Tag Archives: Germany

19 August: Shared Meal XV: A Powerful Picnic.

 

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It’s Saturday, it’s summertime in Europe, it’s a good day for a picnic.

A very good day for a picnic. On this day in 1989 there occurred a mass picnic on the border between the then communist Hungary and democratic Austria. It became known as the Pan-European picnic because the two neighbours agreed to open their borders, allowing citizens of Western and Communist nations to cross borders and mingle without let or hindrance.

Many East Germans took advantage of the open border to leave for West Germany as the border between Hungary and Austria remained open.

Within a few months the Iron Curtain, as it was known, no longer cut Germany in half; many other nations also fulfilled their citizens desire to leave the communist bloc.

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It wasn’t all because of the picnic, but that helped maintain momentum for change, thanks to politicians in Austria, Germany and Hungary, and to many brave, ordinary people.

It won’t take a great deal of bravery to hold a picnic for your family today, or just to share fish and chips or a pizza by the sea. But spare a thought and prayer for those brave souls who died trying to cross borders to the West; for the brave souls whose actions made a freer Europe possible, and for those brave souls who still try to cross borders as refugees or migrants.

And as you enjoy your picnic, thank God for the freedom to do so.

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Preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall, MMB

World Youth Day Pilgrims about to enjoy a picnic in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Poland. MMB

 Picnic monument by Kaboldy

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4 January: the Christmas Truce

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More than once I had heard the story of a Christmas Truce along the Western Front in 1914, and often as not someone would dismiss the idea. I was glad to find a book, written with the co-operation of the Imperial War Museum that makes clear that the Christmas Truce did occur*

The writers do not see the Truce as an irrelevance, rather a

‘precursor, a portent indeed, of the spirit of reconciliation now powerfully abroad as one century ends and a new age begins. From South Africa to Ireland, and perhaps most noticeably of all in the benevolent arm-in-arm relationship between France and Germany (whose deep-rooted antipathy … made the First World War virtually inevitable.’                          p vii.

They tell many stories, using diaries and other records of the time. This was reported in the Daily Telegraph as the account of a wounded French soldier:

‘he said that on the night of December 24th, the French and the Germans came out of their respective trenches and met halfway between them. They not only talked, exchanged cigarettes &c.,  but also danced together in rings.’        p 79.

There are many other accounts of how ‘we achieved what the pope (Benedict XV) could not do and in the middle of the war we had a merry Christmas.’ p 94.

Which was irrelevant: the Christmas Truce or the Great War?

Let us pray for Peace in this New Year.

*Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Pan, 2001. There are plenty of copies of this and other editions at Abe Books for less than £3.

Here is a link to the European Christmas Truce Tournament . Teenage boys from football clubs across Europe meet to play football, socialise, and visit the trenches, cemeteries and monuments of the Great War.

Photo Q 50719 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

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December 7: Stella Maris and the Wreck of the Deutschland

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Our sequence of posts from John Masefield is interrupted by anniversary reflections from another great poet.

We came to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in Staithes in time for evening Mass six weeks ago. I was rather disappointed that the statue of Mary inside was of Our Lady of Lourdes, but when we passed the church in daylight, there was Mary, Star of the Sea, gliding calm against the storm, reassuring us that despite the tempests that come our way – and the statue feels the full force of the gales, up there on the hilltop – her prayer will lift us up to her Son.

I was reminded of a great storm which hit the Thames Estuary on this date in 1875, causing the Wreck of the Deutschland, rendered immortal by Gerard Manley Hopkins. A powerful prayer, wrestling with the mystery of inescapable death before one’s span is over. Hopkins focuses on five Franciscan sisters, refugees fleeing to exile in England from oppressive laws in Prussia, only to die on a Kentish sandbank. He challenges himself (and the reader) to:

Grasp God, throned behind
Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;
With a mercy that outrides
The all of water, an ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;
A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,
The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark
Our passion-plungèd giant risen,
The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.

Grasp God! Perhaps a little finger or the hem of his garment? But may we be listeners, heart and soul, humble enough to board the ark.

Let us pray for all in peril on the sea, as they did recently in the local Middlesborough Cathedral when they welcomed a Lampedusa Cross, made from timbers of a XXI Century Refugee boat that landed in Italy, remembering those who do not survive the voyage to Europe. Middlesbrough Lampedusa Cross

And here you’ll find the text of the poem, Wreck of the Deutschland .

Middlesborough’s Bishop Terry Drainey commissioned  port chaplains on the Feast of the Star of the Sea  in September.

MMB

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Opening Doors of Mercy

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It was a joy to visit old friends in Berlin, Oskar and Kristina. Oskar has lived through many changes since his birth in 1944: bombs, occupation, partition; flights to the West and shootings by border guards; the building of the Wall and its demolition. Visiting his family in the East was restricted and only via certain checkpoints. Doors of not much mercy.

The S-bahn and U-bahn (Surface and Underground metros) no longer trundle through ghost stations where lines cut through the East. The united city is growing: buildings like the Reichstag being restored, bright new ones rising around the centre. Oskar and Kristina’s son’s new flat is almost finished; we saw the block from the river tour, itself inconceivable before the Wall was toppled. Oskar showed us a stretch preserved for future generations.

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Berlin felt like a city at peace with itself.

Immediately before the wall came down the checkpoints, the doorways between the two sides of the city, were thrown open; the wall became pointless.

What can happen if we open the doors of mercy, the doors of our hearts?

Berlin had to grow up and learn from the past. The Nazi regime tried to rewrite the past, excluding the contributions made by Jewish people and those whose thoughts did not tally with National Socialist policies. Hence the burning of books, a crime against everyone.

This monument is a window into a basement of haunted empty shelves, where those lost books belong.

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empty shelves

In Margate’s Turner Contemporary the bookshelves are full. The British Library by Yinka Shonibare also challenges our memory of who we are. His books are bound in bright West African cloth, and bear the names of ‘foreigners’ who have contributed to Britain as we know it, from Brontë to Disraeli, from Ben Kingsley to Margate’s own Tracey Emin. A sense of peace descended on the party I visited with. All these people, and we ourselves, belong together. Follow this link:

British Library

MMB.

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22 August. Reflections on Living Together, II: Shakespeare Broadens the Mind.

 

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Travel is said to broaden the mind. It certainly offers some delicious paradoxes and pairings that challenge presumptions and prejudices that I never knew I had.

On the U-bahn in Berlin I noticed a pale-skinned, brown-eyed German man joking with a Turkish-looking friend, who had dark skin and piercing blue eyes. What amused them I know not, but the pair belonged in Shakespeare! I was shown life through a different lens for a brief moment.

Shakespeare loves odd couples for whom the course of true love does not run smooth. The girls in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are quite unlike each other (one tall, one short; one dark, one fair) yet until Puck interferes in their lives, they and their fiancés are the best of friends. Confusion and insecurity, sown by Puck, lead from bewilderment to the trading of insults between them all and Lysander telling Hermia, his beloved:

Be certain, nothing truer; ’tis no jest
That I do hate thee and love Helena.

And soon, Oberon observes:

These lovers seek a place to fight.

He has Puck provide respite and resolution by undoing his first mischief and allowing the young people to relax and fall asleep together, waking to a new day, and all’s well that ends well with the mortals blessed by the fairies.

Those who would destroy fraternity among us touch our eyes with worse than fairy dust.

Let us pray that we may see God more clearly, and love him more dearly in our sisters and brothers. And that we may see through and renounce all the evil one’s empty promises.

MMB.

 

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A Week’s Reflections on Living as Neighbours: Introduction.

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Next week includes the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, so we had prepared reflections on Algeria, his homeland. But it would be wrong to offer these while ignoring recent events in Belgium, France and Germany. It would also be wrong to suggest that all is well in Algeria or anywhere else that Muslims and Christians live side by side. All too easily someone can assert the primacy of the ‘true faith’, as they perceive it, over love and mutual respect: it happens within communities as well as between them. Therefore I offer this week’s reflections on recent events as a preface to those on Algeria, prepared weeks ago to celebrate Augustine, recognised by Muslims as well as Christians as a great Algerian.

MMB

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June 4th – Saint Boniface, Apostle to the Germans.

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Tomorrow would be the feast of Saint Boniface if it were not a Sunday. Here in Canterbury, Fr Boniface OFM counts his patron as ‘perhaps the greatest Englishman who ever lived.’ Quite a claim  from a German-Scot, but then Saint Boniface is celebrated as the Apostle of Germany. He worked there in the Eighth Century.

This greatest of Englishmen spent much of his working life outside England, as a European, preaching and baptising, dealing with royal houses, journeying to Rome to confer with popes and maintaining correspondence with friends at home and in Ireland as well as on the continent. No insular little Englander!

Boniface was first and foremost a missionary, sharing the Good News, giving faith to others, often in the face of opposition. He died in an ambush by pagan outlaws, and like Jesus in the Garden he refused to let his companions fight. Instead he held aloft the Book of the Gospels in a gesture of prayer. That book, hacked about by the robbers’ swords, can be seen in Fulda, near Boniface’s tomb.

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The Good News survives attacks by those who oppose Christianity, and even the damage done by us Christians when our vision is too restricted or we tacitly accept that our faith is private, when it ought to inform all our relationships with God, family and neighbour.

 

MMB.

Upper picture: from 11th Century Sacramentary of Fulda at:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/St_Boniface_-_Baptising-Martyrdom_-_Sacramentary_of_Fulda_-_11Century.jpg
Lower picture: Statue of Saint Boniface with the hacked Gospels, from Erfurt, where Boniface established a church in 724 during his first mission in the region, and set up the diocese some 18 years later. Note and picture by NAIB.

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