Monday 30 September 2013
A group of 10 members of the congregation of St Martin’s spent a long weekend as guests of Martin Luther Kirche in Berlin, the St Martin-in-the-Fields choir having paved the way three weeks before with their very successful tour. Thankfully, we were not asked to sing for our supper, or indeed anything else!
If asked to talk about our visit, the ten of us would probably come up with at least 20 different stories! Such was the variety of experiences we had between us. There were, however, several common elements most of us shared:
It was lovely getting to know others from the St Martin’s “team”, some of whom had, hitherto, simply been familiar faces across a crowded Hall.
Getting to share the warm, generous hospitality of our German hosts was marvellous. They cared for us all, meeting in full a variety of our personal needs and wishes. There was a poignant moment too, when we all shared time together in the church to commemorate Social Worker, Michael Kania, from Martin Luther’s, who died recently. He was well known to St Martin’s folk and his son, Marc, worked in the SMITF Bookshop last summer. The commemorative plaque has Tower Bridge on it, appropriately linking London & Berlin, to which he had contributed hugely through this exchange programme.
We were also privileged to learn from our hosts their views, based on their own experiences, about such topics as the Federal Election, which took place on the Sunday of our visit; the reunification of both East & West Berlin and Germany as a whole; and other contemporary issues including “immigration” and the nature of our two “multicultural/multi-ethnic cities”.
Participating in the Martin Luther Harvest Festival was a heart-warming occasion starting with breakfast in the church itself, followed by a large family congregation, in which the children played a lively part adding to the fruit and flowers on the altar and singing. The rest of the congregation then took up gifts for the homeless, like toothpaste, as well as food. The service was conducted in a delightfully informal manner by the two Lutheran pastors (one man and one woman) who mixed banter with each other and the congregation as well as more solemn prayers. The hymns, though in German, were familiar harvest favourites and one hardly needed a translation to interpret what words were being sung.
We all had occasions to share activities and meals with our hosts, becoming temporary members of their family with conversations just like the ones we have at home.
In addition, most of us had times to “do our own thing”, either individually or with one or two others from the “team” &/or our hosts. We visited other parts of the city by public transport and walking.
Some of our number had been in Berlin recently. Others had not been for 40 or 50 years, when The Berlin Wall was a real dividing line separating East and West. “West Berlin” (surrounded as it was by “East Germany”) had been kept alive and part of “West Germany” by the Berlin Airlift, 1948-49. Today, with the re-unification of East & West, that all seems a long time ago – which it is! Templehof Airport, where the airlift landed, is now a large public park. This time, many of us who walked the city streets probably spent as much time in the East as we did in the West! It was interesting however, to hear some of our hosts explain that there was still a “mind-wall” between those brought up with different perspectives in East & West, including different views about the role of the state and even differences in details of language. The city and the country are still in a process of slowly growing together again.
Many of us were impressed by the way Berliners are “confronting their history”, especially of the past 80 years. This was exemplified by our group visit to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which had mounted, together with other parts of the city, an exhibition entitled “Diversity destroyed” describing the experience of Berlin 1933-38. It highlighted the need for vigilance to preserve social & cultural tolerance, understanding, and an Inclusive society. Perhaps this highlights the common ground shared by both our churches.
Finally, a huge thank you to Marion Loerzer in Berlin for organising our programme there and to our hosts; and to Bob O’Dell at St Martin’s for preparing us for our visit. Without their dedication, imagination, and practical guidance, none of us would have shared these memorable experiences.