Last night, I had the honor of getting to speak briefly to the students of the Fritzlar Bible School. They have been here in Berlin examining the religious and historical sights of the city--including the difficult ones that are associated with World War II. The students expressed their dismay and frustration that Germany could have been a place where neighbor turned on neighbor and a global tragedy unfolded. It's still painful and hard to believe all that happened in World War II for Germans. And it can be discouraging.
But as I spoke, I wanted to point out that they should be proud of Germany and of Berlin. The transformation that has occurred in this country since 1945 is nothing short of miraculous. First, West Germany became a place that was open to people from all cultures, ethnic groups and racists. It became a place where multi-culturalism was supported by government and the country quickly became amongst the most peaceful of nations in the world.
The city of Berlin remained divided (Socialist East Berlin and Capitalist West Berlin) until 1989. But then, in a mere 10 years, this divided city re-invented itself. It became not only the capital of Germany once again, but it also became Europe's cultural center (surpassing Paris), the heart of the arts in Europe (where many of the artists are Israeli Jews) and a city with 40% of its citizens holding a foreign passport. An extremely high percentage of children under 10 in Berlin have a parent from another country. Berlin is synonymous with tolerance, openness, and multi-culturalism. From 1945 to the present day, Berlin is proof that societies can change dramatically for the better. I'm proud of Germany and proud of Berlin, and I think the German youth should be too.
I've lived in countries that are truly racist and have no desire to change. I wrote a post here on the diary not long ago about racism in other societies. Today, Germany would easily be amongst the most tolerant, least racist societies in the world.
Aside from encouraging the students about their German heritage, I also asked the question, how is it that an entire city like Berlin could change it's entire cultural DNA in 10 or 20 years, but churches often don't change anything for 50 years? The churches that are succeeding in Europe are the ones that are willing to experiment, be out-of-the-box, and create a new culture. It's happening in our churches in the Netherlands, it's happening in Paris, it's happening in Rome, it's happening in Budapest, it's happening in Athens, it's happening in Cairo etc. When re-invention is welcomed and the culture can be changed, good things can happen in churches.
So I look forward to spending more time with these German students that will be change-agents. I'll be teaching there in July and seeing them once again.