The Parish Administrator visited the German Protestant Church Festival in Berlin and Wittenberg between Tuesday 23rd May 2017 and Sunday 28th May 2017
On Tuesday Evening 23rd May I was kindly dropped off by my husband at London City Airport in the late afternoon to fly to the big German Protestant Festival, which is called in German “Evangelischer Kirchentag”. It takes place every two years in one of the bigger towns of Germany or in a region. Each festival has a theme. This years theme was “You see me” from Genesis chapter 16, verse 13.
This year we had the Festival in Berlin and and six “Kirchentage auf dem Weg” (Kirchentag on the Way) in central Germany. These smaller Kirchentag events in Leipzig, Magdeburg, Erfurt, Jena/Weimar, Dessau-Roßlau and Halle/Eisleben take place on the occasion of the Reformation anniversary. The topics have been part of the big celebratory service in Wittenberg on 28th May 2017, where more than 100,000 people took part. At this Festival you could hear not only a lot of people with theological background, but also a lot of the major politicians came as well. You could hear the German Chancellor Angelika Merkel or the German President Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as a lot of ministers of the German Government or others like Barack Obama. You have so much choice that you can’t do everything.
This year I was one of the organisers running the stall of the “Synod of German-Speaking Lutheran, Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain” at the Market of Opportunities. We have six “Parochial Areas” in Great Britain except for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is supported by Ireland. From each of the areas we tried to bring representatives, who would stand at our stall for three hours to talk about our parishes. So in my luggage were materials which I took for our stall.
I arrived safely even after a delay of more than one hour because of a thunderstorm over Berlin. I made my way via taxi to my friend, who I knew from my school days. Most of the accommodation for younger people is in schools or church halls, and older people can get accommodation with people, from the region, who offer to give up their spare bedrooms to the visitors. With your ticket as a participant, you have free travel on all the public transport in the region of Berlin. A lot of events are all over the city or in neighbouring towns, so you travel a lot.
The next morning I met up with the vicar from Manchester at one of the exhibition halls and set up our stall. Later on my friend from the German Church Sydenham Immo Hüneke (son of one of our previous vicars) and his wife brought along some more of our items for the stall. We also collected our own program booklet, hymn book and map of Berlin which contained all the venues, as this was not sent to England as it costs too much money. After we had set up our stall, we all went our different ways for the afternoon. I visited a niece of mine. In the evening I made my way to the Reichstag of Berlin, where I took part in the opening worship.
Also at this service was the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who just had flown in via Manchester. I was very glad that all the people from Manchester could make it as the terrorist act had happened in Manchester on the Monday before our meeting. This terrible event meant that the security was stepped up during all the days. We had a lot more bag searches, which had never been done before. We had a minute silence to remember the victims in Manchester during the opening service. After the service at the Reichstag I went to the Evening of Encounters in Berlin. I went to the area around the Gendarmenmarkt and Französischen Straße.
The next morning after an early breakfast with my friend, I participated at a bible study (‘Mary and Elizabeth meet (Lucas 1,39–56) with Immo’s brother Edzard (Eddi) Hüneke, who is very famous in Germany as he belonged to the biggest A-Cappella Group in Germany called “Wise Guys”, who are now discontinued. If you do not understand or speak German, you can still find bible studies, which have either been translated into English or all been done in English. There is a complete book for the English-speaking participants, where you can find things to do in your own language. After I came out of the bible study, I received an urgent phone call from my friend, who wanted to know, where the flag of England had gone. Somebody must have stolen this flag between when we left the stall on Wednesday and Thursday morning. The stall organisers were not very amused. First I had a little wander around Berlin especially between the old West Berlin and East Berlin. Later I made my way to a sing-a-long of old and a new hymns, which was also conducted by Edzard (Eddi) Hüneke. At this singing you sing songs from the song book of the festival, which you get with your pack.
In the afternoon I had my first duty at our stall in the exhibition hall. At the stall you meet a lot of people who have lived in Great Britain and still have fond memories about their time and also the German Protestant Church. You also meet young people who want to be Au Pairs or just want information about the possibilities in Great Britain. Some previous vicars came past our stall and we also had vicars who want information about how our churches work and what type of activities we do. On our stall we had a map of Great Britain, which showed all our congregations and the parochial areas. A lot of people were amazed how big some of the areas are which our vicars have to cover. I had a lot of interesting conversation on this morning. One big attraction was our Great Britain Quiz. The prize was a stay at the German YMCA Hotel Lancaster Gate in London. A lot of people couldn’t answer all our questions correctly. But I will return to this later in my report.
In the evening I got my “last time fix” of the A-Cappella Group the Wise Guys.
The next morning after a very restful time and again a nice breakfast together with my friends, I went off to do my duty at our stall.
As I was already at the exhibition hall I went myself around the Market of Opportunities. Here I got ideas for the children’s service at the German Church. I also bumped in to my vicar friend Erika Engelbrecht, who married my husband and me 24 years ago. In the evening I attended an event by a doctor and comedian. His name is Dr Ekkehard von Hirschhausen. He talked on its own and together with the German Bishop from Munich, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm about “Miracles work wonders” (“Wunder wirken Wunder”). We also had some music in between all the talks by Viva Voce from Ansbach and Christoph Reuter from Berlin. I found this evening very stimulating as he showed the medical profession should not always be so serious. Whilst they take their patients and their concerns seriously they should not be so aloof.
On Saturday I went in the morning this time to another bible study (Jesus sees Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10)), which was conducted by Frère Alois, Prior, Communauté de Taizé/France. After this bible study, I made my way to the Bonhoeffer house, which is not far away from the exhibition halls. Usually you need to contact the house to get access to it (http://www.bonhoeffer-house-berlin.net/). After being so long at the only church where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was vicar I was very curious. The Bonhoeffer house was built in 1935 as the retirement home of Professor Dr med. Karl Bonhoeffer and his wife Paula, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s parents.
Whenever Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in Berlin, he lived here. Parts of his book Ethics were written in the study here. The manuscript of the book Ethics, which survived the war hidden in the house, was later published. On the 5th April 1943 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo in this house. Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biographer and who was also a vicar in the German Church Sydenham for six years, had rescued Bonhoeffer’s study and its contents in the house. Eberhard Bethge later presented this study intact to the Protestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz, who now looks after the house.
In the afternoon I had my last duty on the stall again. Again I had a lot of interesting conversations and a lot of people tried our quiz with question translated into German from the official naturalization test in Great Britain. In between I tried to check the results of the quiz, but I didn’t finish all the checking until I was back in London. I can give you a copy of the quiz, if you are interested.
After three days we had to dismantle the stall again. It took us a while to dismantle the stall, bring all the borrowed items back to the collection point and also to say good-bye to all our neighbours. Originally I wanted to take part in the Meissen Service “Meissen unites”, which was done by Dr Nicholas Baines, bishop, Leeds, United Kingdom (Liturgy in English) and the sermon was held by Ralf Meister, bishop, Hanover. The Meissen Commission of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Church of England and Community of the Cross of Nails in Germany, Hanover had planned the service. When I arrived a little bit late at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (the most famous church in Berlin), the church was full. At the church I was informed that another service would be held the following day. Instead I went to a concert for Organ and Gregorian chant in the French Cathedral in Berlin, which was performed by Kilian Nauhaus at the organ and the Choralschola, Berlin. After this I was too tired to do anything more, so I went back home to my friends!
As the final service was held on the Elbe meadows in Wittenberg, I would have to get by train from Berlin to Wittenberg and back again. My husband informed me, that there had been a computer collapse of the British Airways computer system the day before. I might have enormous problems getting back home. I decided not to undertake this journey, but instead to attend the service in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. I was amazed to hear the sermon by Bishop Dr Graham Tomlin from Kensington, which I didn’t expect. After this service the closing service from Wittenberg was transmitted in the church. I was glad I could sit in a very cool church as it was very warm outside. In the afternoon I went walking through Berlin, which is always worth a journey
Don’t ask me about my travel home, but eventually on Monday early afternoon I was back in London. I am still awaiting my compensation.
I will travel to Dortmund for the next German Protestant Festival. It is between 19th June and 23rd June 2019. Please speak to me, if you would like to come as well. I got so much information and new inspiration for my work at the German Church and also for the Anglican Church.
Pictures by Sunny Walker-Kier and Immo Hüneke