It was the most exciting middle of the night work phone call ever. ‘The Berlin Wall is coming down. Get yourself there and we will do the programme from Berlin tomorrow.’ And so as a young radio producer I found myself putting out Radio 4’s Today Programme from the most significant event of the post war era. There was not a lot of sleeping for a week or so. I stood and recorded the sounds at the wall as people fell into the arms of welcoming strangers and estranged relatives. The joy was overwhelming and the significance of the events immeasurable.
The irony of celebrating the fall of the wall, 30 years on, this month is extreme. Just as nations, particularly ours, contemplate putting up more barriers we remember the power of freedom and connection and of a barrier removed.
The church played a significant role in the events of 1989. I visited the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig which was a cradle of the peaceful revolution. They held regular Monday night gatherings of Prayers for Peace. These spilt out into the street and became mass demonstrations which the authorities did not feel they could stop. The Gethsemane Church in East Berlin was similarly ‘untouchable’. Clergy became known as ‘Peace Priests’. Horst Sindermann, the deputy to the East German Communist leader Erich Honecker famously confessed: ‘We had planned for everything . . . but not for candles and prayers’.
The cross is often described as reaching vertically linking earth to heaven with arms reaching horizontally to connect people to each other. As I look at the arms of our cross in the East Window they seem stretched perhaps reflecting how hard we seem to find it to live in peace. But God made us to join together defying all the boundaries of culture, language, politics and creed. So if, like me, you despair at current events, it is good to look back at 1989 and recall the power of faith and the weakness of authority in the face of candles and prayers and the arms on the cross.