We are traveling again, back to Europe. I am speaking two places: in Switzerland, at a pastors’ conference in Geneva, and in a conference sponsored by my publisher in Prague, Czech Republic.
Actually, we are sitting in the Zurich airport, with the Swiss pastors’ conference behind us. It went fairly well, although the mostly-French pastors are accustomed to a straight three-point expository style of speaking, rather than the more elliptical, story-telling style that I use. Some of the older pastors, especially, frowned the entire time, which posed a challenge. Funny how the church over here gets more set in its ways and more resistant to change as it increasingly loses ground to the wider culture. Do they ever put those two together?
Our first day here we toured the Reformation museum right next to John Calvin’s original church. How depressing! One whole room on the eight Wars of Religion, one room on all the heretics condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike, and one whole room trying to explain the doctrine of Double Predestination (God predestined some to Hell, some to Heaven). We tried to imagine this from the perspective of, say, a Japanese tourist. No wonder Europe has moved away from Christianity. That night, though, we went to a great concert in which an orchestra used original instruments to play Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Now that’s the best of Europe!
Prague will be a different challenge. The church there is much more of a minority. Czechs compete with Danes as the least religious people in Europe: only 2 percent of them ever attend church. They feel discouraged and hopeless, and really need a boost.
Well, the work part of our trip is now over. We’re on a train going away from Prague, where we’ve spent the last five days. They worked me pretty hard. More than 1500 people came in from all over Czech Republic and Slovakia for a two-day conference. They rented a large gym for the meetings, and 400 people slept in sleeping bags on the hard floor. The country is still recovering from Communism, and it was encouraging to see that most of the audience was young. This part of the trip went much better than the Swiss portion; folks here are much more responsive. We had some missionary friends who helped us sort things out, so didn’t feel alone. Prague is a beautiful old European city, never bombed so that the old buildings are still standing.
Saturday was a horrible schedule: we left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and got back at 10:30 p.m., and I spoke or gave interviews almost nonstop. Plus, the restaurant there was overwhelmed, very slow, and I didn’t manage to get any dinner. As people waited in line for book autographs, Janet complimented one older lady for her patience. She responded, “We had lots of practice under socialism.”
After the hard work in Prague we went on the “vacation” part, on a train to Dresden and Leipzig. Dresden, fire-bombed by the Allies at terrible cost (more people died there than from the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many were refugees fleeing the Russian army) is undergoing a remarkable renaissance, with restoration of many old buildings.
In Leipzig we toured the museum of musical instruments, which had displays of the evolution from clavichord to harpsichord to piano—supposedly they have the oldest single examples of each. They had a huge collection of 7000 priceless instruments which, as Allied bombing started, they distributed to castles in the country. Oops: the Russian soldiers stole a bunch and refugees fleeing the Russians used many others for firewood! Egads—is there no end to human misery…
Leipzig is great for tracing musical history. Bach directed his choir here for 27 years, and his footprints are everywhere. Robert and Clara Schumann lived here, and Mendelssohn spent most of his life here. The Nazis destroyed all monuments to Mendelssohn and tried to write him out of the repertoire. Wagner was born here too.
Tonight we hear the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra do a Mozart and also a Strauss symphony. Kurt Masur, their conductor, was a hero in the protests against communism that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It all started here, with candlelight peace marches through town that started attracting thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands. We toured a cheapo museum in the old headquarters of the Stasi secret police. No one seems to care much about the recent past, although it’s obvious that Germany and the E.U. are still pouring in billions to reconstruct everything. Funny how anti-Nazi museums are everywhere but you find few anti-Communist museums.Copyright © 2005 by Philip Yancey