Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Braunschweig, Germany 12.7.09: Apple Trees in Church, Shopping Malls in Manor Houses

The flea market yesterday: in addition to booths selling defunct dolls and pictures of decrepit Victorian (what’s the German equivalent to that term, I wonder?) ancestors, there were food vendors—Turkish (as always), Indian, Dutch (fried doughnuts), seafood and sandwiches made from fish from the North Sea, pea soup, and so forth. It was a pleasant morning, picking among the alluring detritus, much of it different from what one might find in an American flea market, smelling the alluring (and sometimes disgusting) smells from the food vendors, all in a circle outside that looked like some sort of race track.

In the afternoon, Mareille took us and her grandson Christoph, who arrived at 3 on the train from Münster, to an old schloss in the inner city, which was destroyed along with everything else in the bombing of World War II. It’s in a grand neo-classical style, with Ionic columns and imposing civic statuary.

Only the outside has been restored. Inside is a shopping mall that was teeming with people on a rainy, cold Saturday afternoon. Amazing, the extent to which Germans seem mad for American culture. The mall could have been anywhere USA, with its Toys R Us and Starbucks. Racks and racks of clothes in each clothing store, with English slogans inscribed on all the shirts.

Then on to the Dom to see the beautiful old Imervard crucifix. There we found a surprise, an exhibit of garden plants—inside the cathedral—known to have been in the garden of Kaiser Otto IV.

Everything was done with typical German thoroughness, and was astonishing. Down the far aisles of either side of the church, apple trees—real ones—with fallen apples in the grass beneath them, grapes and vines and wine-making accountrements, gardens of herbs and flowers, squares of vegetables, implements for cutting cabbage into kraut, potted orange trees, displays of spices.

It was wonderful to find a garden inside a stony, cold cathedral that would otherwise be empty. And it brought people into a “sacred” space they might otherwise avoid, precisely because it is stony and empty, like almost any other cathedral anywhere in the world.

A garden in the church: the very fact that the idea is so astonishing is in itself astonishing. Perhaps every church ought to have wild or cultivated spaces inside for nature, and walls permeable to the natural and human world around the church.

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