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  • Karin Gambaracci

Martin Luther King Jr. in Berlin

13th September 1964. St. Mary's Church in East Berlin, almost always half-empty in the new era of communist Berlin, that day was so full that those present could hardly breathe. Yet, there had been no official announcement. No newspaper, no radio station of the German Democratic Republic had issued any announcements about the demonstration that was to begin. Only the church itself had posted a notice on the notice board: "Ecumenical Mass with guest speaker, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.".

Even here, behind the grey Berlin Wall, Martin Luther King was a legend. Only two months earlier racial segregation in the United States had finally been outlawed, thanks to his vision, courage and perseverance in the fight for the rights of Afroamericans. "I have a dream" ... And the dream was beginning to come true.

News of his arrival in East Berlin spread like wildfire, so strong and desperate was the public's need for a man who would give them hope, something to hold on to. Because one of the most tragic consequences of the construction of the Wall had been precisely this: the destruction of hope. Reading the documents of the time, one always finds the same passages. Some were furious and tried to escape, often at the cost of their lives. But many, many were so desperate that fell into severe depression.

"My dear Christian friends in East-Berlin" ... "Here in Berlin there are children of God on both sides of the wall, and no border built by human hand will ever erase that. We can work together, pray together, strive together for freedom. In the certainty that one day we will finally be free...".

At the end of the demonstration, which was then repeated at the Sophienkirche (so that all those who had had to wait outside could also hear the pastor's words), thousands of people lined up for hours to embrace and thank him.

Two months later, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Four years later he was assassinated. In Berlin, thousands and thousands of people mourned the death of this great man. A man who had managed to give Berliners the dream they needed most of all. Hope.


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