When I was a junior at Ohio State, I took a German class called Protest, Rebellion, and Revolution. As the title suggests, we learned about past, recent, and current resistance movements in Germany when das Volk banded together, expressed their opinions, and did something about it. If there is one thing I took away from this course, it’s that Germans have a history of expressing dissatisfaction by the means of protests/rebellions/resistances/revolutions/etc, and this mentality has carried on to become an important part of the German identity today. Since living here, I have seen this on multiple occasions, big and small, and without a doubt, it will continue to grow and become further embedded in the culture as time goes on.
Living in Leipzig, I am surrounded by a rich history of revolution. Only 25 years ago, a pastor at the Nikolaikirche began to hold peaceful prayer nights in hopes of obtaining religious freedom in East Germany. Little did Christian Führer know, this idea would lead to the Peaceful Revolution and spread across the former East, which ultimately caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although I was (obviously) not in Leipzig in 1989, I have experienced a taste of being a part of something worth fighting for so far during my time in this city.
In Germany and most prominently in Saxony, a group named PEGIDA (LEGIDA in Leipzig) has been rallying support. Now, let’s be clear: they suck. They are xenophobic, Islamophobic neo-Nazis that want to abolish all traces of Germany’s diversity. Since autumn, PEGIDA has been having weekly protests that have been attracting massive numbers. Literally nearing 20,000 in Dresden at its peak. When this group inevitably came to Leipzig, there was a backlash. At most, LEGIDA drew in around 5,000 protesters, however, my fellow Leipzigers weren’t going to allow that. Carrying signs that say Leipzig bleibt bunt (Leipzig stays colorful) among others, 30,000 (!!!!) people came to counter-protest.
Even a couple of weeks ago, I went to a protest in solidarity with my colleagues at school. Teachers (and other jobs/trades) not only in Sachsen, but also in other parts of the former East, gathered together with their respective unions to express their right for wage equality.
Not to be grossly stereotypical, but Germans just love to express their freedom to assemble. (Literal quote from a colleague of mine: “Let’s break the man!”). However, this may just be a former East mentality; I am not entirely sure if in parts of the former West there is this same urgency to rally for change. Perhaps years of being verboten to take to the streets has caused a boom post-reunification. But, it is something very prevalent in every day life that I am not used to back in the States. A forbidden fruit in Sachsen is evidently free candy in the back of a nondescript van in the USA– in Sachsen, protesting is still a novelty it seems, whereas in the States, we acknowledge that it’s there, but seem to gloss over it. In recent times, I cannot recall of protests of such a large scale occurring like this Stateside. I remember protests in Columbus outside of the Statehouse, but no more than 200 or so people would attend. Even “little” street marches in Germany gather thousands of participants—everything from anti-large AG business to animal cruelty awareness. If there is a social issue that is under—or misrepresented, you can guarantee that there is someone organizing a march for the cause. This is definitely one of the most interesting differences I have noticed during my Fulbright year so far. It’s something that is unique to where I live specifically, and makes this year the epitome of a learning experience.