Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hamburg, 15.6.90: Pineapple Sauerkraut and New Pentecost

I’m actually writing this on the 15th, because the 14th was a long and full day. I slept till 11 A.M., and at 12:30, Wolfram picked us up for dinner at his house. Prior to that, Steve and I walked for coffee at the nearby konditorei, and had a kännchen each with kirschkuchen.

En route to Wolfram W.’s, we got to see (by car) sections of Hamburg we have not seen. Around the Altona S-bahn stop, where there are supposed to be interesting shops, were lots of Turks, Turkish and Portuguese restaurants.

Wolfram W. stopped at what looked like a gas station but actually apparently collects bottles for recycling and sells cases of mineral water and beer. I don’t know if this is state-run or not. He returned case upon case of bottles and bought a case of water and of beer.

His apartment and family are lovely. His wife, K., had made a marvelous meal of sauerkraut with pineapple, kässeler rippchen, wursts, and potatoes. With these she served 3 mustards—a krautersenf, a sweet Bavarian mustard, and an ordinary one. Dessert was strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

The children A. (10) and T. (11) were charming. T. speaks English well; A. has not yet studied it in school. They were, as with most German children, almost frighteningly well-behaved. During dinner, the phone rang and A. answered. It was the press, for W.—a call he was expecting. A. told the caller he was occupied. When she returned to table, W. exploded (relatively so) because she had made this decision on her own. T. chided her as well.

A. sat quietly, mutely, expressionless. What goes on inside a German child in a scene such as this? Children in my family would at least have tried to talk back and defend themselves. Do German children not feel the urge to do this, or shame at being publicly chastised? If so, where does that emotion go? K. did seem protective.

The apartment: several rooms with large windows (on the 3rd—us, 4th) floor overlooking a green central yard full of trees. All is painted white to catch the light, which was sparse yesterday as the day was overcast. A study had an imposing bookcase of bottom drawers and top glass, shelves, an interesting mid-19th century American photograph of a Dane in a mahogany frame, two oak writing tables with dropped lids, and a large oaken chest from England, 17th-century. There was a vase of dried flowers and a pot of some daisy that is of the chrysanthemum family. The fixture was a Tiffany-like shade.

In the entryway was a large armoire, very plain but striking, of what may have been maple. The transom of the entrance door was covered by a paper on which had been stamped in large colored letters, “Für A. und T. zum Taufe.”

The study connected via a doorway with pocket doors to a sort of parlor with leather chairs which adjoined the dining room. On the dining room wall was a series of black and white shots of K. holding T. as a baby.

After dinner, we returned to the Akademie and Steve and I walked to the nearby Hirschpark. Beautiful green walks around a central enclosure of deer, with rabbits, peacocks, ducks; a laneway of lindens and another of massive banks of rhododendrons; striking views of the Elbe, some overlooking thatched-roof houses.

The evening: unexpected grace. I met the group to whom I was to lecture at 7:30, and it turned out to be international: Rev. P., a Presbyterian minister in Korea; Senhor P., a Brazilian Mennonite interested in American Mennonite responses to civil religion; Rev. S., a Hamburg Lutheran minister concerned with feminist issues and constructing a post-patriarchal christology; J.-M. E., a Sorbonne-educated Camerounian priest and author of several books; another African theologian; a German theology student; a woman from Köln who is in residence here for a year; an American philosopher-theologian, F.G., who teaches theology here; and several others whom I don’t recall well.

I lectured briefly on the social gospel, structural sin, the American South, and hope of approximating the kingdom of God in history. Then there was a multilingual and lively discussion (Rev. P., and Senhor P. spoke German but not English); some things had to be put into French for the Camerounian. I felt—and I say this without undue sentimentality—as if I were at a new Pentecost. What was striking was the way in which the Spirit assembles those of many tongues and cultures and theological concerns, but who share a common vision of a church in service to the reign of God. Erhard K. summed up very nicely what I felt by speaking of an international community of friends.

Afterwards, both W.W. and F.G. lauded my lecture and expressed an interest in bringing Steve and me to Hamburg for a semester or year.

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