“No more old churches.”

I’ll never forget a statement made by an American engineer who was on delegation to Germany for a German customer of mine. We had met for the first time to discuss a project I was assisting them on. Team-building measures, workshops, seminars, etc. During one of the breaks we were doing a little smalltalk. I asked him what he’s seen in Germany thus far, and what’s on his list. He looked at me, rolled his eyes and said: “I don’t want to see any more old churches!”

I was a bit shocked, felt insulted, was irritated. As a student of history, I thought: “How ignorant can someone be not to know or recognize that German and European history cannot be understood without understanding the role of Christianity and the Church?” Okay, perhaps he had been shown enough churches already. Still, I felt embarrassed as an American. Fortunately, no German colleagues had been present.

On my way back to Bonn that day I imagined well-intentioned German colleagues taking their Sunday to pick up their American colleague and driving to Cologne to see not only the cathedral, but also several of the beautiful Romanesque churches within twenty minutes walking distance. In my mind’s eye I see him bored and saying: “This is all interesting history, but I want to see modern Germany.” We Americans need sometimes to invest more time and patience in order to appreciate things.

For the more exact we can define our starting point and its direction (trajectory), all the better we can adjust it. My response to the American colleague would have been: “Sure. But before we can truly enjoy getting to know the modern Germany of today, let’s start with how Germany has become the way it is today. On that basis we’ll really begin to imagine the Germany of the future!” The question for the Germans, however, is how often and seriously do they ask themselves what the Germany of tomorrow will and should look like.

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