Awakening

During the 1980s, political opposition in the GDR developed in the Protestant churches and at private meetings. The exhibition illustrates how groups and networks increasingly succeeded in reaching the public, raising awareness of subjects such as human rights, militarisation, environmental destruction, education policy and urban decay. The exposure of the electoral fraud in May 1989 became a defining moment. The growing dissatisfaction became evident, particularly amongst young people who, increasingly, began to reject the state-imposed constraints.

Pro reforms and pro democracy: the grand finale of November 4th, 1989 at East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. © Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Andreas Kämper

Revolution

Migration and flight were key to the breakdown of the SED regime. This is evidenced in the exhibition by the opening of the borders in Hungary and the route to the West via the German embassy in Prague.
While many voted with their feet, leaving the GDR, others sought to reform its society. Grass roots movements and parties were founded. The will for change grew among the population. On 7 October, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, security forces once again beat down the protests; however, on the day of judgement, 9 October in Leipzig, the demonstration passed off peacefully, despite a high security presence. The SED tried to hang on to power by replacing their leaders, but the wave of demonstrations continued to grow. On 4 November 1989, the largest demonstration in the history of the GDR took place at Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Just a few days later, the Wall fell. By fighting for power, the SED visibly lost ground: The people continued to demonstrate, countless new movements, parties and initiatives were established and the question of power was more openly discussed. Finally, the legal conditions for the democratisation of the country were established at the Round Table. The fact that the Communist leaders did not voluntarily, and without a struggle, give up their power is illustrated by the dissolution of the Ministry of State Security.

Demonstranten mit einem großen Transparent
More than half a million people approach the finish line: a large scale protest for reforms and democracy on Alexanderplatz in East Berlin (November 4, 1989). © Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Jose Giribas

Unity

Calls for the unification of Germany were already being heard loudly during the demonstrations at the end of 1989. The election campaign for the first free elections in the GDR was heavily influenced by the subject of unity. The election was won by the ‘Allianz für Deutschland’ [Alliance for Germany], which promised rapid reunification. The attendant circumstances of economic, currency and social union were also reported as the consequences of the new democratic opportunities. The traditional hierarchies broke down and the new ones were not yet established. The East Germans increasingly developed a new attitude to life. They changed their country and felt it dramatically.

The Peaceful Revolution: Chronology here