When I was a teenager in the seventies, the libraries of the two clubs we belonged to were flooded with World War II novels. I remember, at the age of 11, reading QB VII set in a German concentration camp, Mila 18 about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, The Angry Hills, and Exodus.
Gosh, they scarred me for life, becoming the stuff of nightmares. I watched a few Nazi films with my parents, but very few since; I find them too upsetting. I had a horror of the Nazis, and by extension (and ignorance) a fear of all Germans.
And it didn’t help that my boarding school, St. Mary’s Convent, Nainital was run by German I.B.M.V. missionary nuns. As a new girl, aged nine, I once walked in to make my confession when Sister Mary Joseph was making hers. I stood stunned for a minute. She made her confession, came out and beat me savagely with her umbrella. Sister Secunda told the girls that I brought “the bad spirit,” into the class, and wondered if I were demon-possessed, I was so naughty.
Of course, not all of them were mean. Sister Cecilia lived for music, and I hated singing. I disrupted so many choir practices by singing through my nose or crawling out of the room that she finally exempted me from attending them—the only girl so exempted. However, at the end of the year, when there was the long awaited “Choir Treat,” pastries, Indian sweets, and Hershey’s Kisses her niece sent her from America (which I privately mourned that I’d miss) she told me to come to. Without going to a single practice. Grace, grace, for those who repent at the 11th hour!!
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When I first came to England 28 years ago, I had a housemate who had done military service in the army, and was German in the stereotype of the World War II novels. But I noticed over the years, that the Germans I met were lovelier and lovelier. I think of my friends, Jan and Karoline Sassenberg—beautiful, lovely human beings. And I’ve met more and more sweet German Christians in Oxford, smiley, kind, mellow, and easy-going.
My first cousin, Margaret, dated a German man, Dirk Burghagen. He supposedly told her that the very best people in the whole world were Germans, and the very worst people in the whole world were Indians. In spite of that, they married each other!! Anyone who knows both nations can guess what Dirk meant. In many ways, the nations are diametrically opposed.
But nations change. The diametric opposite of an Indian is no longer a German, but probably the Swiss, antithetical in every respect. (And no, I am not going to get myself into trouble with either nation by spelling it out!)
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After the Second World War, Jewish survivors and the nation of Israel had an unofficial motto, “Never Again.” Israelis no longer had time for Yiddishkeit, a gentleness, unworldliness, scholarliness, and sense of humour. Israelis call themselves Sabras, after the prickly pear–thorny, prickly, tough on the outside and (supposedly) sweet on the inside.
Well, the Germans have their own version of “Never Again,” their own collective shame and guilt. The vast majority are deeply ashamed of the sins of their fathers and grandfathers, ashamed of the Nazis, and are warm, hearty, decent people, law-abiding, hard-working, and disciplined.
And, ironically, the nation which destroyed Europe twice in the last century is keeping the European Union together, contributing a disproportionate amount to the European Union’s budget!!
Ah, hope! If nations can change their self-definition and national character, how much more can individuals!
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We are visiting His Place, a lovely guesthouse run by the Community Without Walls, Saarland, Germany.
It was founded by Wayne and Irene Negini, who felt a call to carry on the reformation Martin Luther began in Germany, restoring the emphasis on the grace of God.
The Negrinis began to take people into their home in the tiny, rural village of Wehingen, Saarland and care for them physically, spiritually and psychologically. More and more people moved there with their families, and they gradually formed a Christian community, friendships growing into lifelong covenant relationships.
His Place, the community-run guest-house, is quite a unique experience. The Pastor lights the fire. The worship leader takes your orders. The worship team serves the food.
The Guesthouse is German. Well, it’s what I expected a German guesthouse to be–beautiful, detail-oriented, sweet-smelling, efficient, hearty and welcoming. Love it here!
And the food is a delight. Pea soup with coconut milk cream; stir-fried chicken, sweet potatoes and veg; and an almond cake for dessert. Heavily fruit and veg based, no sugar, hardly any carbs.
Physical health is too little emphasized by the Western church, but now that I have started to restoring my health through running, reducing sugar and carbs, and increasing fruit and vegetables, I am so enjoying the increased vitality, and energy. I have increased my writing hours by 50% with the increased energy, concentration and focus that feeling and being stronger, and sleeping better is giving me.
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We attended the morning service at the church. I enjoyed the worship SO much. The fact that the worship was in German, which I barely know, helped me to switch off my analytical linguistic mind, and just enter the presence of God. Interesting worship—some familiar English language songs translated into German, some original German language worship songs, and some sung in English. Wow, Europeans are SO linguistic!!
The founders of the community, Wayne and Irene Negrini are currently on a cruise, and the ship is stalled because of turbulent weather somewhere in the Mediterranean. Well, perhaps it’s just how it was translated, but we, the church community, stood up, extended our hands and commanded the Mediterranean to be calm.
“Roy, are we commanding the Mediterranean to be calm?” I whispered, half-amused, half-impressed. Indeed, we were! I stood up, extended my arm dramatically with the rest, and had great fun commanding the wind and the waves. “Greater things than these shall you do, because I go to my Father.”
And now to check the weather report!
Debra Seiling says
It was interesting reading your perceptions of your trip to Germany. I especially liked your comment, ” Ah, hope! If nations can change their self-definition and national character, how much more can individuals!” This is a very thought-provoking statement. Thank you, Debbie Seiling http://bible-passages.blogspot.com and http://christian-overeaters.blogspot.com
Anita Mathias says
Thanks, Debra, and congratulations on your new blog!!