Strangely enough, the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago began with a peaceful revolution in Leipzig. The nonviolent demonstrations for democracy and peace began here, then spread throughout East Germany.
Stranger still, I now had family in Leipzig. My niece married a German businessman from this charming city and they volunteered to show me around, her 4- and 6-year-olds serving as my friendly translators.
Our little caravan marched down the same streets where thousands of demonstrators demanded freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom to travel, freedom for political reform.
This powerful movement began with morning peace prayers at St. Nicholas Church on Sundays in November 1982. Over the years, the movement grew and the demonstrations moved to Mondays.
In October 1989, the peaceful protestors filled the streets shouting “We are the people,” “Freedom, free elections” and “Freedom for the prisoners.”
The large police force couldn't cope with the huge nonviolent crowds. Later, 120,000 people from all over East Germany joined the demonstrations, demanding freedom at long last.
Finally, Erich Honecker, the head of the Communist Party, left office after 18 years for “health reasons.” On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened. East and West Germany were finally reunited.
“These events were of immense historical importance for Germany, and also played a key role in shaping the course of European unity,” notes Petra Hedorfer, chief executive of the German National Tourist Board.
Since 2009, the Festival of Lights has commemorated the nonviolent march of 70,000 demonstrators on Oct. 9, 1989. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolution, the festival's organizers are expecting tens of thousands of visitors from throughout Germany.
They have planned a long weekend of cultural events, beginning with the peace prayer and democracy speech at St. Nicholas Church. It will be followed by the Festival of Lights on Augustusplatz square that evening.
All along the route of the historical march through the city center, special exhibitions and performances will highlight the history of Germany's division. International artists will use audio, video and lights to explore the themes of freedom, democracy, nonviolence and civic engagement.
My niece's in-laws were anxious to show me around their lovely city. They had lived behind the Iron Curtain for many years.
Today, Leipzig is very much a Saxon city. Its stately architecture reflects a rich past as a commercial center with the oldest trade fair in Germany.
As we strolled down the busy boulevards, the youngsters offered a nonstop commentary loosely translated from their grandparents' tales.
We visited St. Nicholas Church, which was built around the founding of Leipzig in 1165. It is in the heart of the city at the intersection of two Roman trade routes, the Via Regia and Via Imperii.
St. Thomas Lutheran Church is where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as the choir director from 1723 until his death in 1750. Bach is buried here and a statue of the famous composer sits outside the church.
They drove me out to the Battle of the Nations Monument. The imposing 300-foot-tall monument commemorates Napoleon's defeat in 1813. It is said that it stands on the spot of some of the bloodiest fighting, from where Napoleon ordered the retreat. When the Allies invaded France the next year, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was exiled to the island of Elba in May 1814.
More than 500 steps lead to a viewing platform on the top, which has wonderful views of the city. The crypt has eight large statues of fallen warriors. The second story of the monument has four great statues 31 feet tall. They represent the four legendary qualities of bravery, faith, sacrifice and fertility.
Back in town, the imposing New City Hall has been the seat of government since 1905. It is opposite the city library on Leipzig's ring road.
The 36-story City-Hochhaus, at 466 feet tall, is the tallest building in Leipzig. Owned by Merrill Lynch, the building was designed by architect Hermann Henselmann to resemble an open book.
By now everyone was hungry, so we went to Auerbach's Cellar, probably the best-known and second-oldest restaurant in Leipzig. One of the city's most important wine bars by the 16th century, it was described in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's play “Faust I” as the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust on their travels.
Auerbach's Cellar sits below the Mädlerpassage shopping arcade in Leipzig's historical district near the market. It has five historical dining rooms.
According to legend, the alchemist Johann Georg Faust rode a wine barrel from the cellar to the street, something he could have accomplished only with the help of the devil.
By then the tykes were tired, so we didn't get to see some of the other famous attractions, including the botanical garden, which is the oldest in Germany; and Leipzig's zoo c, which covers 56 acres with 850 species. The zoo is known worldwide for its carnivore exhibit. The zoo has bred more than 2,000 lions, as well as 250 rare Siberian tigers.