Family, food, travel, other obsessions.
First off, I have to give a shout-out to Hal, who participated yesterday in a regional climbing competition and learned at the end of the day that he qualified for divisionals in January. That’s a huge accomplishment, and we’re really proud of him! I like to think of him as my own personal Spiderman.
Today was a lovely convergence of events, timing, and of friendships old and new, starting at church in the LDS Tiergarten congregation.
This was not my local congregation when I lived here 25 years ago, but that branch (congregation) doesn’t exist anymore as such. After unification, the members of that branch dispersed to various other larger congregations throughout the city. Today I attended Tiergarten to meet up with dear friends, the Bartsches, from all those years ago. There are actually two Bartsch families, and I got to see them both.
Ralf and Beate Bartsch and their daughters (four at the time) were a huge part of my church experience back then in the former East Berlin branch. I had the privilege of teaching in the Young Women’s organization, and the Bartsches’ two oldest daughters, Patty and Esther, were part of my group. Both of them and their younger sisters have long since gone on missions and married (or are about to). One of them even lives in Gilbert, AZ now.
Today’s service was particularly meaningful because it was a farewell service for their youngest daughter, Anna, born after the wall fell, who will be leaving soon on a mission to Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle. It is truly a small world. I met Anna once years ago when she was just a toddler and her parents visited Utah when I was teaching at BYU, shortly after my return from working at the embassy. Anna is now a beautiful, confident young woman who radiates enormous warmth and love. She will be a fantastic missionary!
Ralf’s brother Hans-Jürgen and his wife Roswitha were also at the Tiergarten ward today to hear Anna. Their daughter Katrin and her husband Olaf and son Adrian were there, too, visiting from idyllic Schwarzenberg. Roswitha had let me know they would be there and that it was Anna’s farewell. It was lovely to be there for such a wonderful, multi-Bartsch event.
It is somewhat of a commonplace among Mormons who travel and attend other congregations that “the church is always the same wherever you go.” And there is indeed something deeply comforting about the familiarity of the LDS worship experience, regardless of where one is in the world.
What I felt profoundly today, though, as I have in the past, is that being in a different cultural and linguistic context brings new meaning to the familiar. I sensed it especially while listening to the sacramental prayers today. Those prayers are among just a few ‘set’ prayers in Mormondom, and I’ve heard them thousands of times before. But I found that hearing them again today, in German, made me listen, hear and receive their meaning with renewed intensity, gratitude and tenderness.
I was also touched by the warmth with which members greeted one another and stayed after to socialize. There is definitely a deeper sense of solidarity among LDS in Germany, where they remain a very small minority, than anywhere I have lived in the U.S. I felt inspired and uplifted.
After church I got to go home with Hans-Jürgen and Roswitha to their incredibly warm and happy home in Falkensee, at the edge of Berlin. It was especially nice to get to spend time with their daughter Katrin, who is just a month older than I am, and whom I had met only once previously, and very briefly. She also instantly felt like an old friend, as did her husband Olaf and their son Adrian. I was amazed at Adrian’s patience with and interest in our conversations. So many other 17 year-olds would have excused themselves right after dinner to play games, listen to music, etc. But Adrian was a delightful part of the whole day. I look forward to seeing them all again.
My friendship with Hans-Jürgen and Roswitha is one that revives in an instant, regardless of how much time has elapsed since we’ve seen each other, and each time we relive memories of the many hours we spent together back when I worked at the Embassy. It is thanks to the Bartsches that I got to travel to the temple in Freiberg, through them that I was introduced to breathtaking Dresden, Hans-Jürgen’s hometown. They helped me welcome my mother and 89 year-old grandmother to Berlin. We celebrated Christmas together in my little apartment, and attended operas and ballets at the Staatsoper.
We also wrung our hands at the insane reality that left them on one side of a wall and me free to traverse it. And we rejoiced when that wall dissolved and we could cross it together. I accompanied them (and Roswitha’s 94 year-old mother!) to the GDR’s first free elections in March 1990. Throughout it all we spent hours talking family, politics and faith. And of course eating. Roswitha is a gifted cook. Most of all, she knows how to whip up the kind of atmosphere that makes one want to linger and linger and linger.
And that’s what we did today, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a single picture of today’s dinner (probably because I was too busy enjoying it), but it included goulash (for the meat eaters), braised mushrooms for me, mashed potatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage (Rotkohl), and chocolate mousse for dessert. Later we enjoyed Roswitha’s melt-in-your-mouth cherry crumb cake. While it all digested we shared stories and pictures of our kids and grandkids, listened to Roswitha’s jokes (she’s a world-class goofball), grappled with church doctrine, reminisced about Stasi encounters, mutual friends, and their first visit to the U.S. And, as always, we wished time would move more slowly.
It is one of the delights of my life that Ted and the boys know the Bartsches, too. Even though language limitations on both sides mean that conversations are often somewhat clunky for all of them, it never seems to matter, since love and friendship are their own language.