Gethsemane Church, Berlin | China Change
This article was the first published on China Change website on June 26, 2018
Upon the first anniversary of the death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, a public memorial will be held in the Gethsemane Church (at Stargarder Str. 77, 10437) in Berlin, on July 13, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. On this day last year, China’s most famous political prisoner perished in custody, under tight surveillance and official control, in a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Two days later the world saw his ashes scattered in the Yellow Sea.
The Gethsemane Church in Berlin is as renowned as the Nikolai Church in Leipzig — both of which were important refuges for East German dissidents. A few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gethsemane sternly rejected the entry of a police-military manhunt, and provided asylum to over a thousand underground rebels. The church is also well-known for hosting Rolf Reuter’s (music director of Komische Oper company) conducting of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, followed by his speech with the lines that “The Wall Must Go!”, which shocked the East. On the evening of October 9, 1989, when the church’s late service finished, protesters walked outside still holding their candles and stood in the streets by their tens of thousands — a prelude to the collapse of the Communist Party of Germany.
We thus feel that the Gethsemane Church — sacred ground for human rights and democracy — is the ideal location for a memorial and prayer service for a man who fought till his death for those very values. The church sounds an alarm for a world upon the cusp of transformation: the Berlin Wall has been rubble for 29 years, but the economically powerful Chinese dictatorship continues to imprison over a billion members of the human race behind its own ‘Berlin Wall,’ which it keeps expanding. The 10,000 or more victims of the Tiananmen slaughter have received no restitution, and China’s Gulag Archipelago is distributed and hidden in untold corners of the country, in which new dissidents are arrested and imprisoned every day. In another time and another place, Liu Xiaobo would have been an East German — one full of bravery who scaled and pushed over the Berlin Wall, and died riddled with bullets for it.
The organizer of the memorial is the German pastor Roland Kühne, long associated with human rights causes. Rallied to action by the plight of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kühne has from 2010 to this day led hundreds of vocational college students to hold protests outside the Chinese embassy in Germany. Last year they carried aloft a coffin as part of the demonstration. Another organizer, Tienchi Martin-Liao (廖天琪), is the chief editor of Liu’s works in Chinese, German, and English; she also serves as president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center and is a longtime ‘comrade-in-arms’ with Kühne.
Kühne and Martin-Liao will preside over the memorial service. Opening the event will be the 82-year-old Berlin Wall-era poet, singer, and Georg Büchner Prize Laureate, Wolf Biermann, a household name in Germany. Biermann ‘defected’ from East Berlin in 1976, then held a famous concert, attended by over 10,000, in the Cologne Sporthalle. His 1974 ‘In China hinter der Mauer’ (In China Behind the Wall) infuriated the Communist Party of Germany, and he was eventually expatriated by the Party.
Biermann has since last year also been tireless in his efforts to help get Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia out of China. To this end, he’ll be singing ‘A Dirge to Jürgen Fuchs.’ Memories of Fuchs, a dear friend of Biermann who was secretly arrested in 1976, were the first thing to flood to Biermann’s mind on the day that Liu died. Fuchs was locked up in the Volkseigener Betrieb (VEB) People’s Prison, where he was irradiated with gamma rays on a daily basis by intelligence operatives posing as doctors. He silently fell ill and died of leukemia, becoming a famous case of radiation poisoning. Biermann sees Liu Xiaobo as a similar warrior belonging to all mankind, one who fell into the hands of the enemy in the battle for freedom, yet kept resisting until the end.
Herta Müller, one of Germany’s most famous poets and herself a Nobel Laureate in literature, will read in German poems composed by Liu Xia, which Müller translated from English. Müller was one of the key nominators of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her literary works — including The Hunger Angel (Atemschaukel), Nadirs (Niederungen), and My Homeland Was an Appleseed (Mein Vaterland war ein Apfelkern) — all depict the daily experiences and struggles of life under communist dictatorship. Müller has long taken a close interest in China’s political prisoners and exiles, and has been a key figure involved in the attempts to rescue Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, from last year to this day.
Exile Chinese author and musician Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), an old friend to Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia and winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, will be joining with the young German violinist Fabian Lukas Voigtschild to perform the new work ‘Liu Xiaobo’s Last Moments’ (《劉曉波的最後時刻》). The inspiration for the work came from a phrase spoken by Liu Xia in an August 31, 2017 telephone conversation with Liao: “He [Liu Xiaobo] told me I had to get out of the country.… In the end he stopped speaking — he just kicked his leg to show what he meant. His legs kept moving, almost like he was walking, non-stop, for over an hour, both legs walking non-stop… without cease, without cease…”
American author and Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson will give a speech on the day. Johnson is a long-time resident of Beijing and has interviewed numerous dissidents as a correspondent for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Review of Books. He is a well-known author of long-form journalism, as shown by the influential works “Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China,” and “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.”
Pastor Kühne will lead all attendees in a section-by-section reading of Proverbs 31:8 (“Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. / Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”) A film review of Liu Xiaobo’s life will also be screened, as well as the April 30, 2018, phone call recording with Liu Xia, in which she cried, for three minutes, in despair. The female singer Isabell, who bears a striking resemblance to a 1960s-era Joan Baez, will perform ‘Donna, Donna,’ closely accompanied by a choir of several hundred students from the Rhein-Maas-College (Rhein-Maas Berufskolleg). The performance will slowly lead into a joint chorus by the entire body of memorial participants, who will sing together to call for Liu Xia’s freedom.
We invite every recipient of this invitation to come and participate in this memorial — no matter where you are in the world, whatever your political views, or the color of your skin or content of your beliefs. Please, all keep in mind this pacifist and author of the statement ‘I Have No Enemies’ (《我沒有敵人》). Following the massacre of 1989, Liu Xiaobo was jailed four times and in the end, died a caged prisoner. His wife, Liu Xia, has been held under long-term house arrest simply because of her love for him and has been unable to leave the country and seek treatment for her severe clinical depression.
If you cannot join us, please spread this invitation and the song ‘Donna, Donna’, make your own appeals to governments, or pray.
Gethsemane Church, Berlin, Germany
Organizing Committee for the Memorial on the First Anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing