30 April 2009


Tonight Erfurt is celebrating Walpurgisnacht, a celebration derived for pre-Christian customs but associated with Saint Walpurga, born in Devon about 710. On the square in front of the Cathedral, a bonfire has been built surrounded by stands selling beer and Thuringian Bratwurst, In Germany, though, Walpurgisnacht is also associated with Goethe's Faust, where Faust, pushed on by Mephistopheles, meets a Witch. Depending on the version you are reading, the person Faust meets could also be called Beauty, The Pretty Witch or The Young One. Goethe gives us the name of the person Faust meets. She is called: Lilith. This would all be off post were it not for the fact that Walpurgisnacht in Faust is set in the Harz mountains, which straddled the border between East and West Germany. The highest mountain, the Brocken, where the action takes place, constituted a security zone inside East Germany. Border troops took up quarters at the Brocken railway station, and the Soviet Red Army used a large portion of territory. The entire Brocken plateau was then surrounded by a concrete wall, since dismantled. In other words, the border between East and West Germany not only divided the two states but cut to the heart of Germany's literary classic. The photos are from Leipzig outside Auerbach's Keller, where in Faust a group of students are bewitched by Mephistopheles.

Excerpts from the texts of the Ecumenical Assembly for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

This evening - Friday - I'm at an event at the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt, where Martin Luther once trained as a Catholic monk, looking back at the final session of the Ecumenical Assembly, which concluded 20 years ago today with the 12 texts being given to representatives of the sponsoring churches. The then state secretary for church affairs, Kurt Löffler, travelled specially to Dresden (where the final session was taking place) to put a stop to what the state termed "caluminous" attacks on state policy. In a meeting with Dresden's Lutheran bishop he tried to impress on Johannes Hempel the need to maintain a balance in state-church relations. Unlike some previous situations where state representatives put pressure on bishops and church leaders, this time Bishop Hempel reported quite openly to the assembly what had taken place. The assembly listened in silence, and then the gathering's president, Christof Ziemer, said "Thank you, Brother Hempel, for your words, I suggest we now return to the agenda." The pressure from the state had the opposite effect of what was intended. Even some waverers who had thought they might vote against one of the texts now decided to vote in favour - and all 12 texts then received the necessary two-thirds majority.

There's no space here to translate all the texts - all 100 pages of them - but the Evangelical Church in Central Germany has provided a set of extracts for the unveiling of the light sculpture:

The spirit of God has brought us together. We have talked with many tongues but have finally spoken in one language. (Message of the Ecumenical Assembly - Foreword)

The autonomy of human beings, who have to take responsibility for their world and its future, has been revealed with all its serious consequences. Thoroughgoing processes of change and of learning lie ahead. (Section 1.1.1. Our perplexity facing the crisis of survival of our world)

We see the depths of the crisis in a turning away from God, expressed through the idolisation of transitory values and realities and in the captivity to such powers ...

Even we Christians allow countless people to be ruined by economic poverty and powerlessness as a consequence of our prosperity, and thereby separate ourselves from the God of the poor. ( God's call for repentance [Umkehr] reveals the depths of the crisis)

We have realised that justice, peace and the preservation of creation are three interlinked issues in the current world situation. (1.2.1 Shalom as a basic orientation)

It follows from the preferential option for the poor that our standard of living should not be advanced at the expense of solidarity with the poor (1.2.2 Turning to Shalom as a fruit of justice)

The criteria or genuine justice is for us the community of solidarity with the weakest member of our society ...
Endangered humanity as a whole needs huamn beings to find new ways of living together that will enable us to survive together. Towards this aim we need social and economic models that encapsulate greater justice and participation by citizens ...
Reconstruction (perestroika) is needed in the direction of greater democracy, for burocratism, insufficient control of power, the lack of transparency of many decisions and institutions prevent citizens' taking responsibility for themselves and working on their own initiative.
(1.2..2.3. Justice is also an internal issue in the GDR)

Our society needs citizens who can act for themselves, who can assume their rights and duties, their tasks and opportunities, who can think and say what they think, without niggling and not waiting until all hindrances on the way have been removed. (3.2 Exepriences and problems)

We ourselves often experience our churches not as reconciled communities, but as places of immobility where we anxiously shut ourselves away, without questioning claims of power. Being a church of peace means to become more open to reconciliation, to other human beings, and more capable of change; it means repentance in the discipleship of Christ. (7.1 Churches on the way ot becoming a church of peace)

Only a new way of seeing material riches will make it possible for us to renounce things when it is necessary for the sake of justice, peace and the preservation of creation (81. Hear to word of repentance)

The multiple global threats to creation demand a repentance to new values, needs and lifestyles in the highly developed industrial countries ... Prosperity and luxury in Europe is being achieved at the expense of the world both here and far away. Now with our action we have reached the very limits of what our environment can bear. the continual quantative economic growth now means the further destruction of nature, the endangering of the basis of life for future generations, the impoverishment of many nations and the stoking up of social conflicts at home and military conflicts over the resources of this world. (8.2 Recognising the situation)

We experience the gap between our desire for a fulfilledlife and our inability to set out on new paths. (8.2 Dare to change)

Let the train take the strain

Arriving at Leipzig main railway station by InterCity train you realise the changes that have taken place in this city in the past 20 years since the collapse of communism and German unification. Getting off the train you have to look twice as to whether you have arrived at a station or a shopping mall. The station - Germany's biggest - has been transformed into a three-storey shopping centre (which has the added benefit that it can trade on Sunday since technically these are station shops) with all manner of food outlets, clothes shops, and, yes, even a bookshop. (Unfortunately amid all this progress the old station restaurant - a magnificent Arts and Crafts style hall - has been swept away and turned into a fashion store. In East German times, it was the one place in Leipzig to get a stylish meal and, if you, were lucky, a bottle of more-than-decent Romanian Pinot Noir.) But it's easy to be misled by the new glitter and sparkle. To get a feel for eastern Germany you need to foresake the InterCity trains and go for the regional trains instead. Taking the slow train from Magdeburg to Erfurt, from the flat plains of northern Germany to the rolling countryside of Erfurt offers a different perspective. One of the stations at which the regional train stopped looked as if it had not been touched in years. Weeds had taken over the platform; on platform 1, a station building, except for the broken windows, showing no signs of attention at all. Yet amid the general dilapidation, the German Railways have put up brand new station signs, smart blue plaques with white letters proudly indicating where to take a bus or a taxi. So, two images of unity, 20 years after the peaceful revolution - the new utopia of commercialisation and commercialism in Leipzig, and the superficial attempt to put a new gloss on an old run-down station.

29 April 2009

A Light Sculpture to a peaceful revolution

The Holy Disorder campaign was launched today with a light sculpture at the tower block of the regional parliament in Erfurt, which once housed the communist-led government of the district of Erfurt. As the evening progressed the words and phrases taken from the final documents of the Ecumenical Assembly that were projected onto the building could be seen more and more clearly, while inside the building the texts themselves were projected in rolling news fashion, interspersed with words such as "courage", "justice", "peace" - all this to a sound of extracts of the texts, clips from a Bach mass and the ringing of church bells. Bishop Christoph Kähler said that this was the "writing on the wall" that East Germany's leaders refused to recognise. The artist, Ingo Bracke, explained that he de-constructed the texts in order to reconstruct the component parts in a new way. He said that of all the texts he had read for the project, the one that spoke to him most, was the four pledges in the Letter to Children.
Dagmar Schipanski, the president of the regional parliament said that the non-violent revolution would not have been possible in the way that it happened without the Ecumenical Assembly. Particularly poignant was the presence of Heino Falcke, the retired Dean of Erfurt who turns 80 in May and who is the spiritual father of the Conciliar Process in the GDR that led to the Ecumenical Assembly. Bishop Christoph Kähler said of the texts that lie behind the light sculpture, "The call for more solidarity, taking responsibility in society, and a way of dealing with human beings and the world that is responsible both ecologically and economically, is relevant and something we need to think about even today, 20 years after it was drawn up." Below there are some pictures of the event:

Letter to the children

As well as more than 100 pages of texts on the burning issues facing the GDR and the world, the Ecumenical Assembly at its final session on 30 April 1989 also agreed a "letter to children. When five months later new political parties and citizens movements were being former, one of the movements, Demokratischer Aufbruch borrowed this idea and drafted its own letter to children. The original letter from the Ecumenical Assembly was was read out again at the Prayers for Peace in Leipzig to mark the 20th anniversary of the assembly:

Dear Children

The earth on which we live is threatened. We, the adults, are the ones who are responsible. But there are some people who have realised what is happening. Thats why many people have been meeting for the third time to think about what needs to be done to save the earth. The special thing about our meeting is that we are all people who believe in God, but do so in different ways. That's what you call an Ecumenical Assembly, and the people there are called delegates. But actually they are mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, sisters and brothers, or Godparents -in other words people who could be living in your own homes.

What have we been doing?

We have been discussing and praying and discussing again what we can do with the world that we are handing on to you in a quite dilapidated state. We've set down our conclusions and the most important points are:
- We all have to ensure that there will still be trees for many years to come, growing under a blue sky;
- We all need to act to prevent anyone ever again shooting someone else in a war;
- We all have to learn to share, so that no one will starve ever again;
- We all have to act to ensure that each little person and each big person can grow up in safety and security in a nature that is at one with itself;

If we get tired, you must take our place. It's a difficult task for which you need to be prepared. That's why we have told you something about the Ecumenical Assembly. Do not think that we know everything but have faith that we want to do everything we can.

We send you our greetings and thank you for listening.

May peace be with you - Shalom.

The delegates of the Ecumenical Assembly.

p.s. We were in Dresden. It rained a lot, and smoking was prohibited in the meeting place.

Translation (c) Stephen Brown

Pictures from a disappeared past

Taking the regional trains from Leipzig to Halle, I stopped off at Greppin, an industrial village between Bitterfeld and Wolfen. Twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Chemiekombinat Bitterfeld one of the biggest and most-polluting industries in the GDR, the subject of a clandestine film made in the GDR and smuggled to the West, "Bitteres aus Bitterfeld", and the novel, "Flugasche"("Flight of Ashes") by Monika Maron. It was environmental degradation and destruction that helped catalyse an independent environmental movement in East Germany. The Rev. J spent six months in Greppin in the first part of 1990 as a student minister and I decided to see what it looks like now. Firstly, it has a brand new modernised station, and when you get of the train the first thing that strikes you is that you can't smell anything and you can see the sky. Back in 1990, the whole area was often covered by a strange yellow smog and the stench of chemical production was overbearing. Apart from that the village looked much the same as before - streets mostly deserted - but with new cars and the houses with new windows and shutters. The main street is still called the Ernst-Thälmann-Strasse, the name it got in the GDR era after the former German Communist leader killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Second World War. The church and the manse next door are still there. I remember how the Rev J had to preach on the day of the first free elections in March 1990, and how the people in the congregation really hoped that things were going to get better. I often think back to that time and wonder what became of the villagers and the people in the parish. I suspect that they were victims twice over - victims of the environmental pollution and destruction, and then after unification, victims of unemployment when the factories were cut back and closed down.

Holy Disorder

Today the Evangelical Church in Central Germany is to launch its Holy Disorder campaign to remember the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution but also to underline the need for Christians to be involved in politics today. According to the church's Ralf-Uwe Beck
We are remembering autumn 1989. It's the experience of discovering our selfconfidence as citizens, to stand up and to get involved. That is also an experience of faith. With the campaign we want to encourage people to remember the events and start creating (healthy) disorder, to get off the sofa and get involved in the burning issues of today. We have to arouse again power to shape and change events. Pure nostalgia won't get us any further.
The campaign is to be launched in front of the Thuringian regional parliament where the artist Ingo Bracke has created a "light sculpture" to represent the texts of the Ecumenical Assembly. A light sculpture to represent texts? I'm looking forward to seeing how it will look ...

28 April 2009

20 years since the Ecumenical Assembly

For people who can understand German, the Evangelical Church in Central Germany has a link here to a broadcast by Antenne Thüringen about the Ecumenical Assembly and its significance for the peaceful revolution.

The "Conciliar Process" for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Travelling round churches in the former East Germany it probably won't be long before someone mentions the "Conciliar Process", something whose significance seems self-evident here in Germany but which has an unfamiliar ring to others. Whatever does "Conciliar Process" mean, and why is it so important? In much of the rest of the world the initiative is known as the JPIC process for "Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation". Its symbol was a dove with a olive branch breaking the chains of injustice.

The idea goes back to the Vancouver assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1983. In large part due to the efforts of the delegates from the German Democratic Republic, the assembly called on the WCC "to engage member churches in a conciliar process of mutual commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation". Through the efforts of Heino Falcke, dean in Erfurt, where Martin Luther trained as an Augustinian monk, and Christof Ziemer, Lutheran superintendent in Dresden - but also due to the commitment of numerous grassroots groups and individuals in the churches - the Conciliar Process culminated in the GDR in an Ecumenical Assembly of Churches and Christians which met in three sessions in 1988 and 1989 - bringing together Protestants and Catholics, but also Orthodox, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Quakers and others, and people from church hierarchies and grassroots groups.

Of key importance was the decision to apply the themes of the conciliar process to the society of the GDR itself. It used the "See - Judge - Act" methodology of Liberation Theology, corresponding to three assemblies (February 1988 in Dresden; October 1988 in Magdeburg; and April 1989 in Dresden). The first assembly took stock of the reality of threats to justice, peace and creation; the second sought to make a judgement about these realities based on the insights of the Gospel; and the third agreed specific proposals for action.

Before the first assembly, organizers asked parishes and groups to send in proposals and ideas about threats to justice, peace and creation, not only at the global level, but what it meant for the GDR. When the first gathering opened in February 1988, it had before it more than 10,000 such proposals and statements, the overwhelming majority of which concerned GDR society itself. The conciliar process became a mirror for the latent discontent and disaffection latent in East Germany. Heino Falcke has commented:

Our appeal opened the flood-gates of a pent-up longing for change in East German society. Gorbachev's new thinking and the policy of perestroika had opened up the possibility of achieving politically what we had long been calling for in our Basisgruppen. Because the possibility of political change seemed to be within reach, the status quo with all its internal contradictions became more and more unbearable. The ecumenical assembly raised the floodgates enough to release the log-jam of change. It gave an ecumenical inspiration to the dynamic for change, which also in a way gave it legitimacy; and above all, it gave it a direction that was set by the gospel.
The final gathering of the assembly took place in April 1989, less than six months before the GDR was engulfed by the autumn revolution, and in 12 texts, made unprecedented call for change - the separation of the state and the Communist Party, secret ballots for elections, freedom for art and culture, the right to form independent associations. These texts would prove to be an inspiration for the citizens' movements and political parties formed at the time of the peaceful revolution.

That final gathering met from 26 to 30 April. This week, in different places throughout the former East Germany, churches and Christians are remembering the final assembly and its rolein bringing change. But they are also remembering the challenges the texts contain for a society that more just, more peaceful and more respectful of creation - challenges that are still on the agenda, two decades later.

27 April 2009

Prayers for Peace

If there's one thing that Leipzig is known for in recent times it is the mass demonstrations in October 1989 where the city's citizens defied the threat of a massacre by government forces and went on the streets to call for change.
The weekly demonstrations had a regular rhythm - every Monday at 5pm, because they followed the weekly prayers for peace at Leipzig's Nikolaikirche - in early 1989 it was a couple of dozen people who went out on the street after the service to demand change, then it was a few hundred, then a few thousand - until a reputed 70000 people went onto the streets on 9 October, despite official warnings that reserve brigades were being called up, and doctors saying that the hospitals had been told to clear the wards and to make sure they were ready to deal with bullet wounds.
If there was however one reason why the church became the focal point for protest in Leipzig it was the weekly prayers for peace that began on 20 September 1982. They started at a time when Europe faced the deployment of nuclear missiles in West and in East and the growth of an independent peace movement in East Germany. They have been held on Mondays ever since. Today the prayers were led by Leipzig's Pax Christi, which developed out of a grassroots Catholic group that existed already before the peaceful revolution. Today they were remembering the Ecumenical Assembly of 1989, a gathering unique in the history of the GDR that brought together Protestants and Catholics, but also Orthodox, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Quakers and others, and people from church hierarchies and grassroots groups and that made unprecedented demands for change in the German Democratic Republic - and about which more very soon.
Unlike 20 years ago, when the Nikolaikirche was so full that other churches had to be opened as an overflow, today there were "only" about 50 or 60 people at the prayers. Yet the unbroken weekly rhythm means that the people who were praying today are not only joined in prayer with those at the service itself but all those who have come before and who will come afterwards.

The book cover is from,"Nikolaikirche, montags um fünf. Die politischen Gottesdienste der Wendezeit in Leipzig" ("Mondays, 5 p.m. at the Nikolaikirche: Political worship in Leipzig during the changes") by Hermann Geyer, and published by WBG.

The Tiananmen Square "solution"

Wroclaw, Poland: the memorial of 10th aniversary (1999) of Tian'anmen Sq. (Beijing, China) massacre, June 4th, 1989
The first version of this memorial was "erected" by Polish students a day after the massacre, June 5th 1989 - as a destroyed bicycle and a fragment of tank-track lying nearby.
The version in the photograph was erected ten years later, in 1999, and the symbolism is identical: bicycles against tanks...

I've spent some time this evening reading the Wikipedia article on the Tianenmen Square protests of 1989. It took me back to that Spring in Oxford when I was preparing my third year theology exams, worrying about how I was going to finance my year in East Germany if I got a visa, watching events in China and wondering whether events there would affect my travel to the Eastern Bloc.
I had forgotten how much what happened to the democratic protesters in China affected my mood as I set off for East Germany later in the year. As I read through parts of my diary I understand a little better the fear of violence and an authoritarian crack down that comes through in places. On the surface it may look as if life went on normally and peacefully but underneath there was real fear. The peaceful revolution might not have been so peaceful and earlier in 1989 the world had seen tanks vanquish peaceful protesters for democracy.
In late April 1989 there was still hope that things in China would develop peacefully. Remembering the brutal crushing of those protests makes me realise that those who went to pray in churches and lit candles in town squares in East Germany showed great civil courage.
To say nothing of the courage of the Polish students who in June 1989 set up the first version of the memorial depicted above.

Photo credits here
Posted by Rev J

26 April 2009

From Frankfurt to Leipzig

Today I travelled from Frankfurt to Leipzig. In chronological, sequential time, it is a journey of about three-and-a-half hours, but in qualitative time, it represented a journey of two decades - backwards. Twenty years ago, I would have been going from one country to another, across one of the most highly militarised borders in the world, moving from one societal system to another, from the Federal Republic of Germany to the German Democratic Republic. Now I am making the same journey again, but in time, not in space. The border is no more, it's difficult even to work out where it once was - the train no longer stops for half an hour or more in a forsaken station apparently in the middle of nowhere, to allow the border guards to check the passengers and their wares. To make the trip twenty years ago would have required a personal invitation authorised by the GDR embassy or vouchers for one of the hotels open to western tourists - now all it requires is a train ticket. I'm going to that foreign country called the past in the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the "peaceful revolution" that led to communism being overthrown and the unification of Germany. The train journey is like a rolling reminder of German history. Eisenach, the birthplace of Bach, and Leipzig where he was the organist at the Thomaskirche; Weimar, home not only to Bach, but also home to such other luminaries as Goethe, Schiller and Herder (but also the home of the Buchenwald concentration camp); and Naumburg, where Nietzsche died - but also Erfurt, where Martin Luther trained as an Augustinian monk, and the Wartburg, where he translated the Bible, but also Gotha, the location for the 1875 unity conference of German socialists whose programme was heavily criticised by Karl Marx. Luther the Reformer and Marx the Revolutionary. Yet in 1989, it was the followers of the Reformer Luther who led the (peaceful) revolution, and the followers of Marx who were overthrown. This blog is to remember the events of 1989 and how they are being remembered ... Posted by Dr B

25 April 2009

Introducing Holy Disorder - looking back 20 years ...

This first post on the Holy Disorder blog is mainly a repost from Jane's personal blog.
Gradually as the year progresses Dr B and Rev J hope to post some bits and pieces about the GDR's peaceful revolution to this blog. Dr B has recently finished a doctorate on the role of the churches in the peaceful revolution. Rev J was living in the GDR from August 1989 to August 1990, studying theology and working as a trainee pastor in the Protestant Church. We hope this will be a place for us to remember what was an important time for us personally, but also to jot down some random and not so random thoughts about modern church history. We also hope to be able to keep track of some of the events taking place in Eastern Germany to mark the 20th anniversary and of course this title is just a translation of Gesegnete Unruhe - the official title of the anniversary events.
Dr B sets off on his own on a week long train journey around South Eastern Germany tomorrow. With some of our blogging it may be a little difficult to tell which of us is writing we'll try to sort that as the blog develops. Anyway what were you doing 20 years ago?
There was a lot going on, here's what I wrote just over a month ago:

Twenty years ago this spring I was trying to sort out the various formalities for getting a visa to go the German Democratic Republic to study theology for a year.
In the end it all worked out well and I arrived in Wittenberg in early September 1989. Even today when I mention I studied theology in the GDR many people look very puzzled and ask whether that was really possible.
I lived through world changing events and experienced churches fuller than at any revival meeting. Early on in the demonstrations I also felt real fear about how things would develop. It is quite an experience to stand up in church to lead prayers and face a dozen secret police sitting on the first row.
It was the first and only time in my life that I kept a diary. One of the things I must try and do this year is transcribe some of what I wrote then.
The churches in central Germany are marking the 20th anniversary of the process leading the fall of the Berlin wall with a series of events called "Gesegnete Unruhe"- Holy Disorder. You can even send Holy disorder e-postcards to raise awareness of the anniversary and the events.
This was the revolution of candles, Psalms and Taizé songs, it was the revolution of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. You can read an interview with the year's coordinator Ralf-Uwe Beck in which he talks both about ordinary household candles as an important symbol but also about how marking the anniversary is important for people in the region today, a way to encourage people's self-confidence and faith - look at what we managed to do together 20 years ago.
When I finished my year in the GDR and went back the UK I wondered whether I would ever again experience the Bible having such immediate personal and political resonance. I grieved for that short-lived time when faith and life and action somehow seemed to dovetail. By the time I got back to the UK the country I had just lived in for a year was about to no longer exist.
"What is past is not dead, it is not even past. We cut ourselves off from it, we pretend to be strangers." is how Christa Wolf begins her book A Model Childhood. Many people from the former GDR have lived through that - a sort of wiping out of their experience. For a while in conversations with West-German friends I felt I had become a sort of honorary "Ossi".
Today this well-known quote from L.P. Hartley also resonates, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
It may be a foreign country but as the year advances and particularly as the autumn approaches I intend to go to that foreign country and revisit some of what I lived through in that time of Holy Disorder.