A memorial to the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 is planned for Leipzig. But residents and politicians are divided over whether or not the city needs such a memorial and, if so, how it should look.
Wilhelm Leuschner Squarein the center of Leipzig is currently a construction site. But nothing there suggests the memorial to German reunification planned for the site. Instead, work is progressing on the controversial railway tunnel that will run beneath the square.
Just as opinion was split over this vast construction project, local reactions to a memorial to the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 that led to the overthrow of East Germany's communist government and paved the way for German reunification the following year are also polarized.
Tobias Hollitzer is in favor of the memorial. He's a member of the citizen initiative group "Peaceful Revolution" and is convinced that it is important for Leipzig to create a symbol "for the countless memories, whether in the form of museums, memorial sites or Leipzig's Festival of Lights." Hollitzer is certain that the majority of the city's population wants the memorial.
Leipzigalready has a small, discreet monument to the Peaceful Revolution. Just outside of the Church of St. Nicholas, the point of origin for the Monday demonstrations in the autumn of 1989, there is now a column resembling one of the pillars in the interior of the church.
That's one of the reasons why passers-by on Wilhelm Leuschner Square have doubts about the planned memorial.
"I'm not for it. The remembrance of reunification is documented well enough with the column in front of the Church of St. Nicholas," one pedestrian said. But he did support the idea of an Internet forum where local residents can learn about the memorial and discuss the plans. Over 1,000 Leipzig residents have already taken the opportunity to air their grievances.
Three proposals from the original 38 are still in the running, but none of the ideas selected by a jury managed to win over the local population. One of the jury's favorites, "70,000" - an area the size of a soccer pitch filled with 70,000 brightly colored stools - failed to impress because people felt that the movable plastic cubes did not seem solemn enough.
Nobody was prepared to even discuss the second proposal. Most favored the third plan - an open-access orchard. But the mood among Leipzig citizens has been that that proposal was the least of three evils.
There may be no good suggestions for a memorial site, but city officials in Leipzig are unperturbed. "We're actually very satisfied with how things have gone up to now," said Minister for Culture Michael Faber, whose office is responsible for running the project.
The decision was taken to undergo a comprehensive, consultative process, which included a youth workshop, another workshop for experts, a poll for local citizens and then a jury selection process. "It was foreseeable that there would be heavy discussion after the selection of the three prizewinners," Faber said.
Local politicians have joined in the debates regarding the meaning and the design of the planned memorial. The memorial is due to open on October 9, 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig - a decisive turning point in the Peaceful Revolution that resulted in German reunification. That deadline probably won't be met. In the meantime, organizers will at least be relieved if the project is completed within the next two years.
A total of 6.5 million euros ($8.4 million) has been set aside for the memorial, five million of which was provided by the German government. The remainder came from the state of Saxony.
"Aside from the costs that speak against such a memorial, the design hasn't convinced us either. We can imagine that a foundation or a prize for democratic engagement in the present could be established instead," municipal councilor Juliane Nagel said. Her Left party, the successor to the East German communists, would prefer it if the citizens of Leipzig could decide for themselves, but the city government rejected an application for a public referendum in 2009. Now another is planned.
Unexpected support comes from the Christian Democrats (CDU). They also want a referendum, but in contrast to the Left, they are in favor of the memorial. That's why the CDU is calling for the citizens of Leipzig to vote for their preferred design when they go to polls in upcoming mayoral elections in January 2013.
And that's despite the fact that Sabine Heymann, the acting chairman of the CDU group in Leipzig, does not appear to be persuaded by any of the current proposals. "For better or for worse, we're tied to the opinion of the jury, so at the moment we can only discuss the first three proposals. In principle, it should come to the point where the plans can be implemented," Heymann said.
Memorial for Eastern Europe
The citizens who are now being asked to express their opinions on the matter include those who, like Tobias Hollitzer, demonstrated for freedom of expression in 1989. He hopes that the fuss will soon die down and that local opinion will see that the memorial is not just an opportunity for Leipzig. "With the significance of the Monday demonstrations, Leipzig has become a symbolic location" for all of former East Germany, Hollitzer said.
Because of that, supporters hope to see the memorial standing soon in Leipzig - representing not only the breakthrough in the Saxon city, but also as a reference point for the wider meaning of the Peaceful Revolution amid the collapse of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.
In that case, at least according to Hollitzer, the entire population of Germany must be involved in any referendum on the project. However, that would further delay future decisions on how the memorial should look. An inauguration in two years' time to mark the 25th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution looks increasingly unrealistic.