It's Pfingst Sunday here in Munich, all the church bells ringing joyfully -- though "Pfingst" to my ears lacks the musical potential of "Pentecost". John and I attended mass at the Frauenkirche, whose twin towers have become the city's icon. (Actually they were supposed to support graceful tall spires, like Cologne cathedral, but they ran out of money -- church budgeting being no easier 600 years ago-- and settled for these utterly incongruous "Byzantine" domes.) They're the ugliest towers I've ever seen, but they're certainly unique, popular on T-shirts and beer steins.
The Frauenkirche seats 20,000 and the pews were crammed. Crowds were also pouring into three other large churches we passed. Bavaria is a very Catholic region, which is why my very Protestant ancestors emigrated in the 1700s.
The celebrant and preacher at the Frauenkirche was Cardinal Archbishop Reinhard Marx, a stout white-haired, benevolent looking man who wore his gold miter through most of the service. He was preceded down the aisle by eight acolytes bearing very tall candles, two incense bearers, four additional acolytes, four priests in red, and nine bishops??! Nine men in purple, anyway. Maybe priests connected to a cathedral wear purple, because nine bishops seems extravagant even for Pentecost.
Of the Cardinal Archbishop's sermon John and I with our four words of German understood very little. The only part we're both sure of is that he stressed that the Spirit came for all people. Not just a few, "not just for our nation," not only "fur uns, aber fur alle mensch."
And of course I sat there as the German words echoed through that vast interior, imagining the sermons preached from this pulpit in the 1930s and '40s. Picturing the swastika draped from the altar.
Munich always affects me this way: hauls me back to the Nazi era. This was where Hitler's career began. Where his first supporters lived. Where the first monumental Nazi architecture was built, the Haus der Kunst built to display "great German art" in contrast to decadent "Jewish" (any modern) art. This is where, going to the Greek and Roman museum in the Konigsplatz, the King's Square, I could think only of newsreels of Hitler's massive military displays in this place.
My extreme reaction to the city is doubtless because our first visit here in 1969, doing research for The Hiding Place, was also our first visit to a concentration camp. Dachau is on the city outskirts and of course none of the good citizens of Munich had any idea what was happening there . . .
My only defense against the pain this place evokes is to know how Hitler would hate his favorite city today. The population around our hotel is about 50% near-Eastern -- some of the women in full purdah -- and 30% black, speaking a cacophony of African languages. Cripples abound. None of these people were to exist in his racially pure "thousand-year empire."
Going into the Frauenkirche we saw a poster for some charity featuring two girls smiling at each other: one has Down's Syndrome. She wasn't to exist either.
In the Haus der Kunst, that graceless cement holdover from the days of rigid totalitarian architecture, I viewed an exhibit on the defeat of apartheid in South Africa and saw ads for an upcoming program on "The Joys of Yiddish."
There's a new synagogue here now, and it's Pentecost, and with the Spirit's coming all things are possible.