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Day 11 – Leipzig – Arts and Culture

We awoke to a rainy morning, and the imminence of the end of the trip became real as the class walked to take COVID-19 tests prior to our return flights. In good German fashion, the tests were very thorough.

After the tests and a brief period of free time, we were on our way to the Nikolai Kirche (St. Nicholas Church).  Our guide for the day, Daniela has incredible expertise about the art, culture, and history surrounding Leipzig.  She shared with us that when Leipzig was founded in 800 AD it was at the intersection of two trade routes, which made it a natural point for commerce and trade fairs.  As a result, Leipzig has a strong history of arts and culture.

The Nikolai Church is one of the major churches in central Leipzig and has a long history.  Construction began in 1165 in Romanesque style.  In the 16th century, it was turned into Gothic style, and Baroque elements, including the tower, which was added in the 18th century.  In the church there are large, fluted columns with palm fronds at the top representing paradise.  Between 1723 and 1750, Johann Sebastian Bach was responsible for the music in the church (as well as other neighboring churches).

The Nikolai Church has always been a center of Leipzig’s community and several important events have occurred there. The church was the location for Monday Prayers for Peace.  They supported the resistance against Soviet control of the East German government and allowed non-violent protests and prayers.  Protesters were demanding rights such as the freedom to travel to foreign counties and the right to elect a democratic government. 

The church gained national fame on Monday, October 9th, 1989, when Monday Prayers for Peace inside the church turned into a peaceful protest which grew to over 70,000 people in a city with a population of 500,000 people. In the streets, protesters shouted, “We are the People” and “No Violence.”  Local leaders drastically underestimated the scale of this event and were quickly overwhelmed.  While some demonstrators were arrested, the security forces did not overwhelmingly intervene, even though they were given permission to use force.  This event led to the overthrowing of the Social Democratic Party (SED) of Germany, which was the founding and ruling party of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany).  The SED was a Marxist-Leninist communist party.  October 9th, 1989, is considered to be “the beginning of the end” of GDR. 

We were fortunate to be joined by Mr. Pürner, who was involved in the Monday Prayers and demonstrations.  Hearing the experience of someone who was present during the Peaceful Protest was impactful.  Mr. Prüner shared with us history of the church as well as his experiences during the protest.  The prayers started because the people were not allowed to participate in any protest or political gathering, however prayers and religious services were allowed.  Religious freedom was only allowed under the GDR in rites, not discussions.  Participants prayed for environmental protection, and the end of the Cold War initially.  Later a political component was added.  Most participants, after almost 40 years of communist rule were not Christians.  The goal of the prayers was never reunification or democracy, or the dissolution of the GDR even though that was the ultimate result. 

Mr. Pürner was a member of the Nikolai congregation, and it was the congregation’s responsibility to keep the peace during the “Revolution.”  There were a lot of fears and people were very afraid of being arrested, or worse, particularly because of the events in Tiananmen Square just months before.  The peaceful revolution was only able to happen because of the open mindedness of the church minister.  The uncertainty and fear pushed Mr. Prüner to write a letter to the minister asking that he take care of his wife and kids if something happened to him. However, the protest gave courage to others when no violence occurred.  The participants in the peaceful protest were happy about reunification even though that wasn’t the goal. To this day, weekly prayers continue. 

There is a beautiful monument to October 9, 1989, outside the church.  It is a column in the design of a fluted palm tree, just like the columns supporting the structure of the church inside, with a plaque commemorating the Peaceful Revolution.  The palm tree is a symbol of the thoughts and prayer from inside of the church, transferring to the outside, and as stated above, represents paradise. 

The Peaceful protest was reminiscent of the peaceful protests Martin Luther King Jr advocated for during the Civil Rights movement in the United States.  This reminder allowed us to reflect on our time in Atlanta Georgia in March of 2020, where we visited the National Museum of Civil and Human Rights and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. (See link below)

Atlanta – Day 5 – California Agricultural Leadership Program (

We also visited St. Thomas Church where famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach is buried, and where the 14th century theologist, priest, and namesake of Lutheranism, Martin Luther, gave a sermon introducing the reformation on May 25th, 1539.   Additionally, this church has been home to a world-renowned boys choir since 1212 which was also led by Bach for 27 years. 

After the continuation of our city tour, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. The foundation of the museum was laid in 1858, when the Leipzig Art Association was founded in 1837.  In 1848, the association opened Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig with approximately 100 works of donated contemporary (at the time) art.  In 1937, the Nazis confiscated 394 paintings from the museum and in 1943, the museum building was destroyed by a British air raid.  Luckily, most of the works of art were protected in a safe location.  The current collection includes approximately 3,500 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, and 60,000 graphic sheets.  The collection covers from the Late Middle Ages to the present, focusing on European art.  In the lobby there is a beautiful mosaic depicting the donors who made the museum possible. 

In the museum we were treated to a wide variety of art, some artists were new to us, but many names were familiar, including Monet, Rembrandt, and Degas. 

The significant insight into trade, history, and the arts in Leipzig gave us a wonderful lesson in the importance in understanding other cultures and how learning from this part of history can help us become better leaders.  After seeing some of the horrors of this region, it was great to experience the beauty of Eastern Europe.

Dinner was a fascinating event at Auerbachs Keller (Celler). It is the second oldest restaurant and wine cellar in Leipzig, dating back to 1438. It was known to be frequented by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe in the 1700s. Goethe used the location and stories surrounding it to compose Faust, using scenes painted on the walls of the restaurant. The paintings depicted a man named Johann George Faust riding a wine barrel with the help of the devil. Today, the devil still visits Auerbachs Keller and sings to the patrons, an event we were foturnate to experience.

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