With images of Sachsenhausen still fresh in my mind, the next morning I took the S Bahn into suburban Berlin for my appointment at the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Haus. It turns out that a group of Norwegian Lutheran pastors were visiting, and I attended as an honorary Norwegian. Everything was in English. The guide and lecturer was a retired Lutheran pastor who is chairman of the board of the foundation that runs the Center.
This is the smaller house bought by Bonhoeffer’s parents in the late 1930s. The Bonhoeffer family was extremely accomplished. The paterfamilias, Dr. Bonhoeffer, was a leading neurologist of the day. Dietrich’s brothers were lawyers, scientists, diplomats. His maternal grandfather was a leading German theologian.
As the Protestant Church in Germany veered further away from its Biblical foundation, Dietrich preached increasingly against the established church. He formed a seminary to train pastors to be true to Scripture, including the Old Testament, which some of the leading lights of the so-called German Christian Church wanted to jettison. This group wanted to make Jesus the First Aryan. Our lecturer spoke about the use of Christian doctrine by the Nazis, especially Luther’s interpretation of Romans 13, and the long history of anti-Semitism in Germany, some large measure of it justified by Church teaching.
Dietrich had visited the United States and was safe in the US in 1939 when the war began. After a short time in the US, he decided to return to Germany. He and his brother in law Hans von Dohnanyi were part of the conspiracy to kill Hitler. They were found out and executed days before the end of the war. Dr. and Mrs. Bonhoeffer lost Dietrich, a brother, and Hans.
What did I expect to find at the Bonhoeffer Haus? Answers to questions about unrighteousness and the existence of evil? Not really. I felt a real connectedness with the Norwegian pastors. They are trying to live the faith. One spoke very good English and asked me to introduce myself to the group. I had to be clear that I was not a candidate for the Episcopal priesthood because I was taking a class called Education for Ministry. Several of the pastors encouraged me to look into ordained ministry (!) and all wished me well in my studies. We toured the house and ended in Dietrich’s study, where we said the “Vaterunser” (Our Father) in our respective languages.
After visiting the German Museum – no World War II history but I did see Napoleon’s sword which he left behind at Waterloo – I finally got in to see the Reichstag. The cupola is magnificent. It really does symbolize openness in government. The views are astounding.
I became adept at jumping on and off S Bahn and U Bahn trains, and learning my way around Berlin. Berliners are very fond of their pets. Well-behaved dogs can travel with their people on public transportation. This canine reminded me of our late, great Bear.
The next morning found me enjoying a sandwich and coffee in the first class lounge at the huge Hauptbahnhof in Berlin. This station cost billions of euros, and is the new passenger rail hub for Berlin, replacing the competing East and West Berlin hubs of pre-reunification. The train tore through the German countryside at speeds of up to 140 MPH. It was comfortable and so smooth, compared with Amtrak. Back to Munich, more drunken Oktoberfest behavior, and so home.