The German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), was officially formed in 1949 in the Soviet-occupied zone of post-Nazi Germany. Leipzig was the second-largest city in the newly born East Germany.
From the beginning, life in the GDR was extremely difficult. Limited resources and freedoms created a deep sense of unease and dissatisfaction among the people. On June 17, 1953, a spontaneous protest broke out in East Berlin against the government and its imposed living standards. This uprising of some 50,000 people was forcefully stopped by Russian soldiers, killing at least 125.
Fast forward to 1989, the fortieth anniversary of East Germany. Mikhail Gorbachev’s young policies of economic perestroika (restructuring) and public glasnost (openness) had relaxed the once hard-line government, but were not enough to prevent an imminent collapse of the Soviet system. In May, Hungary broke with Warsaw Pact protocol and tore down its barriers along the Austrian border, inciting 661 East Germans to escape across. Like a broken dam, similar-minded East Germans began flooding the West German diplomatic missions of various communist countries looking for asylum. When Hungary officially opened its border to Austria on 11 September, 15,000 East Germans crossed it into the West, with more continuing to do so at a rate of 10,000 each day.
At this same time, internal public opposition began to strengthen and grow in East Germany. Since 1982, people had been gathering at the Nikolaikirche in the centre of Leipzig every Monday to pray for concerns of both a personal and political nature.