Dec 1993 v.p. Travel Log – Germany p. 5

Dec 1993 v.p. Travel Log – Germany p. 5

Journal From Germany ( 3257 words )

Frank Cordaro

Tuesday Oct. 26

I arrived in Frankfort 7:45 a.m. and was picked up at the air port by Michael Porzgen. We immediately drove to Nurnberg and visited the offices of the Frankonion Bureau for Peace Education (FBF). This was the sponsoring organization for my visit and the peace center in which Michael volunteers.

We than drove on to Edermannstadt for my first talk. It was a night program held at the Burg Feverstein Castle, a Catholic retreat center. My talk was part of a two day conference for Catholic Youth Ministers and Social Workers for the local diocese. It was in a beautiful setting. The Castle sits on top of a hill over looking a valley. It was built during the Nazi era as a training center for military communications officers. The Catholic church took over the property after the war. About 30 people attended the talk. We spent the night at the Castle.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

We got up early for Mass and after breakfast we headed back to Nurnberg. I met with the staff of FBF.

In the afternoon Michael and I visited the Nazi Rallying Grounds where Hitler and the Nazi party use to hold mass meetings. Much of it is buildings are destroyed or badly ran down. Still the lay out and grand design of the buildings and parade grounds are still discernible and very ominous. We visited the Museum of “Fascination and Violence”  under the old Nazi rally review stands. The same stands that Hitler use to address the crowds. The museum is sobering display and record of the rise and fall of the Nazi party in Nurnberg.

I spent the evening with Michael and friends at a local bar. The beer in Germany is every bit as good as they say. We ended the night at Michaels apartment.

Thursday, Oct. 28

We woke up and boarded a train for Neuwied. Much of the train route went along the Rhein River. It was a bright and sunny day and a breath taking train ride. West Germany is a very beautiful country. It is also densely populated with 61 million people and 641 people per sq.  mile. (El Salvador has 623 people per sq. mile.) There are villages and towns scattered across the rural landscape every five to ten miles. And there are many good size cities through out the country. Yet every thing seems to be in good order and very clean. Not at all like the US.

Once in Neuwied, we headed for the German offices of Eirene, the international Christian service for peace organization that sponsored Michael’s year at the D.M.C.W. (Eirene is also the sponsoring organization for Andrea.) Founded in 1957, by the Historic Peace Churches (Brethren and Mennonites) and the International Fellowship for Reconciliation, Eirene places German volunteers in host countries, working on projects that directly help the poor and further the cause of peace. We got a tour of the offices and I got to meet some of the folks who helped bring Michael to the States.

The night program was held at Holy Cross Church, a Catholic parish in the neighborhood. It began with a Mass followed by my talk in the Church hall.  About 40 people attended. We spent the night at the Eirene offices.

Friday, Oct. 29

In the a.m. we boarded the train for Lippinghousen. We made a two hour stopped at Cologne to visit their famous Cathedral. It is located just across the street from the main train station. It was without a doubt a beautiful building, a testimony to human creativity and a true work of art, several centuries old.  Well worth the stop.

Still, after we went through the inside of the Cathedral, I felt a little uneasy. I shared with Michael that I would have a hard time preaching in such a church.  Jesus came to replace the great temple of his day with the living temple of his person. In Jesus’ day, people placed much emphases on the temple building itself and not enough on the people.

In the Cathedral in Cologne, it would be easy to over look the needs of people, especially of the poor for the beauty of the art work and architecture that dominate the building.

Michael said that since its a national treasure, the best thing about the Cathedral in Cologne is that it  has been used to stage protests and make a witness. I agreed

No sooner did we walk out of the Cathedral when we came across a protest and witness. Right on the front patio, braced up against the Cathedral was erected a “Wailing Wall For Peace”. It is a make shift structure made mostly of twine and cardboard placards. On each card board placard there is a messages for peace.

This Wailing Wall For Peace has been up since the beginning of war in Iraq, just over three years now. Visitors to the Cathedral are asked to write their personal messages for peace on pieces card board as possible additions to the Wall.

The Wall was the idea and creation of Walter Herrmann, a homeless man, whom we meet that day. To insure the safety of the Wall, Walter has set up a make shift home for himself right next to the Wall and the  Cathedral. Its not much of a home, stakes of card board, old wooden crates and piles of old news papers, covered with a tarp and held together with twine. A very vulnerable and precarious place, in stark contrast to the secure and massive Cathedral building.

Along with the focus of peace, the Wall has also helped to bring attention to the growing problem of homelessness in Cologne and all over Germany. Walter told us that there are several thousand homeless people in Cologne today. Already six homeless people had die in a two week period in early Oct. this year. Walter, himself has been beat up five time by violent youth gangs at night since he started the project.

Both Church and local government authorities want to get rid of the Wall and what it represents. The authorities have taken down the structure several times over the last three years. Each time they do, Walter and his friends have rebuild it. He has gained a strong and supportive following.

Michael and I were honored to be invited into Walter’s make shift home. There was barely room for the three of us to fit inside. As we sat there talking, I could not help but sense the irony between Walter’s home and the great Cathedral right next to it. Surely Jesus would be more at home in Walter’s humble make shack, than he would in the massive century old building right next door. In Cologne we visited two Cathedrals, one build with bricks and blocks, the other build with bone and flesh.

Back on the train, we made it to Lippinghausen and the Friedenskotten (The Peace Cottage) by early evening. The Peace Cottage is a Non-violence Training Center and Community that was started in the 1970’s. We met Eric Bachman, the sole remaining member of the original community. Eric is a US citizen who was a C.O. during the Vietnam War. He did his alternative service in Germany with the Brethren Volunteers. He stayed on in Germany working for different peace and justice projects. He is currently working with the crisis in Bosnia. We spent the  night with the Peace Cottage community.

Saturday, Oct. 30

We got up early, had breakfast and than went for a long walk in the woods just out side of Lippinghausen. It was a beautiful day, one of the two we had in Germany. We left for Dortmund by train that afternoon.

In Dortmund we were picked up at the train station by Bernd Buscher, one of the friends of the Catholic Worker. The friends of the Catholic Worker are Germans who lived and worked at Catholic Workers in the US. Bernd and his wife Sabine lived and worked at the Davenport and Rock Island C.W.ers.

We had supper at Bernd & Sabines home were we met Johst. Johst is a chaplain for the local city jail. He arraigned for us to attend the Sunday morning services in the jail for the prisoners. I spent the night at Bernd and Sabines and Michael spent the night at Johst.

Sunday, Oct. 31

We got up and attended the 8 a.m. service in the jail. The place reminded me of county jails I’ve been in the States. Its an old prison that was first used by the Nazis. Because of the recent high number of suicides, the warden had the whole place repainted and filled with all kinds of plants. Its a nice touch, but it doesn’t take away the cold hard facts of a prison cells. The jail houses up to 450 prisoners. About 25 of them attended services. I got to give the homily. It was an honor.

The main program started at 4 p.m. I was honored to be leading the first Round Table Discussion at “Cana” C.W. Soup Kitchen. About 45 people attended the talk. The soup kitchen serves an evening meal three times a week to about 120 people. Some of the Friends of the Catholic Worker help start the effort. Taking personal responsibility and starting a soup kitchen without official government or institutional church help is unheard of in West Germany.

The Church and the social welfare system in West Germany is very different than it is in the US. In West Germany the Government pays the clergy, operating and ministry cost for all the Churchs. They do this through a national Church tax. The funds are equally divided by Catholic and Protestant Churches, based on the number of people who claim a church identification on their tax forms. Over 90% of West German’s claim a religious identification. Both Catholic and Protestant religion is taught in all schools.

The government also relies on Church agencies to do the bulk of official government social programs. Seventy % of all social workers work for a Church agency. The Church’s are the second highest employer in the nation behind the Government. In many respects the Church is looked upon as just another governmental agency. This makes the separation between Church and State difficult to practice.

The West German social welfare system is better than the one we have in the US. The holes in their social safety net are smaller than ours. There is more governmental help for needy in German. Still, their safety net holes are getting bigger. With the added strain of including East Germany into the national social welfare formula and with the global economic slump, less and less monies are available for traditional social programs.  West Germany is beginning to lose many of the gains it once had in their social welfare programs.

Dortmund has been hit hard economically. It use to be a major steel making center in Euorpe. Ten years ago they were stealing jobs from Pittsburgh, now the Japanese steel industry is stealing jobs from them. There is about 14% unemployment in the Dortmund area.

All these factors plus the growing number of homeless people makes starting a Catholic Worker soup kitchens in Dortmund all the more possible.

It was so good to meet folks from Germany who had been to the States and worked at Catholic Workers. I felt like I was back with family, a foreign cousin visiting relatives.

Monday, Nov. 1

In the morning we boarded the train for Leipzig. Leipzig is in East Germany. It was the only East German city on my tour. The second largest city in East Germany, it had over 800,000 people in 1965. The city than began to steadily lose it population base. During the last year of Communist rule, over 120,000 people left the city. It now has 500,000 citizens.

Its a very old city rich with culture, art and history. It is a financial and trading center for the region.  During the up rising of 1989, it took the lead in bring down the communist government.

We arrived in Leipzig in early evening. We were met at the station by staff members of Caritas, the Catholic Social Welfare agency and our sponsoring organization in Leipzig.

We took a short walking tour of the inner city and than attended the weekly Monday night prayer services for peace at the famous Nicolia Church. This is the church that sparked the massive street demonstrations in Leipzig in 1989 that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets and brought down the East German communist government.

Latter that night we were treated to a supper at the famous Auerbach’s Cellar restaurant where the fictional character Faust is said to have rode a barrow filled with choice wine out of the lower cellar to win a bet.

At the restaurant we met up with Sr. Rita Kallabis, the director of Caritas in Leipzig. She told us about the work of Caritas

The East German experience is vastly different than the West German experience. In the first place, far less people claim a religious identification. Less than ten % of East Germans claim to be Protestant and less than two % claim to be Catholic.

Under the Communist rule all social programs were run by the State. None of their social infrastructure exist today. The social welfare system in East Germany is in complete disarray.

The limited Church structures are trying to fill the gape. Before the fall of the communist government Caritas in Leipzig had only six people on staff. Today they have over one hundred. Still, the increase is hardly sufficient.

We spent the night at Sr. Rita’s home. She lives with four other sisters in a nine flat apartment building that also houses their parish priest and the parish worship space. It’s what is call a House Church. This is not uncommon in East Germany.

Tuesday, Nov. 2

In the morning I talked to 15 social workers at the Caritas offices about the welfare system in the US. I told them about the Catholic Church in the US commitment to self empowerment programs through the Campaign for Human Development. The concept of neighborhood initiatives to address particular local issues was completely foreign to their experience.

Many of the things we take for granted about grassroots participatory democracy are not part of their experiences. In the communist state everything was directed from above, from a centralized office. Personal initiative was dangerous.

Not only must the East Germans rebuild a whole new social and economic system, they must also develop a whole new way of thinking and  understanding on how to do things. There will be little time to practice. There are pressing social ills facing them immediately.

We spent the afternoon visiting a new mammoth high rise apartment building complex on the east side of the city. Caritas has a youth project that they are trying to get started there. This new area is called Gruenau. It is a whole area of high rise apartments, set up in eight clusters that is housing over 100,000 people, one fifth of the cities population.

These new apartments were prized possessions during the communist rule. But today, all the social structures set up under the communist have disappeared. The building themselves were poorly planed and cheaply made. With all the new building and reconstruction going on in the inner city and the rents in the city proper on the rise, the new high rises in the Gruenau area seem to being set up for failure. It quickly becoming the newest poverty ghetto for the city.

During the communist rule every waking hour for the children  were organized and planned. That has all disappeared. With close to 30% unemployment for their parents, the children in these high rises have little or no supervision. Gangs have formed and there are many reports of violent incidents. Violence against foreigners is especially high. Its not a pretty picture and it is going to get worst.

That evening I talk at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. About 25 people showed up. It was not one of my best talk. The most interesting thing happen after my talk, during the question and answer period. Sr. Rita asked the question, “What can be done about the expect 10,000 evictions that were schedule to take place in the next three months?” They first asked me what I thought they might do. Than they began to talk amongst themselves about what could be done. It was exciting to see them brain storm about possible options. The beginnings of a campaign may well have started that night.

It was heart wrenching for me to see the same people who were able to bring down the communist government three years ago, now trying to grapple with the very local problem of preventing 10,000 evictions. The truly meaning revolutions never happen at the top, in mass movements but always at the bottom, on the local stage, at the personal level.

Wednesday, Nov. 3

We boarded a midnight train out of Leipzig for Hamburg. We arrived in Hamburg at 8:30 a.m. and were greeted by Jens Schild, a student at the Raches Haus School of Social Workers. Jens is a friend of the Catholic Workers, having spend a year at CCNV in Wash. D.C.

Jens took us to his dorm room where we caught a couple hours sleep before my schedule talk at noon. The Raches Haus School has only 150 students, all of them in social work majors. I talked to about 60 students.

After the talk we visited Hamburg’s harbor area and walked through their famous “Red Light” district on Herrman Street. We also went by the internationally know Squatters Houses along Harbor Street. These people have been occupying six buildings on prime harbor property for almost 20 years. There efforts are know throughout the world.

We concluded my last full day in Germany with a train ride to Frankfort (I caught my return flight home in Frankfort the following day.)  We spent the night in Frankfort with Hidie, yet another friend of the Catholic Workers. Hidie spent several months in Albuquerque New Mexico with the Center for Action and Contemplation.

I had a great time in Germany, a whirl wind trip of nine days and seven cities. I talked mostly about the Catholic Worker movement, the Resistance Church and my personal journey. The best part of the trip were the people I met along the way, many of whom share the same desire for peace and justice and have worked many years toward those goals. It was the best possible way to visit and learn about Germany, through the lives and experiences of Germans, who in many ways have share the same journey as I.

I want to give a big thank you to Michael Porzgen. Michael was at the D.M.C.W. for a year in 1992. We talked about pulling this trip off before he left Des Moines.

Michael was the main organizer for my trip. He raised the money for the project. He was my traveling partner, banker and keeper of the schedule. Plus he was the German translator for all my talks. I could not have asked for a better partner and friend to share the experience. We will keep in touch. I hope we will see him back in the States in the not to distant future.





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