Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gottesdienste, Andachten; 10:00 Uhr

[ Religious Services, Worship; 10 AM ]

This morning, similar to a few weekends ago, I woke up rather early, and figured that it would be neat again to go check out another church. I am Roman Catholic, and don't recal ever being to a Lutheran service, but the very famous Ludwigskirche here in Saarbrücken has interested me since I have arrived.

The church is a Protestant church in Saarbrücken that is in the Baroque style and it is considered one of the most important Protestant churches in Germany in many information guides. In fact, as a cultural landmark, the church is special this year, since it represents the entire nation of Germany on the commemorative 2 Euro coin for this year for the nation.

I got myself ready and headed down the street for only about a 15 minute walk [ the closeness of everything here in the city still amazes me] which was very enjoyable hearing the church bells in the distance. When I arrived at the church, I was actually 5 minutes late, and there was a little yellow plaque on the door, which from what I could translate essentially said that the current time was for worship and not for tourism.

The huge door was intimidating, because I didn't want to make a big noise and have everyone in the church look back at me. Well, I entered as quietly as I could and I was actually shocked for a different reason - It was virtually empty. I counted - the mass was taking place and I was the 17th person in the church... this includes the priest!

I was so surprised. I think I had higher expectations after hearing so much history about this church, how important it is for Germany, and even seeing it on special Euro coins, and to then enter the only Sunday mass to so few people was almost a let down for myself. [ and everyone definitely had their senior citizen cards, lets put it that way] I was handed a song book when I entered with the pages already bookmarked [ I guess it can't be that difficult to mark the books when you only have to do about twenty...] I was aware that church attendence in Germany was extremely low, but this was on the verge of a private bible study over a mass. Even so, the service was pretty with the huge organs filling the church with beautiful songs.

Compared to the Roman Catholic mass that was very recognizable for me, the Lutheran service was different, and actually a bit dry [ I think that is due to the large amounts of readings the priest did and my lack of understanding, however]. Apart from the order of the service, the only other major difference I know about the Lutheran mass is that they do not practice Transubstantiation [ the Catholic belief that the bread and wine actually becoming the blood and body of Jesus Christ during the mass ]. Even with those differences asside, as I watched the Communion take place from my pew, I do not know if it is the practice of the church, or just the fact that no one was really there, that the church parisioners went up to the alter and held hands, much like the last supper, before sharing the Eucharist.

The service was interesting for me, and I am glad that I went to experience what it was like in such a well known and beautiful church here in my host city.


Now a funny story when I arrived back at home.

Today I did not leave a note for my host family that I was leaving the house to go to church. I have noticed that they all get up pretty late on Sundays, and that I am generally back when everyone is getting up anyways. I had my cell phone with me, but I turned it off in the church. When I arrived back home, it was a little after 11, and I was unlocking the front door.

Sitting at the table was the whole family getting ready for breakfast, as well as the aunt of the family, and the weekly house cleaner. Everyone was snickering because they all had assumed that I had some wild night out and was coming back completely plastered at 11 the next morning. I had told them the night before that I was going to meet the kids from the school that I met, but they didn't know that I got back rather early that night, woke up early the next morning, and went to church of all places.

Eva told me that they called the number in the cell phone listed under Chris [ which ended up being a different Chris ] and the connection was very bad, so from what they heard, they assumed the mumbling was me hung over and completely drunk somewhere in the city. The way Eva put it, we imagined you sleeping on the bridge.

I think it was a complete surprise to them for me to come walking in through the door, looking sharp with my sport coat and my black dress shoes on when they were anticipating me coming in disheveled because of my absence from my room in the morning. I found it ironic that the two times that I go to church, being a good Catholic boy, I run into the most odd situations, like passing prostitutes trying to pick me up in the street, or my host family all thinking that I am somewhere laying in the street hugging a wine bottle. I just thought that the situation was humorous and worth mentioning.

Treffen mit neuen Freunden

[ Meeting with new friends ]

On Saturday I checked my facebook and had some new friend requests and messages, and true to their promises, the students that I had met at the Deutsch Französisches Gymnasium sent me invitations to hang out with them downtown in the evening. A little bit before 7, I walked down to Johannes Kirsche, a central meeting point downtown, and met a few of the students waiting.

We first just walked around town, checking out different shops, hanging out, and later got some ice cream. As the evening went on, more and more of the students were joining the group, and once we had a pretty decent sized group of 10 of us, we all went to a local shisha bar ( the name for Hookah here in Germany ) and spent the rest of the evening there.

The place was packed, and seemed to be the spot to be on this particular Saturday night, and I was enjoying the feeling of being around a typical hangout for people my age here in the city. I had a lot to talk about with the new friends I had made, especially because many of them were going on the class trip to the states in three weeks exploring New York City, Washington DC, and finally a two week homestay in Pennsylvania.

At first the conversations were light, about fun stuff to expect in New York and DC, what the high school would be like in Pennsylvania [ will it be like American Pie? or Mean Girls? ] or what clothes will be popular or cheap, like American Eagle or maybe Abercrombie?

It was what the conversations evolved into that surprised me about the teens and their thoughts about going to the states, and how that turned into deeper conversation. One of the students in the class is Moroccan and was very straight forward with his concerns of what it would be like being of Arabic decent in the states, and what the stereotypes are. This was something a little awkward to adress, but something that does exist in some parts of America, mainly airports, but ultimately something that I felt he had nothing to worry about.

Since many of the students speak French, or are even of French background, we discussed the riots in France, mainly in 2005, but in also in current years that have dealt with unemployment rates and the surplus of foreigners living within the country. [ coincidentally one customer at the shisha bar was Arabic and wearing a T-shirt that said "Algerian invasion" and it was a map of France with the Algerian flag within the borders.] On subject of these conflicts with minority groups, the connections that my German colleagues had made were their previous knowledge of minority groups in the states, mainly the Mexican and African American communities.

I was impressed that the German teens were so interested in the issues, and I had to inform them that it is difficult to directly compare North African/Arab populations in France and the Turkish minority population in Germany to the relations of minority groups in the states, especially with issues of health care and unemployment. One of the guys mentioned that he had heard of cities in the states being populated by lower class families, while the middle and upper class families fled to the suburbs [ um yes, esentially the past 40 year history of Detroit ]. The issue to note here however, is that the French cities that he had mentioned with the riots were structured almost opposite, and the riots were manly in the small suburbs that had minority populated communities with many lower class/ unemployed families.

One of the biggest differences, in terms of minorities in Europe and the States, is that these "minority" groups were brought to Europe to assist with rebuilding the nations after wars, and now after several decades they are essentially grounded with several generations in Europe. In present day, these "foreigners" are very important to the growth of these nations since Germany has an insufficient birthrate to keep its population growing. I have known this fact for quite some time, that Germany, Japan and Italy have the three lowest birthrates amongst industrialized countries. One thing I hadn't really realized, and that one student pointed out, was that isn't it interesting that these were the axis nations in WW2?

On subject of birthrate, one girl suggested the fact that in Germany, there seems, in her opinion, to be a stigma around women and choosing a career or a child. Being here for only a month and a half, I can't make too many finalized statements, but I will admit that the idea of a "stay at home dad," which may not be typical, but is generally accepted in America, is something I wouldn't venture to find too freely here in Germany. I found it to be very similar in Japan, and I think that the tradition of family roles in these nations are being challenged now, and one repercussion of that is a lower birthrate in these countries.

A few hours sitting around and chatting, and you reflect, and think - wow... we really covered some interesting and surprising topics. The conversations were actually quite refreshing [ is it ironic to use the word refreshing in a Shisha bar inhaling second hand smoke for a few hours? haha], but it was because our conversations were not very accusatory or brought up in expectation of conclusions. They were merely discussion, and unlike some conversations with some adults here in Germany [ which would probably be the same in the states] who tend to have grounded opinions and pre-conceived judgments, especially about foreign countries - as a bunch of teens sitting and chatting, it seemed that we were simply throwing around ideas and thoughts more than arguments and concessions.

There were many new ideas and topics that we discussed from the evening that I would like to pay more attention to now and keep in mind the unique connections that the German teens made, and how those are relevant to really learning about the concerns and thoughts of my generation while I am living here abroad. Most importantly though, I had a great time with some new friends, and we all hope to get together again before I leave Saarbrücken. I am also very excited to hear from them during their 3 week long excursions to the states which I hope I got them even more excited for!