On October 7, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, St Nicholas was closed, but some 4,000 people gathered outside and tried to march on the city’s ring road. The demonstration was broken up violently by police using batons, water cannon and dogs. There were many injuries and arrests.
In preparation for the weekly vigil scheduled to take place two days later, police warned that protests would be put down “with whatever means necessary”. In anticipation of violence, paratroopers were flown in and hospitals cleared for an expected influx of patients, specifically ones with gunshot wounds.
On the evening of October 9, what began as a few hundred gatherers at the church swelled to more than 70,000 in the streets outside. At the urging of Führer and other speakers, however, the protest remained nonviolent and the crowd, clutching candles and flowers, marched through the city in a peaceful demonstration, chanting the slogan Wir sind das Volk! (“We are the people!”) as armed soldiers looked on.
Although there were some arrests, without precise orders from East Berlin and surprised by the size of the demonstration, local police and political leaders shied away from causing a massacre. “We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer,” an East German official was quoted as saying.
The following week, 120,000 people turned up for the vigil and the week after that, 320,000. On November 9 the Berlin Wall tumbled down.