Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Luther and Bach

This posting will be the last one detailing the German portion of the sabbatical.
On Sunday, August 21st, Gay and I went to worship at the City Church in Wittenberg.  As it turns out, it was a special service in that there were two baptisms.  They were the daughters of a couple with one about three or four and the other a toddler.  In addition, there was a youth group at worship of about 40 youth perhaps in 5th grade.  Taken together with others at worship, there seemed to be over 100.

This link is to a rather lengthy video.  It contains "footage" of the interiors of the Castle Church and City Church in Wittenberg as well as video with bells before worship, prelude, and postlude at the City Church.

This is at the beginning of the baptismal service.

After worship, we drove to Leipzig to explore some of the surroundings of J.S. Bach.  We had three sites in mind.  The first two were churches where Bach served.  They are Thomas Church and Nicholas Church.  The third site was the Bach museum.

This is a view from the chancel facing the main organ in the Thomas Church.

This stained glass is in honor of Bach in the Thomas Church.

This organ is a recent addition to Thomas Church and was built to be much like the instrument at the church when Bach served here.

This stands outside of the Thomas Church

This shot is looking toward the chancel in the Nicholas Church.  This is the other main congregation at which Bach served in Leipzig.

Our final goal for Leipzig was to go through the Bach museum.  It is a fine collection and one of its features is that it gives people the possibility to access a number of Bach's compositions and listen to them.  It has been done in a way which is very accessible.  One could spend quite a bit of time simply "surfing" from one piece to another to one type to another.

This piece of whimsy was on the first floor of the museum.

When we were done at the museum.  We drove back to Wittenberg.  On Monday, August 2nd, we started our trip back by driving to Frankfurt.  The autobahn was fine to drive on and though some drive extremely fast, the "culture" of the road is clear and by and large, the drivers are courteous.  I did not go over 135 kilometers per hour!

Our flights home went smoothly.  We flew Lufthansa from Frankfurt to San Francisco and United back to Eugene.

It has been quite an experience from Israel to Italy to Germany.  I have experienced much- much which has been beautiful and inspiring as well as much which has shown the darker nature of humanity.  The beauty and brutality of our race seem to exist side by side.

Indeed, Luther himself had these dynamics within himself.  He was a shining light of God's grace as well as someone who could express hatred towards others who did not agree with him.

It seems to me that the continuing challenge before us as individuals and as groups is to live out the grace and compassion of God.  That it seems to me is neither easy nor natural.  May God's Spirit continue to breathe such new life into us that we may live it out in how we treat one another.
In the days ahead, I will be working on classes and putting thoughts together as well as working in the yard, playing tennis, and enjoying being back in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


On Saturday, August 20th, Gay and I caught a morning train from Wittenberg to Berlin.  We decided to take a four hour walking tour and then do further exploration on our own.  The tour was led by a 20 something named Heather who has lived in Berlin for five years and has her master's in German history.  She was lively and informative.
 The tour had three main focal points.  They were: 1. General German and Berlin history; 2. the Third Reich; and 3. the Communist era.

This photo incorporates the first two topics.  It is one of the oldest museums in Berlin and is located on what is called "Museum Island".  It was also a favorite spot for Hitler to gather large crowds and address them.

This shows part of a very powerful monument.  It is about a block square and it is the monument to the murdered Jews of Europe.  This monument fills about a city block with over 2,000 cement blocks.  They are all unique to one another in that not one is the same size.  It is purposely abstract so that people who experience it may develop their own meanings from it.  Below the monument is a museum to the Holocaust which takes the exact opposite tack.  It focuses on a number of extended Jewish families from around Europe.  It shows photographs of the members of the families and then tells what happened to them.  We learn who survived and who was murdered.  It, too, is a powerful experience.
In these many memorials and museums, I experienced the Germans as facing the reality of the past straight on without flinching.

Another feature of Berlin's history is that of the Communist era.  This photo shows one of the few reamaining sections of the wall which was erected to keep people in East Germany from escaping to the West.

This is the American part of "Check Point Charlie".  This was the most traveled check point between East and West.  The East German side had a huge complex for checking people entering and leaving East Berlin.  At times, the guards would completely strip a car to make sure that no one was being smuggled out.

Another museum which Gay and I went to was on the grounds of the former SS building.  If focues on the Nazis themselves and less on the victims.  It, too, is a clear and unflinching look at the horrors of the Third Reich.  On of the most chilling experiences came from the photos of the concentration camp guards smiling and laughing while they are taking some R and R.  These pictures show a casual side which seems to indicate that they were simply having a good time away from their jobs.

Our all too brief time in Berlin provided many strong experiences.


Martin Luther

The main reason we came to Germany was to go to sites related to Martin Luther.  Our first stop involved Eisnach which where he studied for a time as a youth and where he was hidden at the Wartburg Castle following the Diet of Worms controversy.Then we went to Erfurt where Luther entered the Augustinian order.  We saw that cloister and churches important in the area, After that, we pushed on to the town of Eisleben.  This is the town in which he was born and as it turns out, also where he died.
Though it took a bit of poking around and asking questions, we did find his birth house.

Here I stand (If you will) in front of Luther's birth house.

The museum in Luther's birth house was very good.  In it was a model of Eisleben in Luther's day.  The lighted buildings show where Luther was born in 1483 and where he was baptized (St. Peter and Paul Church) the next day.  They are just about a block away from one another.

If you look closely enough, you can see once again the house where Luther was born and the house where he died.  He had come back to Eisleben as he was asked to settle a dispute.

This picture shows the continuation of the "scaffolding tour".  St. Peter and Paul Church in Eisleben is undergoing extensive renovations in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
We were able to go into the church but a few steps.  Again, this is where Luther was baptized.  That was God's gift to him which supported him throughout his life.

It was in this house that Luther died.  If you look closely through the front door, you will once again see scaffolding.  We were not able to go into the house.

After spending a few hours in Eisleben, we pushed on to the place which would be the center of Luther's life as a reformer.  We drove to the town of Wittenberg.  This is where he became the most famous professor at the University of Wittneberg and from here he began turning the world upside down with his emphasis on the free grace of God.

This is a view of the Schloss Kirche or Castle Church.  It was here that Luther nailed the 95 theses and so began the revolt known as the Reformation.

This is a view of the nave of the Castle Chuch. 

This is the other main church in Wittenberg.  It is the Marien Kirche or City Church.  Evidently, Luther enjoyed preaching the most in this church.
This is the actual pulpit from which Luther preached in the City Church.

This may seem a bit big but it is the home of Martin and Katherina Luther.  It was the former cloister of the Augustinian monastery.  As it turns out, they needed the room.  In addition to their own children, they took in the six children of one of Luther's sisters.  They also had students board with them.  They would often have 40 in the house and for meals!  Katie was a remarkable person in her own right!

Here Gay is shaking hands with a statue of Katie.

I have a couple of videos of the churches which I will post later as the connection I now have is too slow.

It was a good day exploring Wittenberg and being in this remarkable place.  I will post more about this in a later posting.


Saturday, August 20, 2011


This entry will concern itself with our visit to the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.  We were there on August 17th.  The following is from the journal I have been keeping.

At about 10:30, we set out for Buchenwald.  We headed in the general direction and used the maps but it was not well marked.  We did happen across it though and made our way in.  We were there from about 11:00 to 4:30.  As we expected it was probably the deepest time of the trip.  We got a video guide and several pamphlets.

The tour starts in the area where the SS had their barracks.  Then it goes to the remains of the train station and the road down which the people were herded/rushed into the camp by both guards and dogs.  We then went into the camp itself.  There are only a few buildings remaining but the outlines of the many barracks have been marked in crushed stone.  As such, the layout of the camp is clear. 

The front gate has on it a saying in German which translated means, “To each his own.”  It seems odd but perhaps it was a way for the Nazis to say that they had chosen one way and the prisoners had chosen another.  First, we walked to the crematorium.  This was a building in which the dead were cremated and also in which a number were murdered by strangulation.

After that we went to the disinfection station were arrivals were stripped and made to go through a stinging disinfectant bath. The permanent art exhibit is housed here.  The building next to it was the Depot.  This large structure is where the prisoners had to leave their belongings.  This is now the museum which is very good showing many aspects to Buchenwald.  It covers the building of the camp which was begun in 1937, the stages of its growth (It would be the third largest camp.), the prisoners, the SS guards, the harsh, tortuous conditions, and finally the liberation by the U.S. Army in the spring of 1945. 

After spending quite a bit of time in the Depot, we walked to the Russian exhibit.  After the war, the Soviets used the camp for about five years to hold 1,000’s more whom it suspected of being former Nazis.

We then walked around the area where the prisoners’ barracks were and the different memorials to different groups.  While we were doing this, there was a group of Jews laying a wreath and having a service at the Jewish memorial.

The Jews were by no means the only ones at Buchenwald and may not have been the largest group.  There were many Russian POW’s.  in addition, there were people from different countries, many gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, and homosexuals.  There was also a small contingent of Allied soldiers.  The Russians and Jews were singled out for much of the harshest treatment.  A number of Russians were executed using a device which looked like a part of a physical exam.  It was the place where height was measured.  When the victim stood with his back to the wall, there was a slot in the wall where the killer held a pistol and shot the victim in the nape of the neck.

Our time there was a time to confront the ways which hatred and fear can lead people to do horrendous things.  We were also reminded of the ways in which such brutality was both systemic and systematic.

After we were done, we got into the car and ate a bit as we had not felt like eating while going through such horror.  We then drove back to Erfurt.

As a warning, some of the following may be difficult to look at.

 The following link is to a video I took showing the entry into the camp.
This is a picture of what remains of the train station at Buchenwald.  Originally, people were brought in by bus or were forced to march.  The train line was built when the SS started an armament factory at the camp.  It was then that people were brought to the camp by train.

This is the front gate with the camp behind it.

Here is the saying on the front gate, "To each his own." 

This is the depot at which people had to give up all their belongings.

This is the crematorium.  People were not gassed at Buchenwald.  Here the intent was death through labor.

One of the ovens used to cremate the dead.

This is the device I mentioned in the text.  Made to look like a device to measure height, the victim would stand with his back to the wall.  He would then be shot in through the nape of the neck. An untold number of Russian soldier POW's were murdered in this way.

This room was in the basement of the crematorium.  The hooks were used to strangle over 1,000 innocent people.

These are the remains of what was euphemistically called the "hygiene unit."  It was the barracks where the SS purposely infected people in order to try out different drugs to see whether or not they worked.

This statue is in the permanent art exhibit at Buchenwald.  It well describes the results of this horror.

While we were there a group of Jewish people laid a wreath and held a memorial service.

There were thousands of gypsies also killed at Buchenwald.  This is the memorial to them.

Here is one of guard towers and the fence used to keep the people trapped in this place of living and dying hell.

The time on the clock tower has been set to show the time the camp was liberated by the U.S. Army.

God bless us all to pursue the ways of compassion, understanding, and justice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From Italy into Germany

We have been quite active since the last posting!  The last time I sent something, Gay and I were enjoying the sights, sounds, and food of Venice.  We have since taken the train to Frankfurt, rented a car, and driven to Eisenach and Erfurt.  I will post a number of photos to show you some of what we have been doing and what we have seen.
This is a photo showing a building with the inscription showing Murano.  It is an island in the Venetian lagoon.  For centuries, it has had a creative and thriving glass making industry.  The art that is produced is amazing.

There were a number of exhibits of glass art to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italy becoming a nation.  This is the one we liked the best.

After Murano, we visited the island of Burano.  It is known both for it lace making industry (Again, incredible.) and for the pastel color scheme of the houses.

On August 13th, we were back exploring Venice itself.  The picture above is of the Doge's palace.  The Doge was one of the important leaders in the Venetian republic.

The Venetian leadership often used intrigue and anonymous denunciations to keep control within the republic.  This photo shows the slot someone could use to slip through such a secret written denunciation.

Here is a bit of irony.  This painting showing the Doge paying homage to Mary and the Christ Child is the room into which the secret denunciations would come.  So, the official presentation was that the leadership was following Christ while it was actually using secret means to condemn a number of its citizens.

One of the striking experiences we have had was just how strong the veneration of Mary is in this part of the world.  This painting shows the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.

Here are a couple of photos of us enjoying Venice.

August 14th was our long travel day by train to Frankfurt.  This photo is in the morning as we are leaving Venice.

This is from the train as we are passing through northern Itlay.

We have made it into Germany.  Do you think that this is a special welcoming gift?

After we picked up the rental car, our first stop was Eisenach.  This is a photo of Luther house.  Luther stayed here while he was studying in upper grammar school.

One of the exhibits in the Luther House had to do with Lutheran parsonage life.  No longer was it a celibate priest but a married pastor.  The parsonage became a place for meetings, discussion, and a source of social action.  When Gay saw this, she gave words to the woman, "You invited how many to dinner?"

Just outside of Eisenach is the Wartburg Castle.  This is where Luther was taken, for his safety, after the Diet of Worms at which he had refused to recant his beliefs. 

This is the room in the Warburg where Luther stayed.  It was this room in which he translated the New Testament into German in the space of eight months.

This is a view of Eisenach from the front gate of the Wartburg.

It is now August 15th and we have made it to Erfurt which is another center of activity for Martin Luther.  This is a picture of the Predigerkirche (Preachers Church).  It became a Lutheran church in the Reformation.

Though it is hard to see, I am including this photo.  It comes from the Predigerkirche and the painting is one of the oldest in Erfurt.  It depicts the death of Mary.  This is in contrast to the doctrine and paintings of Mary's assumption into heaven.  This painting which comes from the 14th century shows a time before the doctrine of her assumption became universal in the Roman Catholic church.

This photo shows the Augustinian cloister which Luther joined as a monk.

This is the sole remaining building of the University of Erfurt where Luther studied.

This is the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Erfurt.  This is where Luther was ordained into the priesthood.

This picture shows the altar area of the cathedral.  It was here that Luther was so paralyzed by fright that he almost was not able to say his first Mass.
This brings us up to the present.  As you can see, we have been experiencing much in our travels.  We now have less than a week left in Europe.  It has been a rich experience.