Fire, Fire, Everywhere

Normally when there is a large fire of sorts, people aren’t whipping out their phones and taking pictures of it (unless you’re under 19, in which case you’ve probably already thought about what Instagram filter will complement the flames best; X-Pro II, anyone?)

If you find yourself at Leipzig’s “Lichtfest” (“Festival of Lights”) this year though, you likely have a very good reason to be snapping photos of the fire on display.

That’s because every year since 2009, the people of Leipzig have gathered in the city center with candles to commemorate the peaceful protests that occurred in the fall of 1989 against the East German government. And as history would have it, these protests were one of many contributing factors to the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year.

But this night is all about remembering, and a little bit of celebrating. People have gathered in the city center, just as they did 28 years before, this time to place their tea light candles in the shape of the number “89.”

The night is crisp with a little hint of fall in the air. If you look around, the streets are quiet with no running trams hustling by. The only lights on are those of surrounding businesses, the candles in people’s hands, and the number “89” illuminated by lights inside Leipzig’s Panorama Tower. 

Leipzig’s Panorama Tower in the distance

It’s a great night to be outside, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. I make my way near the stage so that I can catch a glimpse of everything. But wait! How can you participate in “Lichtfest” without even having a candle?

I remember seeing a large table of candles at one end of the event, but think surely there must be another table of them somewhere else. After all, the point of the night ~I thought~ was for everyone to have a candle in their hand.

So, I do some wandering, and I find the two large tables that are in the shape of the “8” and “9” near the stage. The table in the shape of the “8” doesn’t have a lot of candles on it, so I think to myself, “Oh, they’re going fast! Better grab one.”

I grab one, taking it with me for a ride back to my spot near the stage. The event begins to start with a four-piece band and some guest speakers. There are video montages and some live performers doing their thing; it’s going well, and I’m impressed by how organized and professional the whole event is.

But then the thought occurs to me as I look around, “Boy, not a lot of people have candles in their hands.” Maybe we aren’t suppose to be holding the candles from the table?

Performers onstage

The program continues, and in between acts, live video feed of the candle-lit “89” tables are being projected onto the screen behind the stage. Instead of the number of candles on the tables getting smaller, however, the numbers have increased – significantly. So much so that the tables are practically full.

And then it hit me: I had a grabbed someone else’s candle that had already been placed on the table! Without being too obvious, I walk back to the “8” table and nonchalantly put the candle back, as if it were my first time visiting.

To seal the deal, I take another picture of the now-glowing table so it looks like I have never seen the display before. I’m SURE I fooled everyone, especially the old woman who yelled “candle thief” at me in German (that didn’t happen).

A much fuller-looking table

What did happen was an evening I won’t forget. It’s weird to experience the celebration of historical events that you a) did not live through, and b) experienced in a country other than your own. But that’s exactly what happened here, and I have no regrets (other than taking that poor person’s candle).


Vince Woods received his Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He is currently a sophomore at UMKC, pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Education with the intention of teaching German. Vince is spending the semester abroad with the MAUI-Utrecht Exchange Program in Leipzig, Germany.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.