When we left Vienna, we left for the region of the Hohe Tauern. The nature here is very impressive. We stayed with Mennonite Your Way with a couple who originally came from USA. The family was already for 30 years in Austria. We talked about nationality. The man had a father from USA, a mother from Wales, and he was born in India. Now they live already for many years as Austrian citizens in Austria. They regard themselves as global citizens. Also the tourism changes in this region. They see that their region has now many tourists from the Middle East. So you can find Arabic on the road signs. It makes you think how migration and nationality have always changed the world. What stays the same is the impressive nature with its mountains. It made us aware that even this cannot be taken for granted. The glaciers are getting smaller and the climate is also changing here. In the winter they make, if needed, artificial snow for skiing. As Mennonites we have also a responsible in dealing with this issue of climate change and globalization. As a worldwide family we can learn from each other.
Friday we arrived in the capital of Austria, Vienna or Wien in German. The city is full of the history of the rich Habsburg monarchy that reigned from 1526 till 1804, part of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1804 -1867 it was the Austrian Empire and from 1867-1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Imperial Palace, the Hofburg, is enormous! The city also has lots of art nouveau buildings, very interesting musea like Albertina and Leopoldmuseum with beautiful art exhibitions. The most famous cake to eat in this city is Sacher Torte, named after the Sacher family, 1832 by Franz Sacher. Today, a big export product of Austria. On Sunday we were welcomed by the Mennonite Church of Vienna. This small church is very engaged with refugees. In the afternoon we had a lovely garden meeting with some members and shared stories and food. It was a warm welcome, not only because of 35 degrees Celcius, but most of all a warm welcome because of fellowship and friendship!
Before our trip to Vienna we are spending some time in Czech Republic We are staying in the district of Moravia. An interesting part of this country. The rural area is very diverse and in the south of Moravia the Mennonites have been staying until the early 1600. Now most of the villages have catholic churches. In the city of Olomouc one can see the Holy Trinity Column, a momument to celebrate the faith, to celebrate the Catholic Church and also to celebrate the end of the plaque that struck Moravia between 1713 and 1715. A city full of beautiful buildings in Baroque style. While driving in the country side, we could see the harvest machines doing their work.
In Dresden we visited with our travelling table also the Mennonite Church Dresden. What a warm welcome we had from the family Neufeld where we stayed. Alexander Neufeld is pastor of the Mennonite Church Dresden. The church has a lot of youth and young families. And is located in the north of Dresden. We participated on Sunday in church service. We shared about Menno Simons, the Mennonites in the Netherlands nowadays and the situation that in the early days, the Mennonites were more a movement than a church. The people told us while sharing coffee and tea at the table, that our stories inspired them. Also the church had many other international visitors from the organization http://www.atlanticbridge.org. They do several youth projects within Europe, that aim to work together across boundaries and cultures. They shared how positive it is to work together in a group and make a difference.
Dresden is special city in Germany. As it has been heavily bombed in WW II, and was afterwards partly rebuilt, it makes you feel the history when you walk around. The Frauenkirche is one of the churches in Dresden that is rebuilt. Also the Evangelical Kreuzkirche is rebuilt. One can find a special chapel inside the church, with the so-called Coventry Cross of Nails. Following the destruction of the Coventry Cathedral (UK) during WW II, Provost Richard Howard had the words ” FATHER FORGIVE” inscribed on the wall behind the alter of the ruined building. From the remains of the destruction, a symbol was created to express the spirit of forgiveness and a new beginning. This cross can also been seen in Dresden. Today the Coventry Cross of Nails is a sign of reconcilliation and peace in many places around the world. Many churches work together in the International Community of the Cross of Nails. It learns us that even within the most difficult moments one can choose for peace and creating understanding.
We are spending a few days in the Sachsen-Anhalt area in Germany. Like many others places in Europe, this region is also experiencing severe drought. It has not rained for three months over here. Apart from the yellow fields where most of the barley has been harvested, agriculture is facing problems because of the lack of rain. The penalty for illegaly watering your garden is now 50.000 euro! And one can hear almost everyday fire-fighters go out to fight fires. Another specific thing in this area, is the demographic transition that is taking place. Driving through the Harz is sometimes not facing a car for more than half an hour. Many villages have seen young people leaving in the past years, to other regions in Germany where opportunities for work and study are better. It left many older people staying behind. This affected also the housing market. Although not many ‘ for sale’ signs can been seen. Many houses are empty. The housing market leads to situations where property could be obtained almost for free. This week we organized a garden party, ‘Sommerfest’, with some local people. Things have changed a lot, and cities like Leipzig, Erfurt and Jena, become interesting places for young people to start ‘ start-ups’ in new economic areas. So cities in the Eastern part of Germany do catch up. And we can admit if you look for space and silence and dark skies it can be found here! Tomorrow we move on further to the city of Dresden where we will touch down with our Travelling Table once more.
The Mennonite Church in Berlin was founded in 1871. It has a history which is strongly connected to the history of Germany. Especially during WW II, the church community was highly affected. After the Second World War, as from 1952 MCC helped a lot of refugees, from the so-called Menno-Heim, which is based in Berlin-Lichterfelde. With assistance of also the Dutch Mennonite Charity ” Bijzondere Noden” a lot of refugees from at that time the separated part of East-Berlin could be helped. Because of the special position of Berlin, there has always been a strong connection to the Mennonites worldwide and still is. The Menno-Heim was also a place where many youth-groups from Europe gathered. Nowadays, we still could feel the spirit of hospitality. Al lot of church member originally come from the former USSR, so there is
a mixture of Russian and German, to be heard. We were impressed by the stories, from people who have had ancestors in Kazakstan, Ukraine, Siberia and always have had the spirit and strength to start at a new place and a new country. On Sunday we shared about the story of Menno Simons who was part of the ‘ movement’ of the Anabaptist. He showed that in every time we need different answers to connect to society. And it takes some courage to find these new paths. We enjoyed lunch together at our ‘ travelling table”. We are thankful to visit the Mennonite Church Berlin and we sure hope to come back again.