Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ecclesia sanctissimi Salvatoris in portu sacro

Glienicke Bridge around 1912
When you take the Bundesstraße 1 (Federal Highway 1) from Potsdam to Berlin you will cross the Havel river on Glienicker Brücke and possibly stop for a photo shooting.

Photo shooting in November 2011. The sign reads:
Germany and Europe were divided here until November 10, 1989 at 6 p.m.

During the Cold War the bridge was the border between the East German Democratic Republic (GDR) and West Berlin frequently serving as an exchange point for spies. The most famous swap took place on February 10, 1962 when the Soviets handed over U-2 pilot Gary Powers and American student Frederic Pryor for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher aka Rudolf Ivanowich Abel. The USSR honored its spy with a stamp just in the year when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist splitting up in autonomous republics.

When you stand on Glienicke Bridge and look north over the waters you notice in the far distance a building with a spire, the Heilandskirche of Sacrow.

Ecclesia sanctissimi Salvatoris in portu sacro (©dpda)
The Ecclesia sanctissimi Salvatoris in portu sacro (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in the Sacred Port) is located on the waterfront of Jungfernsee (Virgins' Lake). In the Latin title the Slavic name of the place Sacrow (za krowje means behind the bushes) was changed to sacro, the ablative case of the Latin adjective sacer (holy). The Heilandskirche was conceived by the romantic king on the Prussian throne, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, built by court architect Ludwig Persius in the Italian style with a separated campanile (clock tower), and terminated in 1844.

When the GDR closed its borders to the West on August 13, 1961 the barrier ran across the church property such that the campanile serving as observation tower for the East German border guards eventually became part of the concrete wall. The church nave stood inside the Todesstreifen (death strip) between wall and border. Later the East German authorities sealed off the building completely to prevent any escape of people from East to West.

Looking from the campanile down to the death strip.
The concrete wall is to the left (©Pfingstkirchengemeinde)
Just before Christmas I found the following heartwarming German-German story in Der Spiegel on-line:

When the wall eventually fell on November 9, 1989, the Heilandskirche nearly in ruins became accessible again.

The interior of the Heilandskirche in November 1989 (©Pfingstkirchengemeinde)
On Christmas Eve 1989 Pastor Joachim Strauss, at the age of 77 and after more than twenty-eight years of absence from his church, held the midnight service.

The parish people were already seated when Pastor Strauss entered the dilapidated church
around midnight to celebrate Christmas Eve service on December 24, 1989
(©Birgit Regotzki/Der Spiegel)
Today the Heilandskirche has resuscitated in all its splendor, a symbol of freedom and peace, Amen.

Auferstanden aus Ruinen (Risen from ruins)
is the first line of the national anthem of the former GDR (©dpda)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

True Religion?

Just before Christmas my son sent me a link to a blog: What is a “true” religion? While most comments on the blog dealt with the question whether ISIS is "true Islam" I, after a first reading, had retained the following sentence "Everybody who is religious picks and chooses their morals from scripture" which I commented: That is most true but beware of those "leaders" who guide you through the process of picking, not what you, but what they believe.

After having read the blog a second time I must admit that there is more to the question of a true religion. I often meet people claiming that Christianity not only is a true religion but the true religion because it is based on neighborly love according to Matthew 22, 37,40: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

It is a pity that people do no longer read the Old Testament for love of the neighbor is already laid down in Leviticus 19, 18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Christ speaking as rabbi was referring to this Jewish text.

What about the Islam? In Qu'ran 42:23 we read: It is that of which Allah gives good tidings to His servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say, [O Muhammad], "I do not ask you for this message any payment [but] only good will through kinship." And whoever commits a good deed - We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative. As for the interpretation I found the following text: Islam advocates brotherly love in faith. Human beings can live in blessing and kindness so long as they love each other, show trust-worthiness, and behave according to truth and fairness. This brotherly love in faith also establishes good relations in society when it is done with sincerity and affection. In short, heartfelt love is simply sharing Islam: I love you for the sake of Allah.

If Muslims love each other for the sake of Allah are we Christians doing better? Do we consider people of other religions as our neighbors? And what about nonbelievers. Do they not show love for their neighbors too as Dr. Rieux in Albert Camus' novel The plague? In caring for the plague sufferers the atheistic doctor develops a personal humanism out of solidarity with the victims.

Maybe it is tolerance that makes out a true religion? Religion is the believe in god but as there are many religions they are intolerant by definition. The God of the Old Testament is downright jealous and the Bible stories describe in detail the atrocities committed against people of other believes.

Christianity is not better when you think about Charlemagne slaughtering the Saxons when they refused to accept the true faith. Wait a minute; was the Father of the Christian West not just waging a war of aggression to enlarge his realm?

Remember the crusaders killing Islamic women and children in the name of God. The Spaniards spreading the Christian faith with fire and sword in South America were just looking for the Inca gold. During the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre Catholics killed their Huguenot neighbors.

While at the outbreak of the Thirty Years War the Hussite Bohemians declared that this was a religious war the Catholic Habsburgs retorted; it is nothing else than a struggle for power. This is how in a later phase of the war France, the eldest daughter of the Roman Church, supported the Protestants against the Catholic Habsburgs. I will stop here only just mentioning the religious struggle in Northern Ireland that at one time in the past was degenerating in a political showdown.

Most historians claim that Prussia's Frederick the Great, the enlightened philosophical king, was tolerant when he stated alle Religionen [seindt] gleich und guth, wan nuhr die leüte, so sie professieren, ehrliche leüte seindt (All religions are the same and good if only the people who confess them are sincere). The fact that he used money from his privy purse to build a Catholic cathedral in Protestant Berlin was not out of love for a "true" faith but politisches Kalkül (motivated by political necessity). Saint Hedwig's Cathedral was essential to calm down Prussian's Neubürger (new citizens) from Silesia who under Austrian rule had lived as devout Catholics.

Saint Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin
The monarch continues his digression in religion: Wenn Türken und Heiden kähmen und Wolten das Landt pöplieren, so wollen Wir sie Mosqeen und Kirchen baun, Fr (If Turks and pagans came to dwell in this country We would build mosques and churches for them, Frederick).

What a difference to the present protests of the PEGIDA* movement in Germany. These European patriots against the Islamization of the Christian occident, a melting pot of people marching in the street full of German angst, are partly driven by the fear that our "Christian" society will be unable to counter the influx of fertile Islamic fundamentalists.
*Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes

Christian occident in danger? Islamic crescent over Dresden's Frauenkirche (©dpa)
It is a positive sign that in organizing counter-demonstrations tolerant citizens manifest their support for the refugees from war-stricken Iran and Iraq. On the other hand, is the tolerance that most Christians nowadays silently show against other religions not just indifference?

Coming back to the original article the author states at the end: All religious movements are based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn't true or false, but simply irrational.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Birth of God

They did it again for Christmas the editors of Der Spiegel, Germany's TIME Magazine, choosing for their feature article a religious topic. Here are the links for the years 2012 and 2013.

Title page of  Der Spiegel: God in the eruption of volcano Hala al-Badr

Red Baron's battered copy of the first edition
of Jesus Menschensohn from 1972
It was Rudolf Augstein the founder and long time owner of Der Spiegel who started it all culminating in his bestseller Jesus Menschensohn (Jesus, the Son of Man) in 1972. In the book Augstein presented rather old results of exegetes who had questioned the content of the New Testament around 1900. Augstein presented their findings in a comprehensible form spiced with his usually sarcastic remarks.

This year's topic in Der Spiegel is not the birth of Christ as the title suggests but the origin of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to the article the wrathful and punishing God of the Old Testament came out of the fire. Remember the burning bush? Behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob [Exodus 2:3-6].

I read in the article that archaeologists now locate "Mount Sinai" not in the Peninsula of the same name but further east in the Arabian Peninsula. With evidence from the bible they identify an eruption of the now extinct volcano Hala al-Badr as: Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently [Exodus 19:18].

I further read that the Old Testament apparently is full of euphemisms. Saul and David were no kings but miserable warlords frequently beaten by the Philistines.

Red Baron prefers the merciful loving God born 2000 years ago in a stable: While they were (in Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them [Luke 2:6-7].

Rather early.
Today Elisabeth and I visited the local church in nearby Staufen where I took a photo of the crèche already set up. The scene is not yet illuminated. The people approaching the manger barely resemble shepherds, but donkey and ox are there, and Mary with the child is already present. The crèches in churches in neighboring France are ready too before Christmas but the child is always missing. The figurine will be added on Christmas Night.

Somewhat early as the crèche in Staufen I wish you all a

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Monday, December 15, 2014

Freiburg's German-American Stammtisch

The Freiburg-Madison Gesellschaft (FMG) is a local society maintaining and strengthening the ties with Freiburg's sister city Madison, WI, in the US. Our Spiegelgremium (counterpart) in the States is the Madison-Freiburg Sister City Committee. The FMG works in close cooperation with the Carl-Schurz-Haus and the Academic Year in Freiburg (AYF). About forty American students come to Freiburg each year spending a full Academic Year at the University.

The other day Freiburg's newspaper, the Badische Zeitung (BZ), paid us a visit where we presented the FMG and its activities. Subsequently an article and the following photo appeared in the BZ showing the members of FMG's executive committee and two students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the Greiffenegg-Schlössle, our usual meeting place.

©Thomas Kunz/BZ
You will find FMG's draft program for 2015 on our web site. While many of our activities center around the AYF-students we also meet for a monthly Stammtisch (regulars' table) discussing German-American topics. Organized jointly with the Carl-Schurz-Haus, the Stammtisch is open to all citizens interested in American literature, economy, politics, and customs and to all Americans living in Freiburg and its surroundings to get acquainted with their German neighbors. We hope for a good level of attendance in 2015.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Popes' Publisher

On the afternoon the day before yesterday Red Baron joined the Museumsgesellschaft for a visit to the Herder Verlag (publishing house). It was Bartholomä Herder who founded the Verlag in Freiburg in 1810. He was one of the founders of the Lesegesellschaft, too, the precursor of the Museumsgesellschaft. Therefore I had written a short biography of Bartholomä that served as my basis for an article in the German Wikipedia.

Meanwhile the publishing house is in its sixth generation with Manuel Herder at the helm.

The Man and his realm. Manuel Herder showing us his "palace".
The following cartoon shows Manuel's ancestors hovering over the Herder headquarters. The founder Bartholomä is shown with a halo. Over the entrance to the building you can read: Geist schafft Leben taken from John 6,63: The spirit gives life.

From the start the Herders have above all published religious literature. So Manuel had a good hand when he made a contract with Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, publishing his books. Later when Josef was Pope Benedict XVI, he not only came to Freiburg but paid Manuel Herder and the Verlag a visit.

Ad multos libros (To(o) many books?).
Writer maniac Ratzinger? (©Herder)
Presently the Herder Verlag is publishing a scholary edition of Joseph Ratzinger's complete works in 16 volumes. In the photo in the Badische Zeitung Manuel is handing volume 4 to the former pope: Einführung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity).

Manuel Herder with former Pope Benedict XVI presenting the book (©Herder/BZ)
On the occasion Manuel also met Pope Francis and presented him with the printed edition of the speeches the pontiff had delivered in Strasbourg at the European Institutions on November 25, 2914, entitled: Europa, wach auf! (Europe, wake up!). Francis was greatly astonished and asked: Already ready?

Manuel Herder with Pope Francis presenting the Strasbourg book.
On the left Vatican's Georges Clooney Cardinal Gänswein (©Herder/BZ)
Yes, like the pope we were impressed. The family-owned Herder Verlag is definitely technologically state-of-the-art. Needless to say, most of its books are simultaneously published as e-books.

A Herder masterpiece from the 19th century, the Rheingräntz-Carte

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Happy Easter!

No, Red Baron is not completely gaga yet, but today he read an article in the Badische Zeitung titled: Winter ist Osterhasenzeit (Winter is the time for Easter bunnies).

While Santa Clauses made from chocolate wait to be bought at Christmas markets and elsewhere, chocolate factories in Germany already produce Easter eggs and bunnies. Next summer they will cast chocolate into hollow Santas and Christmas decorations, and fill Advent calendars for the 2015 season.

In reading the article a scene of March 1990 came to my mind when I had revisited a place where I had lived as a boy: Entering the house located  in the former GDR where I had spent a couple of weeks of my early youth everything including the room where I once slept seemed so small, but nothing had really changed. Even the water faucet half way up the narrow staircase where I had my morning wash was still in place. I knocked at a door and from the inside somebody said: Herein! I opened the door. There the whole family was sitting around a table manufacturing Easter decorations. I knew that in the West people were already working on decorations for Christmas.

Winter is not incumen in in Germany yet. Therefore the first wave of shopping Lebkuchen (gingerbread) in September passed unnoticed. An expert said: If people buy Lebkuchen in cold September weather then the shelves are empty and ready to take Chocolate Santa Clauses and filled Advent calendars. We hope that temperatures will soon drop helping with the Christmas chocolate sale.

For Red Baron any season is good to eat chocolate; in summer always out of the fridge.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Speak German! You Immigrants

Most western democracies are characterized by the antagonism between right and left, e.g., Conservatives and Labour in the UK. In France the two camps are bitterly opposed while in Germany they live through a grand coalition. Whereas in the US there is a two party system in other countries the spectrum is usually enriched with right and left wing parties. German history has shown that if the extreme parties become too strong a country becomes ungovernable (Weimar Republic).

Germany's party spectrum is quite colored as I explained in a previous blog. It started with the success of the Green Party (11%) taking away quite a number of votes from the Social Democrats (SPD). The left wing party Die Linke (at 9%) meant another drain such that the historically grand SPD now stagnates at about 24% of the votes while the other major party, Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), is going strong with 41% having absorbed a good part of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP presently at 2%).

Recently a new party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD at 6%), was formed. In poaching votes at the right wing of the CDU the AfD made it into a number of state parliaments. This populist party would like among other things quit the euro. They advocate a national instead of a European foreign policy, ignore the climatic change, and demand compulsory German lessons for immigrants. So far nobody has chosen brown as color code for the AfD; they are presented in charts by a light blue instead.

The CDU and in particular its Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union (CSU), do not like to have the ground cut under their feet. In moving their party platform to the right the CSU hopes to stop the drain of votes to the AfD avoiding the depletion the SPD had suffered from Die Linke.

CSU party leaders old and new:
Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer with their wives (©dpa)
With so many people fleeing their war stricken countries and looking for a safe harbor in Germany their integration into our society has become a big issue. Recently the CSU forwarded the following idea: Wer dauerhaft hier leben will, soll dazu angehalten werden, im öffentlichen Raum und in der Familie deutsch zu sprechen (Those who want to stay in Germany permanently shall be urged to speak German in public places and in their families). That sounds in Bavarian dialect that zuagroaste Hansln, die wo fia immer in Deitschland bleim wolla, dahoam gfälligst Deitsch ren. Strangely the CSU means a saubers Deitsch and not the Bavarian dialect. There are exception to the demand as a political stand-up comedian stated: Selbstgespräche sowie unter der Dusche gesungene Lieder bleiben auch weiterhin in einer anderen Sprache als Deutsch erlaubt (Talking to oneself as well as singing songs in the shower are still allowed in another language than German).

The demand of the CSU started a shitstorm. Even the secretary general of their sister party CDU wrote on Twitter: Ich finde ja, es geht die Politik nichts an, ob ich zu Hause lateinisch, klingonisch oder hessisch red (I think it is not the business of policy whether I talk Latin, Klingon, or Hessian dialect at home).

Other parties used stronger wording: Nicht auszudenken, hätten die Amerikaner einem Thomas Mann verboten, daheim deutsch zu reden (That the Americans had put a ban on Thomas Mann to speak German at home is unthinkable). A Green Party member used a hefty German expression defying translation: Was ich zu Hause spreche geht die CSU einen feuchten Kehricht an (It is none of CSU's business what I speak at home). and he continued referring to Germany's past: Welcher Blockwart soll denn das kontrollieren? (Where is the "block leader" to check this?).


P.S.: Today (December 9, 2014) the CSU modified their demand in changing the phrasing: shall be urged to speak German in public places and in their families to shall be motivated to speak German in public places and in their families.