Demonstration by the Polish trade union Solidarnosc in the pilgrimage city of Tschenstochau (Poland). The illegal trade union Solidarnosc grew into a mass movement that could no longer be stopped.
Source: AP Photo

Environmental Libraries

From September 1986 onwards, the Environmental Library operated in the parish rooms of the Zion Church in East Berlin. Not only could visitors to the library learn about environmental problems but also about all taboo subjects in society. Along with dissident pamphlets, the the opposition group also published the Umweltblätter newsletter. This was one of the most widely distributed underground journals in the GDR. Dissident artists exhibited their works in a gallery. Seminars, lectures, film showings and concerts also took place in this room. In the end, the Environmental Library in Berlin became a central information point and meeting place for opposition activists from throughout the country.

View of the Zion Church, East Berlin. The courageous pastor Hans Simon gave the Environmental Library in Berlin a home in the basement of the parsonage. The church community provided protection for the opposition activists.
Source: picture-alliance/dpa
Umweltblätter newsletter, July 1989. The underground magazine was published almost once a month from 1986. Starting out with a print-run of 150 copies, the volume grew to four thousand by September 1989. Each newsletter covered subjects that were not reported in the state media or only in an ideologically distorted form.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft
Visitors to the basement of the Zion Community could find out about opposition actions and events in the entire GDR. The library provided underground publications from around the country and banned fiction and non-fiction writing.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Wolfgang Rüddenklau
Berlin Environmental Library, May 1988: Uta Ihlow preparing stencils for printing the dissident Umweltblätter newsletter. Printing magazines was a complicated process. Stencils had to be typed several times over even for small print-runs and every magazine was collated and stapled by hand.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Wolfgang Rüddenklau
Members of the Environmental Library met up every Tuesday to plan their work. Up to the fall of the Wall, they were involved in many key opposition activities in East Berlin. In the autumn of 1989, the printing press was operated around the clock. Tens of thousands of copies of declarations by all the opposition civil rights movements, parties and initiatives were printed and distributed.
Source: Harald Hauswald/OSTKREUZ
Flyer for the exhibition “The Other Side of a City” by the writer Lutz Rathenow and the photographer Harald Hauswald in the Environmental Library, 1987. Hauswald and Rathenow published their declaration of love for East Berlin as a book in West Germany, since it was impossible to bring it out in the GDR.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft

From the mid-1980s onwards, similar libraries were founded in other parts of the GDR. For the opposition groups, they developed into important centres for information and coordination. As venues for open discussion and cooperation, they were a place to learn democracy. Stasi employees closely monitored the libraries' activities and attempted to stop their work and prevent them from exerting any influence on the general public.

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