lines.” He could see “up to a hundred people, shoulder to shoulder, a river of people to which you could see no end, a river that nothing more could stop.”153

The march’s success showed that the growing wave of violence in the GDR had come to an end, that the regime had been forced into a defensive position, and that a peaceful revolution was now in full swing.154 By about 8:30 p.m. the front line of the demonstration had swept around the full 360 degrees of the ring and returned to its starting point in Karl Marx Square. There the march began to dissolve as peacefully as it had formed, although some enthusiastic demonstrators reportedly started a second lap.155Meanwhile, Leipzig’s main train station filled as thousands of out-of-town participants tried to make their way home.156 Everyone involved knew that they had shared in a profound development. On the night of October 9, the activists from the Nikolai Church and the Monday marchers had won the fight for the ring road of Leipzig—and they had done so without resorting to violence.

Later that night, staff members from the West German television news show Tagesthemen were able to get through to Wonneberger and to broadcast a phone interview with him about the momentous events in Leipzig, despite the censorship of phone calls in the GDR. Wonneberger’s relief and joy were manifest in his voice. He had, in the end, not even marched himself, because he had been too busy taking calls. In the interview, Wonneberger singled out for praise the party secretaries who had signed the appeal for nonviolence. He expressed hope that they would serve as an inspiration to their higher-ups, so that “perhaps a signal will come from the top as well.”157

IN A REPORT later that night, Police Chief Strassenburg summarized what had happened from his point of view. A protest march of tens of thousands had come together and moved, slowly but as a well-defined group, through the city. At 6:35 p.m. he had received word that Hackenberg had decided “to undertake no active operations against these people if there were no activities hostile to the state and no attacks on security forces, buildings, and locations.”158 Unexpectedly meeting no resistance, the march had then continued along the ring road, where it had soon reached an odd bend in the road known as the “Round Corner.” This corner was of particular interest to Strassenburg since the buildings looming over it housed not only his but also the Stasi’s main Leipzig offices.159 Once the protest reached that point, Strassenburg and Hummitzsch, the local Stasi leader, could follow the march with their own eyes.160 Mielke even called Hummitzsch later to ensure that the Stasi offices had not been stormed by protestors as part of that night’s protest. Mielke asked if “the house is still standing” and added that, in his opinion, the “working class had been attacked” on the night of October 9 in Leipzig.161

In his own report for Stasi headquarters, Hummitzsch wrote that from about 6:35 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. there had been an unapproved demonstration of “50,000 to 60,000, repeat 50,000 to 60,000 persons, including a substantial number who arrived by train or car from other districts.” He added that “thousands of onlookers followed and accompanied” the demonstration. The chants that they shouted included “Gorbi, Gorbi,” as a call for Gorbachev’s help; “We are the people”; “Let the prisoners out”; and, perhaps most ominously for the regime, “We are staying here.”162

Hummitzsch also spoke with Hackenberg at 9:01 p.m. to discuss, among other things, what the headline of the main Leipzig newspaper should be for the next day. In his notes of the conversation, Hummitzsch recorded that the top story should be praise for the security forces, whose actions were “characterized by level-headedness.”163 Unsurprisingly, the newspaper headline the next day was, in fact, “Characterized by Level-Headedness.”164

Honecker’s response to the march was unhinged. He wanted to try again to crush the demonstrations a week later, on Monday, October 16. Upon hearing that Leipzig party secretaries had signed Masur’s appeal, Honecker reportedly sniped that “those who want to capitulate are already sitting in the district leadership.”165 The party leader called for the use of “all measures” on the following Monday, including an aerial assault by army parachutists and the deployment of Stasi “special forces,” but he had lost too much ground.166 For reasons that are not entirely clear, but which suggest that his control was already slipping, contradictory language appeared in his written orders of October 13 when they were circulated. These instructions said that security forces should use any means necessary to stop the October 16 march—but they should not use guns.167 It seemed that even some party officials in East Berlin had finally noticed that the steadily increasing levels of violence had become self-defeating. And the entire issue became a moot point once Krenz began the process of ousting Honecker.

Dickel, the interior minister, would later lament that Krenz’s coup ended any chance of a real crackdown in Leipzig. In a speech to his subordinates on October 21, Dickel complained about the legacy of the one hundred thousand marchers for the internal politics of the GDR. Dickel said that if it were up to him, he would love to go to Leipzig personally and beat the demonstrators into such misshapen pulps that “no jacket would fit them anymore,” adding pointedly, “I was responsible in 1953 here in Berlin” during the crackdown on the uprising of that year. Under Krenz, however, Dickel had realized that he could not replay 1953. The party was going to have to become more tactical and clever about repressing dissent.168

AS MEMBERS OF the Leipzig security forces were drafting their official reports, Radomski and Schefke were trying to figure out how to get their own unofficial footage safely down from the tower of the Reformed Church. Throughout the peace prayers and the march they had stayed concealed, not least because the tower stood across the ring road from a large store and they could see men they assumed to be Stasi agents openly filming their own video from the store’s roof. Radomski and Schefke knew that they were potentially in the Stasi’s line of sight, and they did not want to attract attention.169 Before, during, and after the demonstration, they stayed low and covered up the small red light on their Panasonic video camera.170 And despite the pigeon dung, the damp, and the dark, Radomski and Schefke did not rush to get down from the church tower once the massive demonstration had finally passed by. Having gotten such important images on film, they did not want to have their lone videocassette confiscated at the last minute. They “sat around for an hour” after the march ended and came down only once they were absolutely certain that it was safe to do so.171

When it finally was, they went downstairs to Sievers. By coincidence, Sievers had recently acquired a VCR—a rare item in the GDR—with help from his in-laws in the West, and so he, Radomski, and Schefke decided to use it to view the tape. The minister found it impressive. He also knew that as soon as the images were shown, it would not be hard to guess from where they had been filmed.172 Indeed, after the footage appeared on West German TV, members of his congregation asked if it had been filmed from the church’s tower. Sievers thought it best to play dumb. He knew that his fellow minister in the church, Roland Schein, would not approve. Schein was deeply worried that helping protestors would lead to a visit from armed security forces. As Sievers put it, perhaps with some sympathy, Schein “was not in favor of anything that might get himself shot.”173

As Sievers, Radomski, and Schefke watched the footage, one of Sievers’s sons came in. Instead of trying to get him out of the room as he had done earlier that day, however, Sievers suddenly decided that he should watch too. His son was amazed to see on his family’s television video footage of the event that had just occurred. He came to understand that it had been filmed by the two strangers in his home. When the video ended, still without exchanging any names, Radomski and Schefke packed up their equipment and left.174 They met Cooper and Schwarz at the Hotel Merkur as planned. Schwarz remembered that the mood was curiously tense and relaxed at the same time. As he would later put it, “In that kind of situation, you do not spend a lot of time reflecting.”175

After a quick bite to eat, the four packed into the borrowed East German car, which quickly started having mechanical difficulties. One of the engine’s two cylinders had developed some kind of a problem. They pulled over at a garage, but when it became apparent that the cylinder could not be fixed quickly, they grew worried about lingering too long. The mechanic told them that they should keep their speed below sixty kilometers, or forty miles, per hour. Obeying, they slowly made their way to Schönefeld Airport, with the car emitting a foul smell the entire way.176

Cooper remembered feeling an enormous sense of relief when they pulled up to Schwarz’s much nicer, Western car in the parking lot at the airport. Schwarz, taking the videocassette from Radomski and Schefke, departed with Cooper and dropped her off alone at the nearest suitable border crossing, so that she would not be associated with the transport of the video. He had asked neither her name nor the contents of the cassette. He did not want to know either, in case he was stopped.177 Meanwhile, Radomski and Schefke continued back into downtown East Berlin. After reuniting vehicles with their owners, Schefke clambered back into his own apartment as he had left it: over the roof of a nearby building.178

With the cassette hidden in his underwear, Schwarz headed for a checkpoint in the early hours of October 10. Thanks to the CSCE, he usually had the privilege of being able to cross without a search, but in the tense days of October 1989 he was not certain whether the officials would respect that privilege. He was able to cross without incident, however, and delivered the cassette to Jahn, still not knowing what was on it.179 Jahn took the cassette to his office at the West Berlin television station SFB.180

Looking at the raw video footage of the seemingly endless river of people in Leipzig, Jahn began crying. He recalled that when he had taken part in demonstrations in the early 1980s in his hometown, Jena, even thirty people had seemed like a lot. For the rest of October 10, he edited the video and ensured that it was broadcast as often as possible, not least because West Berlin and West German coverage could be received in much of East Germany. Foreign stations picked up the footage as well, spreading the images around the world. The footage was indeed seen as far away as America, just as Sievers had hoped that it would be.181

This video, along with some other clips that would trickle out of Leipzig later, had a dramatic and motivating effect on the peaceful revolution throughout the GDR. It also served to undermine the ruling regime. While the SED’s violence was self-defeating, it became self-defeating more quickly because of the bright light that Western broadcasters could shine on it, thanks to Jahn’s smuggling network. In other words, the efforts of activists such as Hattenhauer, Schwabe, Wonneberger, and their colleagues were sped along by the efforts of their chroniclers and witnesses, including Cooper, Jahn, Radomski, Schefke, and Schwarz. This symbiosis between the protestors and their publicizers was truly dangerous to the dictatorial regime.

For Radomski and Schefke, the triumph was bittersweet. They had achieved a major success and a measure of revenge, but the world did not know to whom it owed the images. Jahn had consistently kept Radomski’s and Schefke’s names secret, even though by 1989 their video footage was selling so well to television stations in the West that the two East Berliners actually owed taxes on the profits. As a result, when the major West German network ARD broadcast their hard-won October 9 footage from Leipzig on its evening news show, Tagesthemen, the show’s anchorman indicated misleadingly that the video came from an Italian camera team.182 Schefke was watching at home in East Berlin and felt frustrated. On one hand, he was already awash in Stasi surveillance and did not need more of it, or an arrest. On the other hand, he wanted recognition. “It wasn’t exactly making us famous” to see their own work presented as the work of an Italian camera crew, Schefke thought. The thirty-year-old wanted to be able to brag once in a while, “to show off to women,” to respond honestly when asked, “What do you do?” instead of mumbling something about being unemployed. “Telling a woman you were unemployed, it wasn’t such a hit. It made us look like losers. We wanted to be able to tell women what great guys we were.”

Jahn was worried about Radomski and Schefke getting worn down by working hard, enduring repeated interrogations, fearing prison, and failing to get any recognition. The grind was indeed getting to them. The two East Berliners were both worried enough that they had filmed short video clips of each other and sent them to Jahn to be played on Western television if they disappeared. Jahn was concerned that Radomski and Schefke might try to smuggle themselves out of East Germany, and so he told them to wait. After Leipzig, Jahn said, it could not be much longer before major change would come.183

The triumph was bittersweet for Wonneberger as well. For many years he had worked hard to promote change in his home country. He had endured not only constant surveillance by the Stasi but also ongoing tension with his church colleagues. October 9 was a night of success, but the strain of years of opposition work was about to take its toll on him. Three weeks later, he suffered a massive stroke that rendered him unable to talk. By 1991, he had been released from his ministry duties altogether due to his ongoing incapacitation. As his country finally gained the freedoms for which he had struggled, Wonneberger had to learn anew how to speak.184

Thanks to him and to the marchers of October 9, the regime was now facing a struggle of its own. On that night, there had been a yawning gap where orders from the center should have been. As one activist, Tobias Hollitzer, would later remark, the “only central decision . . . was the belated blessing of the facts on the ground that had already been created by the courage and peacefulness” of the protestors.185 The SED had to recover from its defeat in Leipzig and to regain control somehow. Krenz decided that the best way to begin doing so was to commence his coup against Honecker. Then Krenz would try to suppress the widespread desire for travel and emigration as well as the rising power of the peaceful revolution, hoping to be more successful than Honecker had been. All of these challenges would come to a head at the same moment in November 1989, bringing the contest for control to the streets of East Berlin and to the Wall itself.

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