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Why People in Leipzig Protest

Severe neglect and pollution fuel demonstrations by more than a third of the population. EAST GERMANY

LEIPZIG is Johann Sebastian Bach's town. You don't allow Bach's town to fall into ruins without paying the consequences, but that is exactly what has happened.

Not just Bach's legacy, but a rich cultural and commercial life made this a prominent European city up until World War II. Now it looks more like a scratched black-and-white movie.

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Often cloaked in thick smog, Leipzig's beautiful baroque, renaissance, and art nouveau row houses and shops are crumbling - fa,cades peeling off down to the brick and roofs caving in.

The price paid by those in charge for the last 40 years was open revolt. The mass demonstrations that swept East Germany last month sprang from Leipzig, the country's second-largest city. About 200,000 Leipzigers - more than a third of the population - still march regularly on Monday nights.

Severe decay and pollution are not the only reasons behind Leipzig's new role as the center of discontent in East Germany. ``A lot of things came together'' at one time and one place, explains Bernhard Knupp, an attorney whose reform efforts led to the recent resignation of local Communist Party leaders.

An important factor, says Mr. Knupp, is that Leipzigers ``have always had close ties to Westerners.''

Twice a year Leipzig stocks the shelves and cleans up those streets leading to the world's largest general industrial fair. Fairs are a Leipzig tradition going back to the Middle Ages, when the city stood at the intersection of important trade routes in Central Europe. Trade was what made Leipzig rich, and the city still has the biggest train station in Europe.

``Every fall and every spring, Westerners come with their big cars. Naturally, dissatisfaction grew,'' says Michael Arnold, the local spokesman for New Forum, the country's largest opposition group.

He also points out, though, that the church here played a key role. The Nikolai church began weekly services for peace back in 1982. These took on increasing political meaning over the years, and since 1988 demonstrators sporadically tried to protest but were met with police violence and arrests. This fall thousands, then tens of thousands, and finally hundreds of thousands regularly demonstrated after Monday night church services.

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``No other city was having regular demonstrations the way Leipzig was,'' says Mr. Arnold.

It pains the people here to watch their heritage crumble. On the world touring circuit, the St. Thomas choir ranks with the Vienna boys' choir, and choir directors are still referred to as ``Bach's successor.'' The orchestra is outstanding and the Pepper Mill Cabaret is famous in Europe for its bitting satire. Leipzig, a university town, is also the book publishing capital of East Germany. Many older residents here still feel Leipzig - and not half of Berlin - should have been the capital.

What annoys them even more, however, is that East Berlin has robbed them of their glory. The capital appropriated goods, construction workers, and construction material from cities around the country.

The authorities in Leipzig, says Knupp, acted as if nothing was wrong. ``You know the story about the emperor's new clothes? Well, that is what it was like here.''

Leipzig is getting back about half of the 700-plus construction workers who were sent to Berlin. But this is a drop in the bucket in light of the wave of workers who fled the city West Germany, the lack of material, and the immensity of the job at hand.

``We've done a lot for the economy of this country and for the spirit of this country. We don't want a special role, we don't want gifts. We just want what corresponds to our achievements'' says Hans-Joachim Schroeder, head of building in the city.

Mr. Schroeder says he sees the city's problems as so immense that it needs help from around the country. The city can not solve its environmental problem on its own, for instance.

Most heating still comes from coal stoves in individual apartments. When combined with the pollution of a large coal briquette facility to the south and major chemical factories to the west and north, this smoke forms a thick fog that can hang around for days.

Egon Krenz, the Communist Party general secretary, visited here Saturday and talked with workers and people on the street. He admitted that the city had been ``neglected'' by central planners and said he would discuss ways to support the city with Hans Modrow, the new prime minister.

Since the change in government, Leipzigers have enjoyed the same new freedoms as other East Germans: a decrease in secret police observation, a more open news media, and travel to West Germany. But anyone attending one of the Monday night rallies will quickly realize that is not enough to satisfy residents. The Communist Party must give up its monopoly on power, the Leipzigers demand, and they won't stop demonstrating until they get what they want. Said one speaker last Monday night: ``Rain or snow, we will demonstrate.''

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