Christian Führer, the Leipzig pastor who rallied East Germans to resist the injustice of the former communist system before reunification in 1990, died June 30 at a hospital in Leipzig. He was 71.
The cause was lung disease, according to German news media.
Starting in the early 1980s, Rev. Führer organized “peace prayers” every Monday in the city’s Church of St. Nicholas, which became a focal point for East Germans engaged in peaceful protest against the regime of Erich Honecker.
The nonviolent demonstrations that ensued in October 1989 led to Honecker’s removal as leader and the appointment of Egon Krenz as his successor. The German Democratic Republic had its first free elections in March the following year, opening the way for reunification of East and West Germany.
“Christian Führer was a bearer of hope to many people, both in his profession as a pastor and as one of the defining figures of the peace prayers in the Church of St. Nicholas as well as the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig that led to the peaceful revolution in East Germany,” German President Joachim Gauck wrote Monday in a letter to Rev. Führer’s son, Sebastian.
The Monday prayers at the Lutheran church culminated in a standoff between the resistance and Honecker’s communist party, known in German as the SED, on Oct. 9, 1989. About 70,000 people protested in the streets after the Ministry for State Security arranged for Honecker loyalists to occupy more than 500 seats in the church during the prayer session.
“I always wanted also to move in the earthly realm,” Rev. Führer said in a 2008 interview with the New York Times. “It is not the throne and the altar, but the street and the altar that belong together.”
After reunification, Rev. Führer continued to speak out in favor of what he perceived as injustice. He opposed cuts to social security benefits imposed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government, advocated for a minimum wage and demonstrated against the Iraq War.
Recognizable in his jeans and denim jacket, Rev. Führer gave antiwar sermons that attracted as many as 25,000 people in March 2003, according to an article on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Web site.
Rev. Führer was born in Leipzig on March 5, 1943. He learned Greek and Latin and studied theology at Karl Marx University, now the University of Leipzig, according to the New York Times. He also took a job in a car factory, rode motorcycles as a telegram delivery boy and worked as a train waiter, according to the Times.
From 1968 until 1980, he was a pastor in Lastau and Colditz before being appointed head of the congregation at the Church of St. Nicholas in 1980. He began the peace prayers two years later. Rev. Führer retired in 2008.
“We experienced it together,” he said on the church’s Web site. “Thousands in the churches, hundreds of thousands on the street around the city center. Not one broken shop window. The unbelievable experience of the power of nonviolence.”
Rev. Führer and his wife, Monika, a pharmacist, had four children, according to the city of Bayreuth, which awarded him the Wilhelmine von Bayreuth prize in 2013 for tolerance and humanity. Monika Führer died of cancer in 2012, according to Bild-Zeitung.