30 November 2009

Back to Reformation in Wittenberg ...

October ended on this blog with the first extract from Jane's diary of Reformation and Revolution in Wittenberg on the anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. In the meantime the site of the New York Times is carrying an article - In Wittenberg, cries for new Reformation on date of old one - written from Wittenberg on 31 October 1989 by Serge Schmemann.

It was difficult to imagine what Martin Luther, lying in his tomb under the cold stone floor, might have thought of the throng that packed every medieval inch of the castle church on the anniversary of the day in 1517 when he tacked his 95 theses to the door and so began the Reformation.

That the church was packed on Reformation Day was actually something of a coincidence, although it was briefly noted by the pastor and some participants. It was also Tuesday evening, and for the last three weeks the people of Wittenberg have gathered in the castle church in rapidly growing numbers to take part in the new grass-roots movement for change.

More than 3,000 jammed into the church on this drizzly evening, and an equal number stood on the cobbled court outside to listen on loudspeakers to the demands, announcements and prayers that have become the daily fare of the latest Eastern European land swept up by the winds of change.

Schmemann has written his own book-length account of the collapse of communism here.

29 November 2009

The quiet before the storm ?

Jane's diary, Wittenberg, 29 November 1989
It is cold. Last night, the church was full for the prayers for renewal but not as full as we have become used to. Afterwards they went "on a walk" to the local headquarters of the Stasi, now renamed National Security or something. This morning Frau. B talked of ministers clearing their desks and whether they come across decisions they would rather un-take. Perhaps this pre-Christmas calm is just the stillness before the next round of wild events. Meanwhile things move on apace in Czechoslovakia - a petition is being planned here if the GDR government does send official apologies to the Czechs and the Slovaks for the happenings of 1968 ...

Meanwhile, of course the theory that there are only 25 people in the world rools on. Daniel Cattau, for whom I was interpreting a few days ago, and Stephen worked together on the press desk at the Lutheran World Federation assembly in Budapest in 1984.

28 November 2009

Dealing with the past, looking to the future ...

Twenty years ago today in Brussels I bought a copy of the Frankfurter Rundschau, and turning to the back of the first section found the whole page taken up with a paper by Heino Falcke. It was an address given by Falcke at the opening of the Friedensdekade in Erfurt in November 1989. It's difficult to explain now just how exciting it was to read the paper in which Falcke was already looking at how to deal with the past in order to reach the future. In the turbulent times since the previous month, Falcke's voice had not been heard outside the GDR. Here he returned to the themes of his 1972 address to the synod of the Protestant church federation - "Christ liberates - therefore the church for others" - but reinterprets and applies them to the new situation facing the GDR.

By the middle of November 1989 it was clear that the landscape in East Germany and indeed in eastern Europe as a whole was facing fundamental change. The first non-communist government had taken power in Poland, in Hungary the ruling Hungarian Social Workers Party was reinventing itself as being in the vanguard of change which had seen new political parties being founded, in Czechoslovakia the Communist Party had imploded, and in East Germany the opening of the borders was beginning to change the parameters of political debate. The new prime minister Hans Modrow spoke of forming a "contractual community" with the Federal Republic while the SED was still elaborating plans on how to regain the political initiative.

What is striking about Falcke's text from November 1989 - reprinted in his recent book "Wo bleibt die Freiheit?" (see picture) is how the starting point for his address is the insight of Latin American liberation theology:
In Latin American and South American Christianity the Bible has been re-discovered as the book of the liberation of the people through God. There, there is a theology of liberation. We need a theology of liberation for our situation, to tell is who Christ is actually is for us in today's struggle of our country for freedom.
Against this background, Falcke uses the central perspective of his 1972 address to elaborate the need for a new "socialism from below" and for "an alternative to capitalism that advocates more just structures in the world".

Falcke sketches out the alternative facing the GDR. On the one hand there is the SED's attempt to "preserve the status quo through reforms". On the one hand, the need for "reforms linked to a forward strategy" to deal with a fundamental conflict in society, the "birth defect" of socialism in the GDR, that it was implemented from above without support from society:
This birth defect led to the chronic distrust of the government towards the people, the spying by the Stasi, total control through the apparatus, political and ideological domination, the paralysis of free initiative and the suffocation of all spontaneity [...]. The forward strategy draws from this analysis support the conclusion that the birth defect of socialism can be resolved only through a democratic rebirth that comes from the people. Only if this rebirth comes from the people, can "socialism from above and from outside" become a "socialism from below and our own socialism": only then can socialism become socialism, for socialism from above is a contradiction in terms.
Only through democratic renewal from below "can socialism start to really exist in the GDR". The SED could have a leading role, asserted Falcke, only by receiving democratic legitimation through multi party elections. "When GDR citizens can say, 'You in the Federal Republic recieved democracy as a gift, we have had to struggle for ours', then there would be a genuine political basis for the GDR to remain as a state which can tolerate open borders."

The choices that face the GDR also face the world as a whole. The freedom provided by Christ - an echo of Falcke's 1972 address - sets out four tasks for the future: dealing openly and freely with the guilt and responsibility of the past; dealing with power freely, critically and in a way that sets limits; non-voiolent changes; and sustainable lifestyles.

In this last section, Falcke picks up the issue of the need for socialism to offer an alternative to the "capitalist affluence", criticising the new action programme of the SED which calls for consumer goods of high value and processed foods:
We really need an alternative to capitalism that will defend more just structures in the world. That's a difficult thing to do because we need ecinomic help from the West. But we have to make an attempt, at least to maintain a certain independence and self-reliance vis-a-vis the western economic powers.
If socialism means anything, Falcke asserted, then it is ‘certainly a society in which people seek to act not without each other and against each other, for with another and for one another:

Will this received majority support in the GDR? Since we want a democratic socialism we have to ask what has majority support. Can we generate a majority for genuine solidarity with the Third World in the GDR's foreign trade? For higher investments in technologies that protect the environment? I'm not sure. Are we not still in the grip of idols called economic effectiveness and and the increase of consumption? Then the self-liberation of the people will not be a genuine liberation, but only a move from an uncomfortable cell into a rather more comfortable cell in the same prison.

The word "socialism" has fallen into such discredit that it may be better not to use it, Falcke said. Nevertheless, "We need to keep the word 'Socialism' - to which I know no alternative - open and mutable for new forms and content. Socialism is not a description of a system, it is a description ot a path to follow."

27 November 2009

How long will rebuilding trust take?

Jane's diary: 27 November 1989, Wittenberg
A quiet and peaceful day. I sat at my desk most of the day sorting out post and trying to get a grip on all the preparations before going home in a fortnight. The other students are coming back to Wittenberg for the next 10 day module. The Berliners are late. Four of us have sat here and discussed the world while feasting on salad, bread, curry and fried rice. Four women trying to sort out the problem of dealing with the past of the last 40 years. The way all the power structures encourage people to abuse power over the people below them in the hierarchy and how you become aware of this as soon as you go to school.

All seemed to agree that so much has gone on in the past 40 years it could easily take another to deal with it all. We talked about the 1956 revolution in Hungary and the show trials there. Here people like Walter Janka were tried in secret, the role of people like Mielke, Hager and co. was then very important. Questions about what went on really couldn't been forgotten, it would be all too easy to do that said Frau B. The layers of corruption really need to be peeled back so that the structures which were operating then can be seen.

We compared the fragmented opposition here to that in Czechoslovakia where Charter 77 had been around for such a long time. Here there are no Vaclav Havels or Dubceks and already the power playing in and between the various groups is emerging and it doesn't bode well for the future. Frau B's brother in law has just sent in his resignation from New Forum, another one of us has been considering doing likewise for over a month.

This is all now "normality": the past 40 years beforehand were what was "unreal" yet they too were everyday life and reality. All the new citizens' movements have at least had the positive effect of breaking people out of their lethargy.

26 November 2009

Thinking about those who have gone before

Jane's diary, dateline 26 November 1989, Wittenberg (Totensonntag)
Today is Totensonntag, the Sunday to commemorate those who have died. Outside is is snowing, blowing up quite a blizzard. Strange to think that at the beginning of the month I was still walking around bare-legged. Mild autumn has changed to a bitter winter as quickly as the political changes.

Wittenberg looks pretty in the snow, even more mediaeval than it is. At the last demonstration at the Marktplatz it was so foggy you couldn't see from side to the other, Luther's and Melanchthon's statutes were lit up and the loudspeakers were on as usual - it seemed as though the statues themselves were speaking. With all the fog, the icy weather and the voices seemingly speaking out of nowhere, Birgit said she falt as though she was living through a Shakespeare play. They discussed making Friedrich Schorlemmer an honourary citizen of the town.

Apparently on the television the other night (the first live talk show broadcast on GDR television!) Schorlemmer said, "I have been turned from an enemy of the state to a partner". It was interesting to interpret for his interview with Daniel Cattau today, I'm not sure about the picture he likes to paint of himself - certainly he is very literary and well-read and heavily influenced by Tillich, Brecht and so on, but it all seems so very slightly pretentious. One of seven children who needs a crowd! I feel he painted a rather rosy picture of the role of the church in the future and how it will be able to continue its prophetic role.

It's been a time of coincidences for me - first bumping into Keith Forecast last week who had been at Mansfield just the previous evening. And then turning round in the restaurant in West Berlin and seeing our family friends, Theo and Sigrid. Yesterday Daniel arrived in Wittenberg, writing for a US Lutheran paper, a few years ago he interviewed Jan Womer at Mansfield.

I've got used to the idea I was in West Berlin last weekend. But that clear sunshine and fast pace of life seems a time away from the muffled snowy streets of Wittenberg today. I thought about Steve, I wanted to sort out the existential questions to do with getting married and living together, he was preoccupied with the great political happenings. Of course we sat down and tried to sort it all out but there was so little time and so much to say. I have this need for certinty and Steve is so much more sanguine. In just over a fortnight I shall be packing to go home for Christmas. Time is really racing by.

Briefly today I thought of my dead ancestors - rumbustious Stanley Hawley, impeccably turned out, a man who in middle age (he never really seemed "old" to me) showed great patience and love to his two grandchildren. He died carefully and tidily, all his affairs sorted out, his house clean and tidy, during one week's holiday three years ago. I miss him dearly, his love of life, his palpable enjoyment of parties and celebrations, his ability to get on with different generations. It was right that his funeral was a party in the garden on a late summer day.

He and my grandmother Elsie Bennett played a big role in babysitting us and being around in our lives. They had already made a mark on the town we lived in through their involvement in music and shows. My grandmother's wide and very pretty simile, her competitive spirit playing cribbage - even beating my dad at scrabble - but most of all her beautiful soprano voice, rich soaring and so easy on the ears - "the gentle, the gentle sounding lute". I was 16 when she died, the early morning 'phone call came and I felt relief for her and for us all, as well as loss. It had taken a long time.

Martin Stranz my German grandfather was born in 1890, a completely different world. His death shocked me, and shook me early on Saturday morning. I wept in my father's arms and felt gult, "but I had only just begun to love him". He represents all that is intellectual but also a love of the good things in life - his brother-in-law in his will left him red wine to pour into his soup! Part of the money I have used to come here came from the money he gave us, his proud socialism and pacifism came from real experience. I wish I had been able to hold an adult conversation with him. Perhaps my interest in Germany comes as a result of dealing with his death. He was 85 when he died and had lived through two world wars. Despite his age, all of us where unprepared for his death, suddenly on holiday in Cromer after a good meal with friends, Probably he insisted on paying the bill. He only allowed us to celebrate his 85th birthday if he could pay.

Kate Guttmann his wife I only knew from a picture where I am sitting on her bed, she lived to see her first grandchild. She was very unkindly referred to as the Schlange - the snake - or the Hexe - the witch - by her children. From my other grandmother's one meeting with her it sounds as if she was the quiet one in a family of extroverts. The weeks that my grandfather was in Sachsenhausen concentration camp must have been difficult for her. She worried about illegally smuggling her wedding ring out of Germany when they left. Probably she found the move to Britain more difficult that the others. A sensitive, artistic woman. Perhaps we may call a daughter Kate.

I think of you as I write this Stave. Tears are streaming down my face as I do my Trauerarbeit, my mourning, as the Germans like to call it. Death has treated me more kindly than you and not taking my family away from me unexpectedly. I shall stop now and sort out my ever untidy desk - it seems to travel from country to country with me.

A Mighty Fortress Indeed ...

On 26 November, Jane was interpreting for Daniel Cattau, a US journalist, in Wittenberg. This article from the Los Angeles Times was one of the articles he wrote about his visit:

A Mighty Fortress Indeed - East Germany: As pariahs in a communist society, churches developed an independent niche--and nurtured a civil reformation.


Daniel Cattau, former director of the Lutheran Council News Bureau in New York, was recently in East Germany. (Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1989)

The Castle Church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517, was refurbished in 1983, the 500th anniversary of the reformer's birth. Near the top of the tall, white church tower is now a gold band inscribed, Ein Feste Berg ist Unsere Gott-- the first words to the battle hymn of the Reformation, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

When the local leaders of the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party saw this impressive statement of faith, they asked church leaders what words from Luther might be appropriate for their building. The church leaders suggested the beginning of the hymn's second stanza: "No strength of ours can match His might."

This story accurately depicts the role of the East German Protestant churches in socialism: quiet opposition with a clear distinction between what belongs to the church and what to the state.

For the most part, the church's role in toppling the monolithic Communist rule has been ignored in the litany of other factors: Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost , Hungary's decision to open its border, the great numbers of East Germans fleeing to the West, the opening of the Berlin Wall and the country's woeful economic, educational and ecological situation.

But in talks I've had with dozens of East Germans, it was clear that the church played--and continues to play--a critical role in the reformation of society. In an interview at the Luther House in Wittenberg, Friedrich Schorlemmer, a theologian and leading spokesman for the Democratic Awakening, drew a parallel between the Reformation and the current upheaval.

"Luther said the church is only the church when it always reforms itself, and lets itself be reformed," said Schorlemmer, who has already been transformed from an enemy of the state into a media star. "Socialism is only socialism if it's capable of being renewed."

After World War II and the division of Germany, church membership in heavily Protestant East Germany declined from more than 80% of the population to about 30% today. The government thought it had dealt a fatal blow by enforcing strict church-state separation, eliminating state funding and teaching only Marxism and Leninism in schools. Added to that was a heavy dose of oppression.

The severing of church-state ties, however, was a blessing for the three territorial Lutheran and five united Lutheran and Reformed churches that comprise a loose, 5-million-member Federation of Evangelical Churches.

Until the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the East German churches had close ties with the wealthier, state-supported churches in the Federal Republic. In 1968, these formal ties were severed and the East German churches, after a long period of confrontation, moved toward being a church in socialism--but, as its leaders point out, not a church of socialism.

Remarkably, the church had found a niche in society by the late 1970s that was to grow into a full-scale spiritual and political movement a decade later: It was a "free room," as the Germans say, where church and non-church people could discuss issues rarely brought up outside the home.

It began with peace groups discussing East-West tensions and the redeployment of missiles in the two Germanys, and grew to discussions of human rights and social justice, the environment, military service, freedom of travel, press freedom and free elections. The church also played a key role in uncovering vote-rigging in last May's local elections, encouraging people to stay in East Germany and spawning many of the leaders of the opposition parties and groups.

In 1982 the Nicholas Church and later the Thomas Church in Leipzig began what looked, at first, to be innocuous Monday-night prayer services; it was after these services that 200,000 took to the street in October. These prayer services and demonstrations were soon replicated throughout the land of Luther, Bach, Schiller and Goethe.

"There was no other free room in society," for opposition groups, said Gerhard Thomas, editor of The Church, a newspaper of the Berlin-Brandenburg Evangelical Church. "The revolution was so peaceful from the side of the demonstrators--that was the spirit of the church. The spirit of the revolution was the spirit of the church."

In Wittenberg, a small university town in Luther's day but now a quasi-industrial city of 50,000 people, townspeople complained in the local paper that the demonstrators had left a mess in the Market Place in front of Luther's statue: Wax from prayer vigil candles covered the stones on the street.

Albrecht Steinwachs, a local pastor, gave perhaps the best testimony to the role of the church when he wrote in response, "I would rather see 1,000 drops of candle wax on the Market Place than one drop of blood."

25 November 2009

What's happening in Czechoslovakia and Romania ..?

Jane's diary
Dateline: Saturday 25 November 1989
Time is racing past. Our ten days module at the Predigerseminar is over. It began with everyone piling into our room and swapping stories of crossing the border or wall. The best story was the friend of one of the students who came out of the Berliner Ensemble bar fairly drunk and heard that the borders were open and decided to go to the Wall to argue with people and get them to go back, only to find himself swept along with everyone else and so completely gobsmacked that he spent most of the weekend pi**ed. For Berliners the open border adds a dimension which should always have been there but wasn't. As Karsten says, every says "here" but no one seems to know where "here" is. East or West? or East and West.
For our friends in West Berlin where he is a West German and she an East German the whole thing has been completely exhausting as well as totally exhilarating. Their flat was full of visitors from the East, all of us piled in for that first night - completely crazy.

Meanwhile events in Czechoslovakia have looked very ominous over the past 10 days but last night the central committee resigned en bloc and today half a million demonstrators in Prague. Dubcek spoke and was introduced as the county's future president - 20 years too late. Vaclav Havel will speak on television tonight, uncensored. It's all utterly amazing and wonderful, so sad and tragic that state brutality preceeded it to such an extent. Dissidents are being released and a coalition government proposed.

Back here Krenz is saying that free elections are not likely until the end of next year. I think it would be crazy to have parliamentary elections next May, much better to re-run the local elections of this year so that at least the new groups get experience at the municipal level.

Events in Romania seem still to be well behind those elesewhere in the Eastern bloc. It's awful to think of the culture that has been wiped out and this will continue if change doesn't come. All we can do is pray and hope the change will spread there too in this November of revolution and "Wende". Back here one of the students discovered swastikas on his wall in Görlitz and now that the press is "free" more and more reports of Poles being stopped at the border smuggling food. There's a real hatred of Russians and Poles developing here. We discussed this as we prepare to go to Poland in January. In a fortnight at a meeting with our counterparts from West Germany we will talk about Neo-Nazi tendencies in young people.

Putting Berlin back together again ...

Between November 1989 and October 1990 Berlin shifted gear from being a divided city on the front line of the East-West divide to becoming again a city in which people could move freely between the eastern and western sectors. Jane is blogging about about how even in November 1989, Berliners no longer knew what they meant when they said "here" - West Berlin? East Berlin? or the one Berlin? A latent disorientation that persists even 20 years later. But politics and culture is one thing, but what of the real work of restitching the city together - the water pipes, telephone lines, underground trains.

On BBC radio, Rosie Goldsmith has tried to do more than scratch the surface of the upheaval Berlin faced. She has gone underground, searching out the men and women involved in reunifying the city below street level, examining how the tubes, telephone, water and electricity systems of east and west were reconnected after the fall of the Wall.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, the world saw images of ecstatic Berliners celebrating a new freedom of movement across their city. But after the jubilation had died down, council chiefs were faced with a task without precedent in any city in the world. Public transport in the two halves of the city was in chaos and the main arteries of Berlin became clogged with polluting Trabants; using the telephone was an infuriating experience; utility companies faced similar problems trying to bring together two systems which had developed completely separately.

The programme is available as a stream here until 30 November.

20 November 2009

Over the Wall and back again

Jane's diary: Wittenberg, 20.11.1989
What a weekend! I was so tense on Thursday, the train to Berlin was late and I had to work hard to keep calm. Then to the foreigners' registration office at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. Finally after a bit of to-do the man at the office gave me an exit and re-entry visa meaning I could go to West Berlin and come back to the GDR. I tried to phone West Berlin and it just wouldn't work. All lines engaged. It's been like that for days I reckon.

Walking along Friedrichstrasse towards Checkpoint Charlie I bumped into Christa Gengel (ecumenical officer of the Evangelical Church of the Union) and Keith Forecast (moderator of the United Reformed Church general assembly). Quite a ridiculous coincidence, the previous evening he had been preaching in Mansfield Chapel (in Oxford where I did my theology studies) and they had said, 'Of course you won't see Jane but if you do, tell her we miss her and give her our love'. Suddenly I felt a pang of homesickness for them all, miles away from German Sachlichkeit.

It was interesting to speak about the current situation with Christa Grengel. The woman who works with Christa looks well and relaxed, opening the borders really has opened people up. But Christa Grengel seems rather pessimistic about the way ahead - things are going too quickly, the church had proposed the gradual opening of the border and not the current free for all.

Were there any native Berliners in East Berlin at all? Everyone I tried to ask the way was Polish or Russian or from outside Berlin. Very odd.

Finally, after my interrupted evening I crossed at Friedrichstrasse, much quieter than earlier. So strange, the whole atmosphere was so different, much more friendly. It was so incredible to be on the S Bahn to Bahnhof Zoo in West Berlin. Then on to our friend Horst's where Stephen had arrived as well as other visitors from the GDR.

West Berlin was like I have never known it - but then it's never been like this. What an incredible atmosphere. All along the Wall people have their hammers and chisels and are making holes in it, taking chunks away to sell to the Americans - now the West Berlin police are doing their best to protect the wall. At Potsdamer Platz - what used to be the heart of an undivided Berlin, a new crossing point has been made, the Wall simply torn down. Nearby British solidiers are doling out free tea and coffee (a very British form of deterrence), with the East German border guards looking on.

A truly amazing weekend but at the end I had to walk back into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie by myself. Stephen came with me to the border and went through first but the border guards still wouldn't let him into the GDR. He came back out and said they had been much more friendly than the last time he had been refused entry but their records still said that he was "unwanted" in East Germany. So through the dark streets of East Berlin with tears on my cheeks to take the train back to Wittenberg.

18 November 2009

Swords into ploughshares and 30 years of the Friedensdekade

Today is the peculiarly German Protestant festival called the day of repentance and prayer, at the same time it marks the end and culmination of the Friedensdekade, the churches' Ten days for Peace campaign, and the 30th year in which the campaign has taken place. The Friedensdekade deserves a place on the Holy Disorder blog in that it played a significant role in generating an indepedent peace movement in the GDR not least through the slogan "Swords into Ploughshares", which became one of the elements that fed into the "peaceful revolution".

The history of the Friedensdekade goes back to October 1979 when the Swedish Christian youth council proposed at a meeting of the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe in Hirschluch in the GDR, that a day for peace should be organized by European churches. Picked up Berlin-Brandenburg and particularly by the Saxony youth pastor Harald Bretschneider this idea led to the first Friedensdekade being marked in the GDR from 9 to 19 November 1980, under the theme "Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen" (Make peace without weapons). The symbol of the event was a picture of the sculpture outside the United Nations in New York of a sword being hammered into a ploughshare that had been donated by the Soviet Union. The 10 days was also intended to coincide with similiar actions in the Federal Republic. In 1981, fabric bookmarks and a fabric patch with the "swords into ploughshares" motif were produced by the church (fabric production did not require special permission from the state), which led to the symbol being quickly adopted as a sign for independent peace activities, much to to displeasure of the state, which harrassed young people wearing the patch. Despite official church advice after such confrontations that young people should forego wearing the patch, the sculpture remained a smbol of the movement, as when in 1983 at the Wittenberg Kirchentag, Friedrich Schorlemmer organised a blacksmith to turn a swords into a ploughshare (as shown here in a panel from the exhibition in berlin about the peaceful revolution). The Friedensdekade remained one of the most important catalysts for the peace movement in the GDR, which itself contributed to the prayers for peace that became a focus during the peaceful revolution.

(Acknowledgements to Anke Silomon for her book Schwerter zu Pflugscharen und die DDR In English see the book by John Sandford, The Sword and the Ploughshare.)

17 November 2009

A new East German government in office

Twenty years ago today, the new GDR prime minister Hans Modrow (SED) presented his cabinet to the Volkskammer. In his governmental declaration he announced reform of the political system, the economy, education and administration. The aim is a "new socialist society". He proposes developing relations with West Germany to form a "contractual community" (Vertragsgemeinschaft) while rejecting unification of the two German states. Meanwhile the GDR interior ministry announced the registration os 154 new political groups. Meanwhile in more than 25 towns and cities there are demonstrations againsgt the SED's monopoly of power, a sign that the peaceful revolution is still continuing. (Source: epd)

'Europe in the year 2000'

No, the title's right but before you ask if I have gone into reverse gear, this is the headline from a feature in The Independent by Robert Cottrell published on 30 October 1989 - after the protests had started in the GDR but before the opening of the Berlin Wall.

Cottrell tried to imagine how the changes of 1989 would look ten years later, and the result is the somewhat indistinct map at the top of this post. At the centre of the map is a united "Confederation of Germany". The Baltic States are independent and together with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, a federation of Croatia and Slovenia, "Greater Serbia" and Turkey are associate European Community members (all but Greater Serbia and Turkey with their currencies pegged to the DM). The Soviet Union has disappeared, to be replaced in Europe by Russia and Ukraine. In western Europe, the Nordic countries and Austria joined the EC in the mid-1990s, after the "Delors Convention" moved the currencies of European Monetary System onto fixed parities supervised by a European System of Central Banks (in effect, national currencies have become non-decimal divisions of a single European currency) leaving only Switzerland "truly immune to the charms of monetary union, and [which] prospered mightily as Europe's sole remaining tax haven". Belgian has more or less ceased to be a unitary state and instead is a federation of Flanders and Wallonia.

Cottrell's imagination - from before the opening of the Berlin Wall - saw a revolution in Romania, and the flight of the Ceausescus; a move to a German Confederation in 1995 (still a hopelessly ambitious timetable according to some of Cottrell's contemporaries from 1989); the break up of Yugoslavia into a federation of Croatia and Slovenia, and a Greater Serbia; and - even - the restitution of Transylvania to Hungary. The Baltic states become "miracle economies", flooded with foreign investment and technology, akin to the "Asian tigers"; Poland is a source for cheap labour; while the biggest loser is "Russia" itself, the exhaustion of whose Communist Party led to an apparently unsuccessful military coup, with a United Front government surviving on aid from the West terrified by its arsenal of military weapons (remember this was envisioning Europe in 2000 and Cottrell might not have been so far of the mark). Germany's "armed neutrality" and the withdrawal of US troops (presumably the Soviet troops have also been pulled back) effectively end NATO's battlefield role, though NATO provides nonetheless "a useful diplomatic forum".

True, he does not predict the break up of Czechoslovakia, nor the wars that accompanied the break up of Yugoslavia, but from the fictional perspective of 2000, Cottrell writes:
LONDON - 31 December 1999. The end of a momentous decade. The commentators who spoke of the "death of history" in the 1990s had to concede its resurrection in the 1990s: not as a struggle between ideologies, but as a struggle for identity. Atavism re-entered the mainstream of Europe's politics.
Behind all this "futurology"Cottrell's point is that it is the European Community that would be the true magnet of the reshaping of Europe and the central point of a post-1989 settlement:
Can we fix upon an event, a date at which the "old" Europe began subverting the new? It might, for instance, have been the birth 20 years ago [in 1980] of Polish Solidarity, later to mount the first successful challenge to a Soviet satellite government; or the demands for independence by the Baltic states; or the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev to East Berlin in 1989, the spark which set the fire under the old guard of the Socialist Unity Party and thus cleared the way towards the German Confederation. But these were the punctuation marks rather than the message itself. It would be truer, if less picturesque, to see the weaknesses of the post-war settlement as having been inherent in its creation ... To the extent that the European Community was conceived as a yoke around the German neck, pulling it into line with its more placid neighbours, it failed: the relationship has been almost precisely reversed. But in other ways the EC has proved a much greater success than its founding six might have imagined.
Cottrell's article was published just as I was involved in preparations for a seminar in late November 1989 on the future of European security, the parameters of which were shifting as each day passed. It's a reminder of the need to think of the wider political picture as well as the internal protests and revolts in that hot autumn of 1989.

16 November 2009

Was 1989 good for humanity?

Over on the Guardian Comment is Free/Belief site, Ulrich Duchrow has posted an answer to the question, "Was 1989 good for humanity?" He notes how the prayers for peace in East German churches were also linked to the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation launched by the World Council of Churches. It was good, Duchrow writes, for people to experience that self-liberation is possible when a system has lost its legitimacy. However, the people lost control in the process of transformation. In East Germany, capital and the West German political institutions took over. His conclusion:
So 1989 can only be seen as good for humanity in the future if the people of the world learn from the "peaceful revolution" that they have the power of self-liberation from an oppressive and destructive system. If they interpret this year as the victory of the west they allow capitalism to continue to destroy humanity, the earth and eventually itself. There are signs of that learning. One of them is the World Social Forum and its sub-events at regional, national and local levels. Here people train to develop a co-operative solidarity economy (geared at satisfying real needs of people instead of the greed of property owners), models for money as public good and co-operative banks, serving the real economy instead of speculative accumulation, as well as direct and participatory in addition to representative democracy. The World Council of Churches, its member churches (unfortunately, less so in Europe) and the grassroots ecumenical movement form part of this process by working for AGAPE (Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth) and just peace.

He ends by quoting Heino Falcke: "The art of Christian hope is to work persistently for making possible the necessary."

Trying to find a way into the future

Jane's diary: Wittenberg, 16 November 1989

I'm completely wound up. I am waiting to travel to Berlin. I'm waiting for a phone call at midday from Steve. For two days I've been like this, moods swinging back and forth. I've had to completely reorganize everything to get to Berlin. I was at the police station this morning. I can get out of the GDR, but, unlike the East Germans, I can't get back in again, because I only have a single-entry visa. Steve: what are we going to do if we can't meet? I really think I shall crack. It's three months since we got engaged. Dear God, I hope this madcap plan works out ...

So much has happened but I feel in such a whirl - totally emotionalised. I want to laugh and cry and scream. The atmosphere is changing a bit. I'm not quite sure if all these groups are going to keep up the momentum, now the wall is down, at least psychologically. The prayers for renewal on Tuesday were still full at both churches - suddenly now that the crisis point is for the time being over, people are are suddenly able to pray, not just for themselves as has been the case in past weeks.

Suddenly we remembered that Romania exists. We lit a candle for the person facing the death penalty there. We sent a telegram to the Embassy. People prayed for the schools, for the environment, for not too much greed for western money. One of the students had found swastikas sprayed on the walls in Görlitz - we prayed for the fascists. The emotion was really very different at the service, not so tense or brittle. In some ways that was a shame, the tears didn't prickle behind my eyes, my voice didn't break with emotion. Perhaps a certain amount of normalisation would be good. A time to reassess, think hard, give thanks for all that has happened and try and see a way into the future.

The Bürgermeister has resigned, at the demonstration later in the square they gave his deputy a hard time. The new Bürgermeister will be elected today. As a result of standing up for so long in very cold churches and then sitting in a Trabant for over an hour my back is in all sorts of mess. Very painful. I drank a glass of wine with two of the women in Wittenberg. We listened to Mahler's 4th symphony and tried to sort out our feelings and worries about the incredible almost miraculous events of the weekend. When will the price reform come? Feelings are very ambivalent. Everyone wants to be able to exchange GDR money for western money but will it still be possible to afford bread at home? Things are going to get worse before they get better, that's for sure. Oh dear, that sounds so Thatcherite and smug.

15 November 2009

Thorns in the side

Posted by Jane (from the Stranzblog) :

I first heard the passage below being read aloud in the chapel in the Predigerseminar in 1989. In the midst of the huge political upheaval of East Germany's peaceful revolution, Gabriele who led that morning's "Andacht" simply let the text speak for itself.

I was surprised and pleased to find it again the other day at the beginning to Stephen Cottrell's splendid little book "Hit the Ground Kneeling". I'm not sure I've come across it in any of our Sunday lectionaries, which is a shame. I have used it in some youth work and training sessions with elders though.

Reading it through again now I wonder about whether bramble or thorn bush would be my favoured translation and I must go and check whether the Hebrew word is the same as the bush which burned and was not consumed in Exodus and whether the Septuagint translation for thornbush is then picked up in the gospel term for crown of thorns. This is how linguists think I suppose - even when they have a bus to catch and must write fast!

None of the other trees wanted to give anything up in order to sway over the other trees - not the olive its oil, not the fig its sweet fruit, not the vine its glorious juice and wine. So the thorn bush, the bramble, accepts. The thornbush is an uncomfortable symbol of humility in the Bible, it is about a different kind of leadership. Today reading this text I was struck rather by the way the supposedly greater trees don't want to take up office, they want to hold onto their current roles and riches and place in the scheme of things and not chance the risk or humility of leadership. Them holding on to their power and riches and roles makes the leadership role of the brambly thorn bush yet more difficult. Easier to be a celebrity than a leader? Easier to hold on to riches than follow vocation?
A fascinating and powerful parable which is deeply prophetic.

The parable and prophecy of the trees in Judges 9

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
“Reign over us.”
The olive tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honoured,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the fig tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the vine,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the vine said to them,
“Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?”
So all the trees said to the bramble,
“You come and reign over us.”
And the bramble said to the trees,
“If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

13 November 2009

Into the promised land or into the desert?

This is a crosspost from the Stranzblog
As I think back to the end of the GDR 20 years ago a theme I return to is that of the promised land or the desert. In large part this is because of an encounter with a lecture by Jürgen Ebach early in my time in Wittenberg. About a week before the GDR was due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in early October, Ebach was on a tour of some churches in the GDR, speaking in particular to ministers, theology students and church workers. He spoke passionately about developing a theology that takes failure seriously - sometimes those who fail are the greater heroes (I remember being rather surprised at the time that he mentioned Scott of the Antarctic in this respect - probably because I assumed it was a story not much known outside Britain). Moses who receives the promise of the promised land never actually gets to live there and only glimpses it from afar before death.

It is only now though that I realise how very carefully thought out Ebach's lectures were and also how deeply pastoral. It would not have occurred to him or to any of us that the Berlin wall would no longer be there 6 weeks later. So underpinning what he was saying was a deep commitment to using the biblical texts about the 40 years in the desert leading to the promised land as a resource for reflection and resistance for the context of the churches in the GDR - perhaps for the next forty years. Are you so sure that you have been in the desert for 40 years? Are you sure that you are not only now leaving Egypt?
I can see now that he was trying to encourage the leaders of the church in local situations to continue to dialogue with biblical texts and let them speak to their situations. In a way he was saying, your struggle is going to go on, how are you going to help the faithful wrestle with the fact that after 40 years there was no promised land - and although I have often thought about and returned to his lectures it is only now that I can sense this layer in the insights he was sharing.
So was the opening of the wall the promised land? I can remember being a bystander as people voted for the first time in March 1990 and then again twice more that same year - the enthusiasm already beginning to wane.
So I wonder ... if Jürgen Ebach revisited his lectures today what would he try to say to the tiny minority churches in the former GDR? Are we all in the promised land or are we in the desert? Is state communism more or less of a desert than social market economies? Is capitalism the only promised land available? Where is the wicked Pharaoh we are fleeing from - even though we also yearn to be back in those fleshpots of the past when faced with the rigors of desert living?
Meanwhile I can't help thinking how very clever the CDU was with its horrible election slogan of Wohlstand für Alle - it really tapped in to desires for the future and offered quite a greedy promise. Of course the biblical land of promise is not one where all have good incomes but rather one in which the basic necessities of all can potentially be met. A land in which there will be pasture enough for you to milk the sheep and pollen enough for you to harvest honey. God won't be raining the manna and quails down from heaven. It's actually the promise of a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a slightly less difficult environment rather than a completely nomadic existence in a mainly hostile environment! Trying to sell that in your political programme may be rather dififcult.
Posted by Jane

12 November 2009

Retribution or accountability?

Jane's diary, dateline 12 November 1989:

Three SED district officials committed suicide yesterday. I worry about Schadenfreude. Hunting down the guilty ones as if none of the rest of us are guilty - have the CDU, LDPD, NDPD (the block parties linked to the SED) done nothing over these years. Are they going to get away without having to confess? I wonder how many people would not have been involved in corruption in some form or another.

Two of the new central committee members have already had to resign - Cottbus and Halle in SED districts voted them out of office at their respective local levels and they've had to go. The reasons aren't all that clear but Boehme (district SED secretary in Halle) may have been voted out because of the appalling violence in Halle on 9 October. It still isn't out in the open whether he or the Stasi chief gave the order "to clear the centre" ( very euphemistic expression). People are now saying the Stasi should be sent to the factories. All that listening in to, watching and frightening people doesn't bear thinking about.

Yesterday I was in Jüterbog to interpret for two Americans from the United Church of Christ. Jüterbog is small has four very enormous and very beautiful old churches, one now converted into a library. It was an old Handelstadt and has similar architecture to my beloved Hansastädte. This area of Brandenburg is called Fläming - rolling countryside and woods. The name and the architecture indicating the Dutch connection. I'm extremely cross I have allowed myself to be talked into this although it has been interesting in all kinds of ways ...

More amazing pictures from Berlin. The West Berlin police and the East German Grenztruppen working together. More jubilation and of course all the litter and rubbish, bottles, paper plates.

In Jütterbog as all overt the GDR the State Bank and the police were open all day on Saturday and Sunday to cope with the queues of people. The Reichsbahn has laid on extra trains, in Leipzig they ran out of tickets for people travelling to Berlin. Each year GDR people can change 5 Marks at 1 to 1 for 15 DM. This is nothing. Can the government really afford to make the currency convertible, rampant inflation is sure to follow. The new economic proposals seem to suggest some kind of price reform. When? How quickly the next change.

On AK2 (the East German television news) the strange sight of the head of the police advising people to leave their cars on the edge of Berlin and to try to avoid the overcrowded crossing points. "Unless you have to go over now, then don't. Please believe me this new law will last so try to be patient". Wierd! Then an interview - a real interview - with Krenz about reunification. Basically he said this is Herr Kohl's problem and not mine, The GDR constitution is very clear on this issue. Whether Kohl should consider sorting out the Basic law is another matter and on which I cannot decide and which is not a GDR matter.

Interpreting for the Americans again this morning in small village churches. Thankfully a fairly straightforward sermon in easy language - I was surprised at how easily it all went. I was very thankful for the French onion soup at lunchtime, I got very cold in the first church where we preached. Winter has finally arrived, frost this morning and a real November mist, damp cold getting through to your bones. Somehow it had seemed as though the summer would last for ever but maybe the greenhouse effect isn't bad enough yet for that.

My feminist anger is dying down a bit now but if I get called "Fräulein" once again I might just boil over.

11 November 2009

Did the wall fall because of the churches?

That's the question posed in this article by Emiel Hakkenes in the Dutch newspaper, Trouw. After a set of events at which churches have pointed to their role in the peaceful revolution a justified question to ask. Hakkenes notes how Leipzig pastor Christian Führer from the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig had in a recent television documentary called, "The revolution that came from the churches", had noted the protests in leipzig on 9 October. Said Führer, "Without 9 October there would have been no 9 November".
The church was praying for peace, justice and safeguarding creation, and not only in Leipzig. Under the name "conciliar process" they were also an offical aim of the World Council of Churches ... One of the creators of this conciliar process was the East German theologian Heino Falcke, who would become one of the loudest religious voices against communism. In 1972 he delivered a speech in which he called the church under communism not to abandon society. "We will work there, hoping for a socialism that is open to improvement," he said in his speech.

The conciliar process was picked up mainly in the Netherlands and East Germany, said Herman Noordegraaf, diaconate professor and authority on the history of progressive Christianity. "In East Germany, the church acted as umbrella for various groups and movements in the areas of poverty, environment and peace. They made a substantial contribution to the fall of the regime." ...

Theologian and peace activist Laurens Hogebrink in a recent article said the "concuiliar process was a breeding ground the growing opposition that led to the Wende. The conciliar process in the GDR was a crucial peace process for Europe."

On the other hand, Hakkenes quotes Hans Renner, professor of Central and Eastern European history at the University of Groningen as saying that "in great events, each person or group that is affected wants to point to their role. In the run up to 1989 churches and theologians certainly played a role. There was such a theological movement in Charter 77 in the Netherlands. But it goes too far to say that the role of the churches was decisive."

Read the rest of the article here.

From East Germany to South Africa

It was not only in East Germany that weighty events were taking place in the latter months of 1989. In South Africa, too, the End Game had begun. In September 1989, the South African theologian John de Gruchy had been in New York where - together with a Marxist professor from the GDR - he watched the growing popular protests in the GDR and in his home county, an experience he described in 1997 at the Leipzig Kirchentag:
Redeeming the past in South Africa:
The force of truth, forgiveness and hope in the search for justice and reconciliation

In September 1989 my wife and I spent a sabbatical semester at Union Theological Seminary in New York. For a few days we were host to the director of the Marxist-Leninist Institute in Rostock. He belonged to a group of theologians and philosophers from the German Democratic Republic, which was visiting the United States. It was highly ironic that in this way a Marxist professor from East Germany and a white, Christian theologian from the anti-communist, apartheid-ruled South Africa should meet in the United States of America! Nevertheless, we were bound together during this week in a way that neither of us would have been able to foresee. For this was the week of weighty, world-changing events, both in East Germany and in South Africa.

As we sat together, the East Germans and South Africans, we watched the events together on American television!Among the reports shown that week there were two that were boradcast immediately after one another. The first showed television footage of protest meetings in Leipzig and the of East German citizens fleeing over the border into Czechoslovakia, and the second was the escalation of the protest marches against apartheid in Cape Town, my hometown. Whatever the reaction may have been of our East German guest we knew that this meant the beginning of the end of apartheid. On top of that, we felt that the dramatic events in Eastern Europe were taking place in the same historical context as the events in our country. And that should come true. For without the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it was unlikely that change would have taken place in South Africa at that time.

For good reason, the reunification of Germany and the transition to democracy in South Africa have been characterised as two of the main events in the formation of world politics in the late 20the century. Some even claimed that these events were the prelude to a new world order. Even if we are somewhat sceptical of this claim today, these events have undoubtedly changed the course of history, no matter how we evaluate them. Events of weighty importance took place in Germany and in South Africa, radically transforming our lives and the lives of many others throughout the world.

Anyone who has watched television reports about the pro-democracy protests in Leipzig or Cape Town, would have seen the presence of priests, pastors and even bishops - at least in Cape Town! - among the leaders. There were many others among the crowds that were there from Christian conviction and commitment. Yes, Christians, and some church leaders and groups have played a key role in those important events of the transition, just as they had been committed as the precursors of these changes.But we should be reminded that the contribution of the churches to the struggle against apartheid was far from clear, it was hesitant and ambiguous. Some churches even provided the theological justification of apartheid. Even those churches that were against apartheid, have hands that are unclean.

The churches have much to confess about guilt and failure. In the majority of cases, the Christian opposition to apartheid was left to prophetic loners, charismatic leaders, ecumenical bodies and quasi-religious organizations. Too often the churches hid behind such brave testimonies, prophetic, instead of getting involved prophetically in the struggle for justice and liberation.(Provisional translation from the German)

In his book Christianity and Democracy, de Gruchy has written about the parallels (and differences) between the transition in the two countries.

10 November 2009

'What lies ahead of us?'

Jane's diary: 10 November 1989 later in the day

Today the SED declared itself in favour of an electoral law with free and fair elections and secret ballots. How many more rabbits can be pulled out of the hat this week. Perhaps Krenz has won himself a little breathing space with these measures over the past two days. It looks as if the whole episode yesterday wasn't intended as freedom of movement - the new travel law was supposed to come into force on 1 December in time for Christmas. Schabowski actually said those wanting to leave the GDR could do so via the GDR border instead of via Czechoslovakia. But the people took the ruling into their own hands and basically flooded the wall. Utterly sensational.

For each day people spend in the west (currently 30) they are allowed to change 1 GDR Mark into 1 DM but otherwise the GDR currency is not convertible. That alone may persuade people to leave. Who knows. Racketeering is likely to grow particularly if there is a price reform. Who knows? Earlier in the week I felt instinctively that a price reform must come but surely not until after Christmas. Political suicide to do it before things are moving so fast who knows what will happen next.

Of course all this has caught the West utterly on the hop (the Russians too, I reckon). It was interesting that as the interviews progressed during the day people tried to be more sanguine and reflective. Not succeeding a lot mind you. There is appalling ignorance in Britain of the GDR political system and structure summed up by Sue McGregor's question (a British radio journalist) to Pfr. Seidel in Leipzig this morning, "Has your party - the LDPD - been legalised yet?". reply - "Yes since 1947". Similarly the woman on the "Any Questions" radio programme pronouncing, "East Germany doesn't have an opposition party". Still she is only a high ranking civil servant.

The assumption in all the reunification debate is that the problem is East Germany becoming part of NATO. The problem is of course the thousands of Soviet troops in the GDR (of course there are the western troops in the Federal Republic). Then to cap it all Manfred Woerner of NATO says of course NATO's existence isn't threatened by these changes. It has contributed to the stability and without it this change wouldn't have taken place. What nonsense!

10 November 1989, 23:30

The central committee has in fact today announced economic reform - more consumer goods, gradual removal of subsidies. But the financial news tonight is spreading doom and gloom - hyperinflation and problems of quality and motivation of workers looks more and more likely - quite apart from crisis in public health and transport. Is it all going to go BONG?? Dear God, what lies ahead of us ...???

I went to talk to Friedrich (Schorlemmer) when I knew the BBC were going to interview me. He's ill and looked pretty ropey. Bloody RIAS phoned him at 5am this morning 'unangemeldet' - without notice. We spoke of the whole guilt question. Suddenly everyone's pointing the finger at SED leaders as if no one else contributed to all the problems here, as if most of the population hadn't gone to the polls and voted for the SED lists last May.

And the role of the church now? Balance? Keeping the peace? Besonnenheit - trying to get people to stay calm? Friedrich spoke of the need for Klage and Anklage- I'm not quite sure I understand this - lamentation in Biblical terms from the depths of our hearts - like in Psalms? Also accusation coupled with Besonnenheit.

Also he's very concerned that the church should confront the whole Zweistaatlichkeit question (the issue of there being two German states). What Germany? Very important for the church to give a lead. However I reckon there are lots of different tendencies within the church and that there are going to be all sorts of people coming out of the woodwork. We'll see.

Kohl say Germany is now free - our free German fatherland - I find talk like this very disturbing.

Let's wait and see: the central committee proposes electoral reform, a new media law, freedom of assembly, and bringing the state under parliamentary control.

If the wall really goes maybe reunification will be the only way that this country will survive. My heart is with all this historical day stuff. What really lies ahead? Will we still be able to afford food in February? Now Thatcher is saying, "It's a great day for freedom". What an overused and abused word freedom is.

To Brussels without a map ...

I'm writing this on the InterCityExpress from Berlin to Brussels, and it's true, I'm travelling without a map. But the map I am lacking is not the street plan of the Belgian capital, as what I am referring to is a slogan coined by a friend about the missing blueprint in Brussels for European security policy after the opening of the Berlin Wall and the changes in central and eastern Europe.

In any case, maybe I don't need a map for where I am going, for this train ride is also a journey into the past, even though it's scheduled to take only 7 hours instead of the 12 or 13 hours it would have taken back in 1989.

To explain: 20 years ago I was in Brussels where I was working with a think tank on European affairs, sketching out possibilities for autonomous European Community action on issues such as security, economic, industrial policy and so on. On the evening of 9 November, after a day of discussions about the project, we moved on to the Amarcord, the project's Stammcafé in Ixelles, where conversation turned to what was happening in East Germany. What options did Krenz have we considered? Maybe, someone said, he could try and regain the initiatives by opening the borders to the West. Little did we know that even as we were biting into our pizzas the crowds were gathering on the Bornholmer Strasse in East Berlin ... only when I got back to my attic flat and turned on Deutschlandfunk did I realise just what was happening.

The opening of the borders in Germany was not an unmitigated blessing for the research projects, however, as the parameters seemed to keep changing, and changing quickly. The maps that had been used until then were no longer relevant.

Read more

... but the peaceful revolution continues

One of the most long standing misconceptiuons about the events of 1989 is that it was the opening of the Berlin Wall brought freedom to the people of East Germany, when it was the people of East Germany demanding and seizing freedom for themsleves. The other is that once the Berlin Wall was opened the peaceful revolution was over. Yet it was still the SED that held the levers of (state) power in the GDR, the Stasi had not been disbanded, political parties had not been allowed, there was no independent judiciary and there was no mechanism for freee and fair elections. Nor was it clear that all sections of the apparatus would still give up their power. This poster is for the founding assembly of New Forum in Prenzlauer Berg in east Berlin on 10 November - at the Gethsemane church as it happens. Throughout the autumn the new political parties and citizens' movements began to take shape. The Round Table that was to become the instance for the transfer of power from the SED to society was to meet for the first time only in December. the peaceful revolution continued.

The Berlin Wall is open ...

Jane's diary: 1.15 am, 10 November 1989

The Berlin Wall is open!! Yesterday's new Politburo opened it this evening. The Iron Curtain too. I can't believe it. I had been interpreting all day for some American journalists in Wittenberg and fell asleep at 6 p.m. exhausted. I woke up at midnight and tried to get back to sleep. At 1 a.m. I switched on the radio. This is amazing. Soon East Germans will have more freedom of movement than I do, since I'm here with a single-entry visa. The other students had already gone home today for the long weekend back in their local churches. One of them is in Berlin. I wonder if he's going to go to West Berlin for the day. It's really strange.


The atmosphere is amazing. People's faces in the street even look different.


Crazy, things are moving so fast that it's impossible to settle down. There's an intense need to be with people to experience it together. People don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's like a strange fairy tale. I spent most of this afternoon waiting for a phone call from the BBC for an interview. Stephen phoned and we had a happy conversation early this morning. Amazing. It was brilliant to be able to share our stunned amazement.

Have just been watching the pictures on television. East and West German police working together to sort out the chaos, despite new "holes" in the wall there's total blockage because of the human traffic in both directions. People climbing over the wall, being helped by police with ladders. It seem like some kind of surreal sci-fi story. And then the pictures of Willy Brandt at the border, incredibly moving. What must he have been thinking as the people in the east hugged and greeted him. Mayor of West Berlin when the wall was built, did he think he would live to see this day., Tears rolled down my cheeks.

Behind all this celebration is very real uncertainty. What is going to happen?

Yesterday was a historic day - the Berlin Wall was opened. Fifty one years ago, my Berlin grandfather was arrested and taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp following the Kristallnacht of 9 November 1938, the "night of broken glass" of the attacks against synagogues, Jewish Germans and their property. It is strange to think that these two events will share an anniversary.

Posted by Jane.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" - as seen by Plantu

This is the cartoon that featured on the front page of Le Monde of 10 November 1989 (dated 11 November) by its resident cartoonist, Plantu.

9 November 2009

Berlin remembers 20 years

A very cold and wet Berlin has just finished a day of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall (though will someone please tell Kate Connelly that when she writes about "priests" she probably means "pastors"). The most ironic part of the day is that "security measures" meant that once the festivites had finished, the one place where it was impossible to cross from East to West (or the other way round) was the Brandenburg Gate. A small group of people gathered in front of the police barriers and started shouting "The Wall must Go!", as a television commentator appeared on a giant TV screen to tell revellers that all the other "border crossings" were still open for people to cross. The "security measures" in question were that the VIPs were on one side of the Brandenburg Gate and the people on the other. At one point it looked as though the Berlin police were doing a reconstruction of 1989.

Similar thoughts at the Gethsemane church where at the start of the day in this case both pastors and priests gathered for an ecumenical service to mark the anniversary. The Gethsemane church was a focus for the opposition in GDR days, and became a refuge for demonstrators taking refuge from police brutality on 7 October. Police then sealed off the church and the srrounding streets, and some of the GDR's civic rights activists thought they had almost come to a reconstruction of the events 20 years ago as the streets were again swarming the streets (this time thought to protect the represetatives of Germany's "constitutional organs" - president, chancellor and so on. Ecumenical News International has a report of the service here:
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, officials have returned to a church in what was East Berlin, where protests of candlelit prayers helped bring down communism in East Germany. Germany's political and church leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall on 9 November with an ecumenical service at the Protestant church in eastern Berlin, named after the garden where the Bible records Jesus spending his last hours.

"Today we look back at the fall of the wall 20 years ago," said Roman Catholic Archbishop Robert Zollitsch in his sermon at the Gethsemane church, only a few hundred metres from where the fortified concrete wall divided the city's eastern and western sectors from 1961 to 1989.

"We still feel today the gratitude and joyful amazement for this happening. What even only shortly before had seemed unthinkable became a reality," said Zollitsch, the chairperson of the German (Catholic) Bishops' Conference.

Still, Archbishop Zollitsch and Berlin's Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber, noted in their addresses at the Gethsemane church how joy at the opening of the wall in 1989 had been followed by soul searching about the effects of reunification between East and West Germany.
What the Ecumenical News International article did not have space to mention however was the explicit reference to the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (and the GDR Ecumenical Assembly for JPIC) as one of the starting points for the peaceful revolution. The intercessions were made up of extracts from the final texts of the GDR Ecumenical Assembly and introduced by Berlin's Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky-

Breaking bread on the morning of 9 November

Jane: On the morning of 9th November 1989 I was one of the twenty or so ministry students at the Predigerseminar in Wittenberg. We had 10 day modules allowing for a four day weekend beginning after lunch on the Thursday. The Thursday mornings were for our "Auswertungsrunde". Believe me you cannot really understand the groan that this even now inspires in me unless you have been through this kind of evaluation with German theologians who are all direct and critical of the methodologies and content of what and how they are learning ... it is quite indescribable. Of the 25 of us sitting around the evaluation table that morning four people were founding members of three of the different new political parties in the GDR, several had taken part in the big Berlin demonstration on October 7th, one of our lecturers had been a speaker at the huge demonstration in Berlin on November 4th. These were some of the biggish fish in the small GDR pond.
Everyone around the table knew someone who had been imprisoned, several had seen the violence first hand. Together we had begun the prayers for renewal in Wittenberg, experienced and led Reformation Day and Buss und Bettag, learned about liturgy and preaching.
We were young but adults, full of hope, getting ready to have that hope dashed, cynicism was there under the surface. During the previous week we had begun to receive reports of the police brutality towards thos imprisoned in Berlin and Halle at the beginning of October. We had read some of those reports out at our morning prayers and wept and raged. Our emotions were elemental, we were living through a revolution yet everyone was away from home and would rather have been at home with their own peace and church groups, going on the demonstrations with their friends and family - apart from me ...
I had suggested - ever the liturgist - that we should end each 10 day module with a communion service. So after two hours of telling each other what we thought of one another in no uncertain terms, we moved from the painful evaluation table not to the upper but to the lower room where a simple round table is set with bread and wine.
I clearly remember Friedrich Schorlemmer bringing flowers to the table at the last moment and my being deeply moved by that. In my memory they were pinkish snapdragons, but perhaps my memory fails me - surely they could not have survived so far into the season, that must have been on a previous occasion, one eucharist speaks of and reminds one of another. I remember the flowers though, from one of those eucharists and I remember Friedrich's face and body as he place this offering of beauty on the table. (Dr B has my diary and we will see whether my memory was wrong.)
I presided at our round table eucharist and I spoke of remembrance, of my Grandfather being arrested in the Kristallnacht raids and taken away to Sachsenhausen concentration camp 61 years earlier. And so with stories of brokenness, pain and hope all around us, having shared hard and gentler words with each other, we broke bread and drank wine in memory of the one who was broken and shed for us.
Next to me as we prayed and felt the bread and wine in our mouths, my friend U began to sob, tears rolling down his face. He is not ashamed of his grief and emotion. As I think back to that morning my hand remembers the feel of his jeans as I placed my hand on his leg in an attempt not to quiet him but simply to offer comfort and in some strange way to say yes this is what it has been like.
Twelve hours later U and many of the others were spending the night at the impromptu street party on both sides of the wall. The feast of memory became the party of liberation.

Crosspost from the StranzBlog

Liturgy at the Berlin Wall

At lunchtime on 9 November, staff and others at the Ecumenical Centre met at the pieces of the Berlin wall in the garden of the ecumenical centre for prayers. The slabs of the Berlin Wall (one of which is shown in the picture) were a gift from the first freely elected government of the German Democratic Republic to the Conference of European Churches in recognition of the role played by churches in the peaceful revolution.

A visitor from outside the house asked "so which side was in the east and which in the west?" I explained that it would not have been possible to paint the eastern side with gaffitti. This led me to say during our prayers that we were lighting the candles on the wrong side - it was not Helmut Kohl who brought the wall down but people with ca ndles and courage on the other side! Even though the sun had come out I also said that the weather reminded me of an Iona peace liturgy for a rainy day - choose a symbol that will work on a wet day - not a candle! The wind did manage to blow out alot of candles - and the rain managed to deal with the rest later in the day.
I shamelssly plagiarised what Stephen has been writing on Holy Disorder to put together the simple liturgy. Using also my own diary extracts from that extraordinary year in the GDR - that's where the idea for using Psalm 126 came from. I also remember Friedrich Schorlemmer at the end of a particularly difficult day simply saying to us in Wittenberg, let's close this session by singing the Luther peace hymn which is why I chose Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich to end with. I can remember being very moved by its wonderful minor melodies and the fact that everyone apart from me knew the words.
I also love the footnote at the bottom of The love of God is broad like beach and meadow - saying that the GDR government was concerned that the words of the hymn were criticising the state using religious language! It was good to sing one of Fred Kaan's hymns in translation after listening to a tribute to him on the radio last night.
So for 20 minutes at lunchtime we celebrated the spirituality of civil society that changed the world. coming home this evening I have heard a story of women walking together today across the peace line in Northern Ireland and of people trying to remove the wall in Palestine ... it seems right to use this anniversary as a starting point to overcome the barriers and divisions of our own times.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced. (Ps. 126)

Liturgy is here.

Posted by Jane Stranz.

Observing a revolution

This blog includes diary entries written by Jane Stranz while she was a student in the GDR from 1989 to 1990, first in Wittenberg at a theological seminary, and then in Wolfen near Bitterfeld as a student minister. Over on the Stranzblog, Jane has written about her arrival in the GDR-

8 November 2009

Watching and Praying in Gethsemane

For most of the five years that I lived in Brussels (from 1989 to 1994) I had stuck on my wall a cutting from the front page of The Independent newspaper from 9 October and the whole of the back page from the issues of 14 October. With the high quality black and white photogtraphy for which The Independent was then famous the pictures showed how the Gethsemane church in East Berlin had become a place of refuge and spiritual support for opposition to the SED. The title of the article on the back page was, "Where East Germans coonquer fear".

On 2 October 1989, the Gethsemane church, under its truly Christian pastor, Bernd Albani, had started a vigil for people who had been unjustly imprsioned after demonstrations calling for change. A month later, on 7 October 1989, as the SED celebrated 40 years of the GDR, demonstrators gathered on the Alexanderplatz and started marching towards the Palace of the Republic where the festivities were taking place. Ranks of police beat them back, arresting and beating demonstrators indiscriminately - the scene portrayed at the beginning of the film "Goodbye Lenin". Many demonstrators then made a U-turn towards the Gethsemane church, about 2 kilometres away, where they took shelter inside the church while the police sealed off the area around the church. For two days there was an uneasy standoff, those who had taken shelter couldn't leave but the police were not prepared to storm the church. The journalist Andrew Brown recorded the experience of Angela Kunze who began a fast on 4 October for the unjustly persecuted (he has also recently blogged about 1989). Her manifesto read:
I am fasting to cleanse myself of fear and hopelessness, hate and violence, impatience and the lust for novelty. I am fasting because I see no other way to express my protest against the ways in which our politicians brazenly keep us appearances and celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the state as their victory. I am fasting because, unlike our state media, I am worried about the great number of people who have left our country. I am fasting to live in solidarity with all who suffer and are persecuted because they have committed themselves to social justice. I am fasting in the hope that others will take part, for an hour or for days, and that we will show our personal commitment to this country by limiting our material needs.

"Watch and pray" - this is how the Bible records Jesus' injunction to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prepared for his arrest. It is also a chant from the Taize community much sung at the Gethsemane church as those who had taken shelter from the police waited for their fate. It was not until 9 October, as the huge march in Leipzig passed off peacefully, that the police moved back from the church.

"Watch and pray" - this is the motto for the series of events that has been taking place this autumn in the Gethsemane church to mark 20 years of the peaceful revolution and the felling of the Berlin Wall. On 9 November, the Gethsemane church will be the location in the morning for the central ecumenical service for state and religious leaders to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the wall, just a kilometre or so away from where the church is located.

On the evening of 9 November, however, the church is holding another service of public remembrance. The 9 November marks not only the 20 years since the opening of the walls, but the anniversary of the "Kristallnacht" - the night of broken glass or the state pogrom night - when throughout Germany, Jewish Germans and their houses of worship and property were attacked by the Nazis.

"The festivals of the Jewish and of the Christian religion are almost all festivals of remembrance" the brochure announcing the service states, "of the events of the history of the Jewish people or the life of Jesus. This ancient religious practice of remembering now has its modern forms when a date for the community has taken on such significance as the 9 November for Germans. In the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall the joy of the unexpected opening of the borders in autumn 1989 is linked irrevocably with the painful remembrance of the 'Reichsprogrommnacht' in 1938. A day such as this enjoins us to think ourselves about the forms and history of our remembrance."