500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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Supermoon in Germany

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JENA/ KIEL/ BERLIN/ CHEMNITZ/MANNHEIM-  Hundreds of thousands of people armed themselves with cameras, telescopes and Smartphones to capture this moment in time. On Tuesday, the supermoon made its visit to the European part of the world, including Germany. Between 5:00pm and 8:15am Berlin time, people had a chance to watch the moon rise and set, looking 20% bigger than it usually is. While many people were awed by its shades of red, peach and dark yellow color luminating the sky at moonrise and at moonset, its brightness- which was 30% more than normal- provided many photographers with a chance to take some pictures of the scenery, as the skies that evening were brighter than what it is with a normal full moon. This unusual phenomenon, which last happened in 1948, occurred when the moon was only 221,524 miles away from Earth. Its next such occurrance will happen in 2034- 18 years from now.

In Germany itself, much of the country was able to take advantage of at least the rise of the moon, as seen in the films taken below in Kiel, Berlin, Chemnitz and Mannheim. However, as the weather system bringing mild temperatures and showers started moving in, it became very difficult to take some pictures of the supermoon at its brightest. In my case, being stationed in Jena (Thuringia), I was lucky to get some grand opportunities and take some pictures of the moon- close-ups after moonrise at around 5:30pm, and when it was shining at its brightest while biking at around 9:30pm. A gallery of the pics are towards the end of this article. The pics included scenes with the landscape and the bike, including some sillouettes. Clouds started moving in shortly before 10pm, which was followed by rain a couple hours later, yet for those who did get the chance to do that, it was  one of a lifetime. But sometimes luck comes in twos, which means the next supermoon, for those who missed this one, will be here sooner than you think.

Enjoy the following film scenes and my pictures below! A link to another gallery of supermoon pics, courtesy of National Geographic, can be seen by clicking here. 🙂

 

(Source: Chemnitz Free Press)

 

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A Tribute to Roger Cicero

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BERLIN- The music world lost a soul much too soon. Roger Cicero, son of famous Romanian pianist Eugene Cicero has died as a result of a massive stroke. His passing occurred on Gründonnerstag, the Thursday before Easter, with his family by his side, living only 45 years of life on this planet, but 45 years as an actor but most importantly, a key contributor to the jazz and pop music scene. Born on 6 July, 1970 in Berlin, Roger Cicero’s career started early at the age of 16, playing alongside his father and members of his music group, before warning his way towards a career as a soloist. After founding a jazz quartet in 2003, he released his first two albums in 2006- one with jazz pianist Julia Hülsmann and a solo with the title Männersachen (Things Typical of Men). He would release eight more solo albums before his untimely passing, the latest, Cicero Sings Sinatra, was released last year and was dedicated to Frank Sinatra, whom he used as a role model all his years. Counting the years with his jazz group and his father, Cicero had 16 albums in all.

Cicero became a household name when he represented Germany in the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest with this song:

 

Cicero was also a successful actor, having starred alongside Heidi Makasch in the film Hilde in 2009, before dubbing the voice as the frog and Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog and lastly, starring alongside American actor Robert Davi in In the Night With (…), shooting scenes in New York City’s Little Italy section.

Cicero had been experiencing health problems in the last year, having cancelled his remaining 2015 tour in November after experiencing fatigue and collapsing on stage. The tour was set to go on this year, according to various resources on the German side. Unfortunately, those looking forward to seeing him live are now in mourning, as his passing was way too soon. We have lost way too many greats so far this year, including many over here in Germany, plus many musicians, like Glen Frey, David Bowie and Natalie Cole. Cicero’s loss is in the eyes of many, too big to swallow. All we can do is honor him for his work in hopes that others will use him as a reference and continue on in the jazz music scene, where Cicero had left off.

And so without further ado, in Dankbarkeit…..

 

and in honor of Frank Sinatra, his inspiration……

 

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Lights Out for Hamburg Handball Team

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Hamburg SV leaves German Handball Bundesliga because of Concourse and License Revocation. Legal Action expected.

HAMBURG- There is an old saying that describes the mentality of the European sports leagues: “Money makes the world go round.” If there is no money to operate a team, the team folds. Teams go up and down the elevator model, where promotion to higher tiered leagues and demotion lower tiered leagues are not only based on the performance of the players, but also the financial health of the club. If one puts the American basketball team the Philadelphia 76ers in the equation, that team would have folded by now. The fortunate part is in case of hard times like the basketball team is going through, the league steps in to take ownership, reshape the club and look for a new owner to replace the one ousted for the inability to operate the team properly, especially in financial terms.

For the German professional handball team, Hamburger SV, the management is probably wishing that the American model was in place right now. The HSV has shut down operations this evening after receiving word on Wednesday that the team has lost its license to compete in the Premere League for the rest of the season. Furthermore, they will not be allowed to apply for the first or second tiers of the Bundesliga, thus putting them in the local league. The reason behind this was a snowball effect which has been in the making for well over a year. It started with a deficit, followed by the withdrawl of the main sponsor Andreas Rudolph, who had promised to invest 2.5 million Euros ($3.3 million) into the team, according to information from German public radio station NDR. The team was unable to come up with 2 million Euros at the end of the first half of the season. As a consequence, HSV filed for bankruptcy in December due to not enough liquidity to finance the remaining games of the season and the players. The German Handball Bundesliga revoked its license on Wednesday as a consequence, and the reaction was enormous. While almost all of the players have left the team, the revocation and as a result, the decision to shut down the Premere League team today will have negative repercussions on the league, as many teams hosting HSV in the second half of the season will have to recall the tickets, resulting in massive losses. Some of the teams, including Berlin, Minden and even Flensburg are considering legal actions against the now defunct team, demanding compensation for damages.

Hamburg’s demise is not the first in German or even American sports. Its exit from the top league is the first in handball since 1990. Yet its fall from grace is the first in German sports since the soccer teams of Kickers Offenbach and Dynamo Dresden. Offenbach was delegated to the regional league from the 3rd tier of the Bundesliga after the 2013/14 season for insufficient funding to continue in the upcoming season. Yet the last fall from the top came in 1995, when the German Soccer Federation denied the request of Dynamo Dresden to play in the 1st and 2nd league, thus forcing the eastern Saxony team to play in the regional league. That team is currently in first place in the 3rd League and is knocking on the door to its return to the 2nd League for the first time since 2014. On the American front, most of the teams folding due to financial issues came in the women’s basketball league, WNBA. The last casualty was the Sacramento Monarchs in California, where despite winning the WNBA championship in 2005, the team disbanded in 2009.

However, like this team as well as the Cleveland Browns in American football (which went on hiatus from 1996-99), handball in Hamburg will eventually return to national stage. While the Premere League team, which won the Bundesliga championship in 2011 and the Champions League in 2013, is officially disbanded, despite its current 4th place finish, HSV’s junior team is making its way to the third tier in the handball food chain with its lead in the state league standings. Because the HSV sports organization will not be affected by the sudden destruction of the Premere League handball  team, the junior team will have a chance to fill in the footsteps of the fallen dinosaur. If successful and if management can build a fan base and good sponsorship from companies in the free city, chances are that handball will return to national stage before 2020. It is highly unlikely that despite the potential legal actions, HSV will disappear and not return, like it happened to Saxony Leipzig in 2012. It would be too cruel to the city of nearly 2 million that has a popular Bundesliga soccer team. It will just be a few years before handball returns to national stage, and with that, a bigger fan base that will stay loyal until the very end. Just ask the fans of the Cleveland Browns, let alone the people in Sacramento, who are working to bring back the Monarchs to women’s basketball. 🙂

 

For more on the latest with HSV, please follow NDR whose link is here.

 

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The House of One in Berlin: Three Religions, One Dialog

Site of the construction of the House of One. Photo taken by Molgreen and available through WikiCommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20150917_xl_P1030026_Berlin-Mitte_Petriplatz_an_der_Gertraudenstrasse_The_House_of_One.JPG

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BERLIN-  In light of the plight of the refugees and the terrorist attacks that occurred in Beiruit, Paris and the latest in San Bernardino, California, our short term reaction would be to follow Donald Trump’s unrealistic advice by banning the Muslims and do what Adolf Hitler did during the days of the Third Reich- which is get rid of them. Both ideas have been shot down by the majority of the public as absurd, barbaric, even cowardly. Even historian Dee Brown would tout the comments “We are still here,” in reference to the Native Americans keeping their culture despite years of repression on the reservation and failed attempts to integrate into American society.

In Germany, a new concept is being built on the ruins of history that will change that. As a sign that Germany is the posterboy for multiculture and acceptance of people from different countries, three religious leaders: a pastor, a rabbi and an imam are creating a religious institution where people of all three religions can come to worship.  The House in One brings Christians, Jews and Muslims together for one dialog and one convention with God, bringing different traditions and friends interested together. It will house a church, synagogue and moschee in one building located on the ruins of five churches, the last one being the St. Peter’s Church, which sustained substantial damage during World War II and was subsequentially removed in 1964 to make space for a parking lot. Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin,  Pastor Gregor Hohberg  and Imam Kadir Sanchi developed the concept in 2011, with the goal of expanding the concept on a global level in the future. A brief explanation can be found in the video at the end of the article. Berlin was chosen because of not only its cosmopolitan setting, but it was a place where all three religions once thrived but were suppressed by dictatorship over the course of two centuries, including the Jews during the Third Reich and Christians during the era of Erich Honecker. With a starting sum of 10 million Euros, construction of the new building began, with a donation program being launched in 2014. As of right now, over 1 million Euros of the 43.5 million Euros needed has been collected, including a lion’s sum by the German Government.

With dialog and peace being the only remedies to stop the conflicts that have been ocurring and end the attempts of fulfilling certain prophecies, could a person imagine having a place of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews, maybe even adding other religions, like Buddhism, Taoists, or even some Native American religions? For people like Donald Trump, it is unimaginable, however their hate comes from the lack of information about religions and the real situation in society today. Inspite of the protests against taking on refugees, even in the United States (which could house 10 times as many refugees as Germany has been doing), perhaps a house of worship for many religions can serve as a place of peace and dialog. For the House of One in Berlin, the first of its kind in the world once it is open in 2016, the three founders are creating the platform for others to follow, and perhaps a remedy for all the religious conflicts going on today. If you are interested in donating for the House of One, click here for more details and watch the video for more information. Together, we can make it happen. 🙂

God Bless, no matter what religion you come from.

 

The ruins of St. Peter’s Church at Petriplatz in Berlin. Photo taken in 1951, courtesy of the German Federal Archives

 

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